Planetarium Promotion 101:
An Introduction to Marketing for the Planetarium Professional
Christopher S. Reed
12106 West 75th Lane
Arvada, Colorado 80005-5306
Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of planetarium operation in this day in age, is gaining the attention of potential visitors. With such a plethora of "alternative" entertainment options, the planetarium is often thought of as being "old-news" and operating with relatively old technology, as compared to other options available for the average seeker of weekend entertainment. More "modern" entertainment venues such as large-format projection technology, motion simulator rides, virtual-reality simulators, and even the simple improvement of Hollywood feature films, all played a part in the limitation of growth potential in the planetarium industry today.
While many do consider the planetarium to be a more laid-back and educational form of entertainment, as opposed to the latest feature film, many consider it to be just as entertaining not to mention interesting, as these other entertainment options that are available today. It is my belief, that if promoted in a similar fashion to that of other, large-budget entertainment, the planetarium can once again establish itself as an excellent form of entertainment, education, and interest. Just because most facilities are operating on a limited budget does not mean that the options for promotion are eliminated. In the world of media today, there are hundreds of ways by which you, your staff, and more importantly, your facility, can obtain the media attention necessary to build your visitor base.
I have written this article as a broadcast professional and an interested party in the planetarium industry who is attempting to aid you in promoting your facility through the same channels that the larger-budget operations do. The nice thing about promotion and advertising is that it has the ability to be effective on a small budget as well as a large budget, so regardless of your financial resources, you can still wage an effective promotions campaign. Whether it's a specific campaign to spread the word of a particular show or a general planetarium awareness campaign, the following tips and ideas should help you effectively develop a promotional plan and execute the plan for maximum exposure.
The Difference Between Promotion and Advertising
Both promotion and advertising programs are designed with the same goal in mind. However, there are large differences between the two:
Promotion typically involves free mentions or associative mentions that bring the name or likeness of the planetarium in with other related context. An example of promotion would be the writing of an astronomy article by a planetarium staffer for a local newspaper, or an interview with the local TV station on the next big comet. Promotional activities typically incur little or no cost, and provide a good source of in-context name recognition. Promotion usually results in a mutual gain between both parties involved. To use the above example, the newspaper receives an article to print, and the planetarium receives a promotional mention.
Advertisingis generally more commercial, and includes paid mentions of any form. Examples of advertising include paid placements in newspapers, radio, or television. Advertising is more aggressive than promotion and typically presents more of a "call to action" than promotional activities. An advertisement may say "Visit the ABC Planetarium" whereas promotion may simply mention the planetarium, and provide a telephone number or address.
Because both promotion and advertising work towards the same goal, it is important for any campaign to incorporate the use of both. Promotion provides a more "community relations" angle to your campaign, and advertising provides a more "commercial" overtone. By combining these two, your end product will be a well-rounded campaign.
General Fundamentals of Advertising and Promotion
When promoting the planetarium, like any other business, it's important to keep in mind some basic fundamentals of advertising and promotion. Each of the following rules should be kept in mind during the planning and implementation stages of your campaign.
1. Target advertising and promotional activities to specific audiences. There is no point in promoting the planetarium to a group of people who are unlikely to visit in the first place.
2. Coordinationis perhaps one of the most important aspects of marketing. You can't expect a good return on any campaign if it includes only one form of media. For example, don't expect high success rates if you only place radio advertisements. The definition of an advertising campaign is a collaboration of advertising and promotion working together. The key to any marketing is repetition, and by placing ads and promotional materials that repeat the message, your campaign is more likely to be successful.
3. Demonstrate appropriate timing. You may want to implement a planned marketing campaign right before a big celestial event, such as a comet, or rare planet viewing, or a space related event such as a well publicized shuttle mission, or the recent launch of the Cassini space probe. Such placement will result in targeting those who already have a curiosity towards the planetarium due to existing media coverage.
4. Don't become discouraged when your promotional campaign doesn't yield results immediately. Like all aspects of marketing, these things take time, and any well planned campaign will almost always be successful. Just be patient.
5. Record your results. This is perhaps one of the most important items to keep in mind. Track how well your efforts are working by asking visitors where they heard of the planetarium. Keep track of where you've placed mentions, advertisements, what TV and radio stations you've been mentioned on and track where your primary visitor base is coming from. This will help you target your resources when developing future campaigns.
Promotion: Press Releases
One of the cheapest and most effective methods of promoting your planetarium is to write and submit a press release. Press releases are specially written announcements made to the local media outlets to spread the word of a particular event. The key with press releases is they must be timely and contain some sort of material that can be considered newsworthy. Prime examples would be the opening of a new show, the selling of a locally-produced show-kit to other facilities, or a special show to feature an upcoming astronomical event such as the appearance of a comet.
