Detroit’s Tricentennial Birthday Festival
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Detroit’s Tricentennial Birthday Festival

As the first city in the Midwest to celebrate 300 years, Detroit was launching a yearlong campaign to celebrate its birthday. Detroit 300, an independent, non-profit organization, was formed to lead a $27 million fundraising campaign and to host legacy p

Holmes Report

As the first city in the Midwest to celebrate 300 years, Detroit was launching a yearlong campaign to celebrate its birthday.  Detroit 300, an independent, non-profit organization, was formed to lead a $27 million fundraising campaign and to host legacy programs and events throughout 2001. Detroit 300 came to lovio|george|inc in November 2000 – only a month before the yearlong campaign launch – to build awareness and excitement for the celebration, and especially the pinnacle of the celebration – the Birthday Festival, which led up to Detroit’s official birthday, July 24.


In November 2000, there was no consistency in the message or approach in the marketing plan.
The breadth of programs that Detroit 300 planned for the Birthday Festival weekend were significant  -- starting with Sail Detroit, July 19-22; Sounds of Detroit, July 20-22, complete with Stevie Wonder; Parade of Tall Ships, July 22; Family Festival, July 19-22; Cadillac’s Landing Re-enactment, July 24; and Spiritual Day, July 25. We needed to separate each and give the Birthday Festival its own identity and theme to highlight its importance.

Create a compelling message both in and out-of-state, and in Windsor, to attract interest in Detroit’s 300th celebration and drive attendance to the festival in under 12 months. We worked with the Windsor Convention and Visitors Bureau and held an editorial board meeting with the Windsor Star to build awareness in Ontario and attract attendees to the simulcast concerts and Tall Ships docked on Windsor’s side of the River.

We worked with the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau and its public relations firm in New York to pitch travel publications and national media outlets to tell the story of Detroit’s 300th Birthday Festival.

To overcome pre-conceived notions and misconceptions of Detroit. There was no positive identity for the city, so it was critical that we told people why they should care about Detroit’s 300th birthday celebration.

Research, planning process and objectives.

lovio|george|inc first tackled the campaign by polling nearly 100 people at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in January 2001 to measure general awareness of Detroit 300. We also conducted stakeholder interviews with leaders in business and community groups to gauge how they would define a successful campaign. We found that in both cases, there was little understanding of the Detroit 300 campaign – we needed a campaign that would tell the story of why to celebrate Detroit’s 300th birthday.
Most importantly, as articulated in interviews with key stakeholders, it needed to be a celebration that would instill pride in Detroiters, overcome long-standing negative perceptions, and extend across international boundaries. lovio|george|inc wanted Detroit’s 300th to be a uniting force for the city.

Objectives (Qualitative & Quantitative):

The goal of the campaign was to brand Detroit’s 300th birthday celebration as the major “happening” in 2001, one that metro Detroiters would feel compelled, and proud, to participate in—a celebration of “YOU.”

To build awareness, emotion and excitement for Detroit’s 300th birthday weekend via our target audience.
To attract more than 1,000,000 attendees to the unprecedented Detroit 300 Birthday Festival and to recognize top level sponsors accordingly.  Simultaneously, to position the 300th birthday celebration nationally and internationally.

A secondary objective was to reach travel planners, tourists and potential festival attendees in feeder markets such as Toronto, Chicago, Cleveland, Toledo, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. 

Strategic approach.

Detroit 300’s marketing strategy needed to reach metropolitan Detroit’s diverse population and its major ethnicities – Arab Americans, African Americans, Caucasians, Asian Americans, Native Americans and Latin Americans – most of whom did not know about the celebration or understand how it impacted them personally. Windsor, Ontario was also targeted to take part in the yearlong celebration.

To reach the wide target audience, lovio|george|inc designed a campaign to reach 85% of the DMA focusing primarily on adults, 18+ in Detroit/Wayne, Oakland, and Macomb counties in Michigan and Essex County, Ontario, Canada. Knowing the important role of young people in driving awareness, we also developed a campaign that would engage youth between the ages of 12-17. 

