She’s funny. Smart. Brimming with mischief and bursting with creative ideas. Everyone in Europe knows her, especially France: the worlds of dance, high fashion, film, theater. However, if you mentioned Blanca Li in New York and you were met with blank stares even though she had been a hit at The Kitchen where she briefly performed as part of France Moves in 2001.
But being Blanca, which is to say, full of energy, determination, and armed with seven adorable robots, Blanca decided –her eight human dancers and a case of aforementioned robots in tow–to take over BAM’s 2200 seat Opera House for six shows in June, 2015. If New York audiences didn’t know her, they would.
How do you introduce Blanca, or more accurately, re-introduce her after 14 years? We first created a press release designed to detail why she should absolutely be paid attention to. Embedded in the ROBOT release was the strategy for the campaign: Blanca’s unconventional career; the neon-worthy international names she’s collaborated with; the world-wide reach of the collaborators with whom she worked on ROBOT; and the robots for whom she is choreographing. We gave them names to humanize them.
Given the breadth of potential interest, the release was sent to dance (choreography for robots and their human counterparts); music (an original score by the Japanese design group Maywa Denki); technology (the robots); children (the robots); theater (the sheer theatricality of the show), visual arts (the groundbreaking contribution of the design of the instruments, once again by Maywa Denki), as well as to photo editors.
The release was also altered and sent to the Japanese (Maywa Denki) Spanish (Blanca’s home country) and French (she has lived in France for the past two decades). A friend of Blanca’s in the New York fashion world was charged with the fashion press.
MARKETING DANCING ROBOTS
Since Blanca was renting the Opera House rather than being presented by BAM, almost everything had to be accomplished out of house, although BAM’s marketing department was an ongoing, generous and invaluable resource for advice and testing ideas.
Instead of a photograph, we decided a witty graphic would be more unusual, fun and would create a more memorable branding image. One of Blanca’s best friends happens to be the world-class graphic designer, Juan Gatti, who delivered five options in less than a blink. We chose one after consulting with a focus group comprised of the three children who live next door and who’d been bribed into action with the promise of a plate of chocolate cookies.
Copy was written; and flyers, posters, window cards, subway ads, balloons, a New York Times ad, rack cards were designed — all using the same wotty image. A flexible roll out schedule was set. The appropriate collateral was distributed to stores, bars, restaurants, dance studios and schools, all over town. Between-job dancers, musicians and actors were enlisted to hand out flyers outside theaters where an anticipated ROBOT audience might be found. The subway ads were placed in Brooklyn stations selected according to location and assumed viewer interest.
EVENTS TO GET THE WORD OUT
The flyers’s first foray into the world was in March, at the student Robotic Competition at the Jacob Javits Center, where Blanca’s two young sons and her husband, Etienne Li, a mathematics professor in Paris, distributed hundreds of them. A promotional wizard, Etienne was integral to the campaigns, proving himself a tireless and invaluable collaborator.
We contacted FAO Schwartz about enlisting the robots to march around the store with flyers for the show. Surely, television and still cameras would find the subject irresistible. Unfortunately, it took over15 phone calls to finally discover they were closing the Fifth Avenue store.
Knowing that person-to-person contact is one of the most powerful persuaders, we secured a table for two Saturdays at the Brooklyn Flea in May where we set up a virtual box office; had a video and photographic display and installed a helium tank to blow up balloons branded with the show’s logo. The red balloons were distributed to every child in sight with the hope that they would also be a continued advertisement as they travelled the streets after leaving the Flea. The sky over the Flea was flooded with red balloons tightly gripped by children. We also raffled a pair of free tickets to the show in order to gather email addresses.
A gorgeous cocktail party was given by one of Blanca’s friends who invited all of her friends, which included many potential donors. We took a video of a robot (Pierre) dancing on the table and forwarded to the guests the next day as a thank you.
We worked with various social media experts strategizing and creating content for the Twitter, Instagram and Facebook campaigns.
A FEW EXAMPLES OF ADVANCE PRESS COVERAGE
Secured a front page Arts story in the New York Times in which Gia Kourlas profiled both Blanca and ROBOT
Blanca was the subject of a seven page photo fashion/dance spread in New York Magazine which had her gleefully climbing walls atop a Tribeca roof; strutting and jumping–all beneath a blistering hot sun. The photos were by Ruven Alfanador and the text was by theater/dance writer Rebecca Milzoff.
Elisabeth Vincentelli wrote a feature in The New York Post.
The local Brooklyn papers—“The Brooklyn Paper” and “The Brooklyn Daily Eagle”– did interviews
Shelly Goldberg did an in-studio feature on New York One that played throughout the weekend of the show.
The local CBS, Fox and WPIX television stations ran video on the evening news that had been shot by a pool cameraman at the BAM photo call.
The shows received tremendous coverage on all fronts. A complete list of all the advance and review media response can be had by clicking the attached link,
Audiences responded with great enthusiasm, increasing significantly during the run. The excellent advance and review coverage was a boon. Since trying to isolate our most effective tactic is like trying to find a needle in a haystack, however, the most important lesson learned, once again, is that everything contributes to the effort, and as a publicist one must do absolutely everything one can think of to challenge the very real constraints of budget and time.
And most importantly, a RETURN New York engagement was secured, this time at City Center, as a result of our introducing Blanca to the theater’s Programming Director, and following up with an invitation to opening night and the after party. His enthusiasm seemed inevitable. And it was!!! So Blanca Li will be back in New York this coming spring.