Press releases should begin with a headline, followed by the words "For Immediate Release," the date, and a contact name and telephone number where the members of the press may call to obtain further information. Releases should never be more than four or five paragraphs and should contain the "5 W's," who, what, where, when, and why, in the first paragraph. The subsequent paragraphs should contain more background information on the headline. Simply put, start specific and then generalize.
If you are submitting a press release to general media (i.e. the daily newspaper, television stations, etc.), then write the release to contain the information that the general public either wants or needs regarding your headline. If you plan to submit the release to other organizations, perhaps the local astronomy club, then change the headline, and the focus of the release to contain more information on astronomical principles relating to your overall release topic. When a feature film is released, about ten or fifteen releases are produced, each focusing on a different aspect of the program. Here are some examples of various release headlines for a hypothetical new show on Saturn:
1. "Saturn Show Lands at ABC Planetarium" general release
2. "New Saturn Show Presents Findings of Possible Life on Planet" science release
3. "Students Learn of Great Ringed Planet in New Show" student/education release
4. "John Doe Narrates New Show on Saturn" production related release
After writing several releases that cover the same basic information, but with a different angle, determine which media outlets should receive the releases. Be sure to target all possible media outlets and don't forget school newspapers, school-district parent newsletters, parenting newsletters and magazines, etc. Also be sure to get the word out to individual schools, day-care centers, and other organizations that may be able to provide you with a strong audience.
Press releases are not designed to be published directly. Generally the basic information will be published, or a reporter from the media organization will call to follow up, and develop a story based upon the release. Always ask the reporter, or ask when you make your follow up call, to repeat the information they have to verify its accuracy. Be available to take calls from media contacts, keep a list of who responded and who didn't, and build a strong media-contacts list for future promotional activities.
Here are some more general rules for writing a release:
1. Write your release on letterhead.
2. Begin with specifics and then generalize.
3. If your release is two pages, place a "../" at the bottom of your first page, flush right.
4. Do not staple the pages of a release.
5. End your release with "# # #", centered at the bottom of the last page.
6. Send releases to the attention of the News Director or Assignment Editor.
7. Send releases to every media outlet, regardless of whether you think they'll respond to it.
8. Always follow up with a telephone call to verify that the release was received.
Like the press release, providing interviews to local media outlets can be a major source of promotion for your facility. Interviews are typically requested by media outlets prior to or during some sort of big astronomic or space related event, such as the recent Comet Hale-Bopp or the Cassini space probe launch. Unlike press releases, media interviews provide a specific person of the staff with the opportunity to promote the planetarium through their knowledge and expertise on a specific topic.
There are many types of interviews as there are many methods by which they are conducted. Most electronic media, such as radio and television will actually come to your facility and speak with a principal member of the staff (i.e. chief astronomer, etc.) with respect to the topic of the story. Often the interview that you give will be edited down into a single sound-byte of five to ten seconds, whereas other times, a station may conduct a live interview that may last a minute or longer. Other interviews require that the staff member travel to the media outlet, limiting the amount of exposure for the planetarium but still offering the community a glimpse into what your planetarium has to offer.
Print interviews are typically less formal and offer comparable amounts of exposure for your facility. Usually a reporter and/or a photographer from the periodical will visit your facility and take meticulous notes with respect to your statements and may even take a few photographs for potential publication.
Regardless of the type of interview you give, here are some basic rules to follow:
1. Make sure the reporter has your full name, title, and institution name and has it spelled correctly for use on any captions or credit lines.
2. Speak clearly and concisely to the reporter and avoid using complex scientific terms or examples - remember your audience.
3. Give the reporter a copy of your planetarium brochure and/or current show schedule. Be sure this material is up-to-date and has a current address and telephone number.
4. If your interview is for television, dress neatly and professionally.
5. Thank the reporter for asking you to participate and offer to provide your assistance again should the need arise.
Promotion: Community Calendars
Almost every major media outlet in the country offers some sort of "community calendar" feature which highlights current events and happenings within the community. Such features often appear in weekend sections of newspapers, and on morning programs of radio and television stations. Typically, the media outlets offer lists of musicals, plays, lectures, sporting events, carnivals, festivals, and other cultural activities in these sections. Seldom, though, do you find planetaria listed in such features - primarily because the media is unaware as to their existence as an entertainment venue. The media cannot publicize something if they do not know it is there. Such listings are designed for one-time events, such as planetarium show openings, star-gazing opportunities, etc.
Unfortunately, there are no right or wrong ways to submit an item to a "community calendar" feature. The best way to get your shows listed is to simply contact your local media outlets and inquire about such features. When you call, ask for the Public Affairs director who will be able to tell you the process by which you can submit your event. Be sure to do this six to eight weeks before a given event, as most stations require that each entry be channeled through a review process to determine its merit. Many stations require that you submit specific information, but generally it's a good idea to send them the following:
1. Name of the event.
2. Date(s) of the event.
3. Time(s) of the event.
4. Contact telephone number.
6. A brief description of the event.
Though small, "community calendar" mentions can be powerful and often are seen by very large audiences.