Campaign execution.

To build excitement for the July Birthday Festival and develop a single identity for the event, lovio|george|inc created the theme – “Tall Ships. Cool Sounds. One Beginning,” representing the Tall Ships travelling from all over the world to Detroit, the more than 40 local and national musical artists playing in free concerts, and the founding of Detroit by Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac. And from the theme development, we produced television spots with Stevie Wonder and essential tools like the Detroit 300 web site, media relations, print and radio advertising. 

To raise awareness of the Birthday Festival taking place in July, tactics included producing a Festival Launch Press Conference in April at Detroit Music Hall featuring elements of the Detroit 300 Festival, and Edsel B. Ford II, chairman of Detroit 300, talking about the Festival at large.

To raise awareness of the Festival’s two main components – Sail Detroit & Sounds of Detroit – lovio|george|inc developed the official Detroit 300 Festival Guides; all outdoor billboards for Sail Detroit and Sounds of Detroit; all festival signage for the weekend-long party at Hart Plaza; and some of the official merchandise for the festival.

Other Festival promotional elements included Posters, Print ads, Banners, Magazine ads, TV & Radio spots, Live Reads, and On-site Live Remotes.

Media relations strategies included not only attracting the Detroit market, but feeder markets such as Toronto, Chicago, Cleveland, Toledo, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.  More specifically, the media team targeted family, entertainment, travel, and minority publications to pitch the Birthday Festival weekend.
Media relations elements included an electronic press kit, developed exclusively for the Festival awareness push, which included Tall Ship images, Celebrity headshots and all press materials – all in compatible formats for any computer. lovio|george|inc also developed an identifiable media credential for visiting media and a media trailer was set up on site during the entire weekend to accommodate press needing to file stories on deadline.

Summary of results.

For festival attendance, our goal was to attract 1.1 million people; we attracted more than 5.7 million people to downtown Detroit’s Hart Plaza during the birthday festival – exceeding our goal by five times.
The Tall Ships and simulcast concerts from Detroit helped give Windsor a $25-million economic boost and attracted 250,000 people.

Development of 20 media partners produced $4.5 million in added advertising/promotional value. NBC and ABC Detroit affiliates combined provided over $2.5 million in value.

International, national, and regional media relations resulted in over 270 million positive print impressions. Detroit was featured in publications such as The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, JET magazine, World Traveler and had front page coverage in the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press for six consecutive days.

lovio|george|inc developed more than 200 media credentials for the festival weekend and exhausted supplies.

Festival attendance generated $158 million in economic impact for Detroit.

Worked with 12 festival sponsors to create collateral pieces with their logos and secured additional marketing from General Motors, State Farm, DTE Energy, and DaimlerChrysler.
Produced a television PSA with the legendary Stevie Wonder and Academy Award winner, Sue Marx of Sue Marx Films.

Larry Alexander, president and CEO of the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau stated about the impact of Detroit 300 to the city of Detroit: “In an average year, we hope to receive 100 million media impressions for travel and tourism stories on Detroit. We have more than met that goal this year with a 150 percent increase in print coverage, due in large part to the successful publicity of Detroit 300.  Word is getting out that great things are happening in Detroit.”  

Our city was humming during the July festival like never before.  24 Tall Ships docked along the new Riverfront Promenade in Detroit and Dieppe Park in Windsor for Sail Detroit.  45 local artists performed during Sounds of Detroit.  An 800-voice gospel choir performed with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.  And a five hour free, outdoor Celebrity Homecoming Concert featured Motown® legend Stevie Wonder and included other greats such as Tim Allen, The Temptations, The Spinners, David Alan Grier and many others.

Most importantly, we did work that mattered. Our perception of what we call home changed.  Good Morning America, The Today Show and The New York Times (to name a few) reported that Detroit was celebrating its 300th birthday with style.   If there ever was a once-in-a-lifetime party, this was it.

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