Winning PR stories

Rogers & Cowan’s red carpet campaign for AARP to star-studded success…and a Bulldog Bronze

Global PR firm Rogers & Cowan conducted a stellar campaign for AARP’s Movies for Grownups Awards (MFG), a gala honoring movies with particular relevance to grownups age 50+ and raising funds for the AARP Foundation—a campaign that was 100-percent driven by earned media through savvy public relations tactics and aggressive media outreach, ultimately securing 2.1 billion media impressions. As its first year as the AOR for the MFG Gala, Rogers & Cowan significantly increased their social media presence, including a Snapchat story garnering over 200,000 views.

In its extensive research, Rogers & Cowan reviewed past Movies for Grownups Awards media results reports, as well as media coverage of top-tier peer Awards Season events such as The Golden Globes, Independent Spirit Awards and the Oscars to determine coverage gaps and opportunities. In fact, one key challenge the campaign presented was “securing A-list media coverage during Oscars week while competing against numerous high-profile events, says Eileen Thompson-Ray, Vice President of Music, who led the campaign. Read on to see how the firm overcame this challenge and others to propel this campaign to enormous success, earning Rogers & Cowan and its client a Bronze Award in the “Best Special Event/Stunt” category in Bulldog Reporter’s 2017 Media Relations Awards.

The Strategy: As the new agency for AARP, Rogers & Cowan was enlisted to further elevate the Association’s Movies for Grown-Ups Awards franchise, with a mission to use media relations to further position the event as a coveted Awards Season annual must-attend standalone entity.

The campaign team outlined several objectives for the effort, including:

  • Obtain top-tier media coverage for the 15th Annual Movies for Grownups Awards
  • Further establish the reputation of the franchise and spotlight the Movies For Grownups Awards as a must-attend event with entertainment industry clout and influence
  • Continue to drive awareness of AARP’s mission to recognize filmmakers, directors,
    screenwriters, actors, actresses and movies that bear unique relevance and story plot lines that are relatable to the 50+ audience, while also having wider “ageless” storyline appeal
  • Reinforce that Movies for Grownups Awards benefits the AARP Foundation and its ongoing commitment to combat hunger among older adults through the LA Kitchen and other regional initiatives

The Execution: AARP challenged Rogers & Cowan to take event visibility and coverage to new heights, so the plan included creating pre-event excitement and must-attend draw by hosting a lunch for Michael Douglas (Academy Award winning producer, actor) in December of 2015. Coverage from the lunch was re-merchandised to draw top talent from nominated films, and drew more news outlets to cover the 2016 event live from the Red Carpet.

Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones

Prior to the ceremony, the PR team announced the Top 10 films of the year, with winners covered by both entertainment trades like the Hollywood Reporter, and national news outlets including The Huffington Post and USA Today. The third wave of coverage came from night-of reporting by 50 news outlets working on site.

As often happens, obstacles were presented at the eleventh hour that could have derailed the campaign, but the team’s quick reaction helped to avoid catastrophe. “Some of the talent listed as schedule to appear on the original media alert dropped out, but we were honest and upfront with media about the changes, so we didn’t lose any coverage,” Thompson-Ray relates.

Finally, the fourth wave was driven by a post-event recap press release, images and b-roll that celebrated the top moments from the ceremony. Rogers & Cowan worked with AARP to make the event more press-friendly and easy to cover by recommending that the Red Carpet be increased to accommodate more high-profile news outlets. With additional space on the carpet, the team conducted aggressive outreach with returning, as well as new domestic and international media outlets to populate the carpet. A selection of high-profile news outlets was also invited to be seated guests during the awards ceremony to deepen their coverage opportunities. “We arranged exclusives, provided dinner seats to A-level outlet reporters, educated reporters about philanthropic components of the Movies for Grownups program, and provided updates about confirmed talent, etc.,” Thompson-Ray explains.

Dedicated members of the PR team reviewed and captioned images to help reporters on- and off-site file stories. Photos were also distributed by a wire agency to broaden access to images. “It was a very targeted media goal to include electronic/print/online and still photographers from top photo agencies that cover entertainment and lifestyle themes only,” she adds.

The firm also recommended that the event’s talent team pursue actors with stronger media coverage draw and social media account visibility. Talent was encouraged to visit the Social Media booth before or after the carpet to tweet/post and engage in the AARP Snapchat story.

The Results: “We met and exceeded all of initial goals,” Thompson-Ray offers. “Media covering the run-up to the gala and throughout the evening resulted in more than two billion impressions via earned media story placements.”

Campaign success was measured through a number of factors including the number of media outlets covering the event on-site (50), as well as remote coverage (528), and total number of impressions (2.1 billion impressions—90% more than 2015 Awards event). This was further bolstered by the number of top-tier news outlets that covered the event for the first time, including The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, “Entertainment Tonight,” Daily Mail and Business Insider, and the prevalence of key message inclusion. Yet another success factor was the inclusion of the AARP Foundation and its senior hunger program within news coverage—compared to zero coverage of the Foundation during the prior year’s event. Social media was also more integrated this year, with 53 social posts made by the event team in 2016.

In all, the campaign netted 578 placements, including Yahoo!, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, USA Today and The Washington Post, as well as numerous broadcast highlights such as “Entertainment Tonight,” “Access Hollywood,” “Extra,” “The Insider” and ITV. Social media highlights—including more than 200,000 views on Snapchat, plus 53 social posts to print/digital—included Associated Press, New York Daily News, People Magazine, CeleBuzz, Hollywood Life, and Daily Mail/ (UK/global).

Key takeaways: The campaign’s success was solidified by the team’s professional management, and its quick reaction to obstacles. For example, “Be very transparency when securing, and then announcing participating talent to news media,” advises SOURCE. “Also, if a personality is confirmed to attend an event, this is not equivalent to ‘will also walk and do interviews on the red carpet.’”

Secrets of Success: Thompson-Ray provides the following insights that you can use in your next special event campaign—and demonstrating how Rogers & Cowan and its client won a Bronze in Bulldog’s 2017 Media Relations Awards:

  • Leave nothing to chance: “Have one key staff member in charge of media positions on the carpet so there’s no miscommunication.” This way, “issues can be resolved quickly by this person who has deep knowledge of what was agreed to.”
  • Secure seated press invited to dinner as early as possible. “We invited select reporters to do interviews on the red carpet and then head to tables for dinner to enjoy the full Movies for Grownups gala ceremony experience.”
  • Be strategic when securing red carpet media. “Go for quality of outlets vs. over quantity.”
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