Advertising: Electronic Media
At this point we begin to move into the advertising options which are available to planetaria at relatively low costs. Unlike methods of promotion, which attempt to raise public awareness, most advertising blatantly attempts to "bring in" the visitors to your facility. Advertising can usually incorporate more information and have a more "call to action" type mood or attitude, as compared to promotion methods. As you might expect, the cost of including advertising in a campaign is greater than that of a promotions effort. This is not only due to the relatively high cost of ad placement, but also the costs that lie within advertisement development as television and radio production often must be handled by third-party service bureaus.
Though expensive, advertising is often a very effective "backup" or "reinforcement" media that can be used in coordination with promotional efforts elsewhere. Unlike methods of promotion, however, advertising must create a sense of urgency in the mind of the listener or viewer, that is, a reason to come to the planetarium now. It is for this reason that advertising often works best when a new show starts at your facility or you are introducing a major new exhibit. With a combination of free promotional mentions and several advertisement placements your campaign is almost guaranteed to increase your visitor base.
Because of the changing nature of the electronic media industry, I have elected not to devote a great deal of time to explaining the specific details of broadcast advertising. The following outlines key points to remember when placing advertising on radio and television and guidelines to keep in mind. If you are interested in learning more about radio advertising, you may contact The Interep Radio Store, 100 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017, or The Radio Advertising Bureau, 304 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10010. For information about television advertising, contact your local television stations or cable operators.
Here are some general guidelines to keep in mind when developing an electronic media campaign:
1. Have your advertisements professionally produced if you cannot do so yourself. Do not compromise the integrity of your campaign with poorly produced spots.
2. If you have not caught the attention of the audience within the first five to ten seconds, your advertisement has failed.
3. Repetition is key. Expect to run your advertising frequently. Many stations offer package deals which give you a certain number of spots per week.
4. Mention the name of your facility or show at least four times in a thirty second spot.
5. If you are creating television spots, ask yourself: Can the viewer still understand the spot without hearing it? What about without seeing it? Many times people mute the television during commercial breaks or simply hear the commercial from a neighboring room.
6. Never accept the station rate card at their face value. Stations are always open to negotiations. Also inquire about unsold airtime deals.
7. Target your advertising to one or two key radio stations and network affiliated television stations. With radio, make sure that the station targets the same demographic as your visitor base. It doesn't make much sense advertising a planetarium or science center on the teenager's radio station.
8. Do your homework. Know about advertising and ratings terms before you meet with a media advertising representative.
Advertising: Print Media
Print display advertising is often less expensive, but equally effective as electronic media advertising. Unlike electronic media, it is easy to create your own advertising materials for print purposes and thereby avoid the high costs of graphic artists. Newspapers (and magazines, typically) charge for display advertising (as opposed to classified advertising) by the column inch, and their rates are usually part of their media kit which is available to potential advertisers upon request. Be sure to ask for a copy of the media kit before meeting with a sales representative as this will give you the "inside scoop" regarding their publication, if you are not already familiar with it.
The following are some guidelines to follow when designing a print media campaign:
1. The top of your advertisement should have a bold or easy-to-read heading which draws the reader to your ad. If possible, use color. Red and blue are most effective.
2. Write your copy as if writing to a single person as opposed to a group.
3. Be sure to include your name, address, directions, or other pertinent contact information in your advertisement. It sounds simple, but you would be surprised at the number of people who don't put this seemingly basic information in.
4. Try to have your advertisement placed on the right hand side of the page and as close to the front of the paper as possible.
5. Include your logo or some sort of graphic, if space permits. The lower left or right hand corner is the best position for this. Do not compromise copy for the logo, however.
6. Limit the number of typefaces you use. Too many becomes distracting to the reader.
7. Avoid using all capital letters; this too is distracting.
8. Once again, repetition is key. Run your ad as many times as finances allow. The more frequently people see your ad, the more likely they are to respond to it.
This article was designed to provide planetarium professionals with an introduction to some of the promotion and marketing options that are available to those with relatively limited budgets. It is by no means a complete list, and should be used as a "starting point" of sorts from which to build your own customized marketing campaign. The planetarium is such a unique venue for entertainment and education, and should be promoted as such. With the right targeting and a well-implemented media campaign, the planetarium live up to its potential and become a popular entertainment venue once again.
Chris Reed is the President of CSR Media in Denver, a broadcast consultancy firm based in Denver, Colorado. In addition to broadcast services, CSR Media also provides extensive marketing and show development services to the planetarium community.
Reproduced from the Planetarian, Vol. 27, #3, April 1998. Copyright 1998 International Planetarium Society. For permission to reproduce please contact Executive Editor, Sharon Shanks.