Group-Rate Mailer Brings Flock For Museum's Vatican Exhibit

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A museum had the task of drawing people to the largest exhibition of art and historic objects ever to travel outside the Vatican.

Rather than target prospective attendees, the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal decided to go after those who could deliver groups to "Saint Peter and The Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes," an event that began Dec. 20 and runs through April 18.

The week after Labor Day was selected for a drop of 60,000 8 1/2-by-5 1/2-inch postcards targeting group travel planners within a 400-mile radius of Cincinnati. Those reached worked mainly for church and civic groups and organizations such as Kiwanis and Lions clubs and PTAs as well as senior-citizen travel planners and group tour companies.

"We had 20,000 names on an internal list, and we bought the other 40,000 from a list broker for $150 per thousand names," said Charles E. Howard, senior director of marketing at the Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal. "The success of the campaign was based on the fact that Cincinnati was the closest venue for the exhibition for any major Midwestern or Northeastern city."

Cincinnati is the third of four stops on the exhibition's tour of North America, the first time in 20 years that such a major exhibition has left the Vatican. Other venues are Houston and Fort Lauderdale, FL, with San Diego as its final stop.

Howard also noted that Cincinnati is "a very Catholic city, with parish membership within the Archdiocese of Cincinnati exceeding 500,000," as well as ease of access due to Delta having a major presence at the area's airport.

"We also had a very good track record with another exhibition that was handled by the company that produced this exhibition, so we proved in the past that we could bring the bodies in," he said.

Just over 30,000 tickets were pre-sold by the exhibit's opening, including about 24,000 that were part of group sales attributable to the mailing. Despite the $13.50-per-person cost printed on the back of the postcard for groups of 15 or more booked in advance of general ticket sales, school groups got a special price of $9.50 that was not mentioned on the piece. By contrast, those not part of a group pay an adult ticket price of $18.50.

"The real goal of this piece was to book as much pre-sold business as possible," Howard said. "We had a goal of 20,000, and I think we'll be reaping the benefit of this for a few more months. We're anticipating somewhere in the 225,000 to 250,000 range for total overall attendance for the exhibit, and we're thinking that 25 percent of that could come from groups."

Postage for the nonprofit organization totaled $4,000 while printing expenses were about $4,500.

Many of the tour group attendees "are older adults," he said, with retirees accounting for a "significant percentage."

Copy on the back of the piece included: "The largest and most important collection of art and historical objects from the Vatican makes one of its four North American stops at Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal. Saint Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes illustrates the Vatican's impact on history and culture through 2,000 years -- since the time of St. Peter. Many of these objects have never left the Vatican or been on public view."

Also on the back are two phone numbers, one of which is toll-free, to call for tickets, along with a note that "buses park free!"

"We were trying to go for brand continuity by having the piece mirror the approach taken with the ads, posters and brochures," Howard said. "We were also trying to strike a balance with a collage of images to say this was not just a religious exhibit and that it was 2,000 years of art history and Western culture. While there is a definite interest for people of the Catholic faith, it was meant to appeal to a much broader audience. We wanted a balance between religious-themed images and the more artistic."

Howard looks to extend the postcard's success with the mailing of 12,000 pieces that dropped in the week after Christmas targeting theater enthusiasts. Recipients included subscribers to The Broadway Series in Cincinnati, which includes performances of Broadway productions, as well as tour group managers who have brought groups to the Series. Results of this second, smaller effort are not yet available.

"We assume theater interest translates into broader culture interest," he said.

The Broadway Series in Cincinnati didn't charge the museum for use of its list as they have traded lists in the past. The smaller target was described as generally living in homes with annual household incomes exceeding $75,000 and within 200 miles of the city.


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