29 September 2015

Fitter tigers and splash-happy elephants: New zoo habitats

My article in issue #59 of InPark Magazine explains why new exhibits with soaking, swimming and splashing options will make the tigers fitter and the elephants happier at Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and Sedgwick County Zoo, respectively.

But just what does it take to create a water attraction for zoo animals? It goes far beyond making and filling up a pool. Read the story here.

24 September 2015

The 2015 Milan world's fair has the taste of success

Editorial, 8/29/2015: A delicious success in Milan (InPark Magazine issue #58)

"There is no love sincerer than the love of food." -- George Bernard Shaw

Expo Milano 2015 is displaying considerable success on many fronts: popular, critical, visitation and international goodwill.

Organizers showed savvy in choosing a theme that revolves around food – allowing exhibitors to address the serious angles (world hunger, food sustainability, agribusiness) while simply celebrating the joy of food. This brilliant theme has allowed the Expo to leverage the brand of Italy – its inherent appeal for travelers and residents alike. Food and food security are subjects on which every exhibitor can shine as well. Moreover, world’s fairs have historically ushered in a wide range of breakthroughs and these have included food trends.

Food is something that never goes out of style, never loses its relevance and has always been a key element of an expo even when not central to the theme. I think Milan 2015 will stand as an example of a world’s fair perfectly tailored to its region and to its era.

Politically, the expo is established on the international radar as a place to be seen. Expo 2015 Milano has been drawing heads of state and dignitaries from around the world. A partial list includes the presidents of Italy, France, Spain, Russia, Mexico, Lithuania, Columbia, Ivory Coast and Madagascar; the Queen of Belgium; the Prime Minister of Egypt; and from the US, First Lady Michelle Obama, Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

Measuring success by attendance, Milan 2015, a 6-month expo running May 1-Oct 31, reached 8.3 million at the halfway mark. As, historically, visitation rates balloon toward the end of an expo as closing day looms, Milan is likely to reach the 20 million total that organizers originally projected.

A look at attendance totals for the previous expos held in this century provides context. Milan’s numbers are very competitive with the last 6-month world’s fair held in Europe, Hanover 2000, and well ahead of the more recent, 3-month event in Zaragoza (Spain). The much higher Shanghai numbers reflect the much larger local population that region has to draw upon.

Many thanks to consultant James Ogul, InPark’s world’s fair expert, who was a resource for this article.

  • Yeosu 2012: 8,203,956 (3 months)
  • Shanghai 2010: 73,000,000 (6 months)
  • Zaragoza 2008: 5,650,941 (3 months)
  • Aichi 2005: 22,049,544 (6 months)
  • Hanover 2000: 18,000,000 (6 months)

05 May 2015

How TEA fosters professional development for students of themed entertainment

by Judith Rubin

The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) cultivates students and young talent through its NextGen initiative. Activities include TEA GibGab, a speed networking event bringing together TEA NextGen members, who are college students or recent grads - with TEA member companies looking for new hires.

"The talent we cultivate is our industry's future," said TEA President Steve Birket (Birket Engineering) who participated in TEA GibGab East on April 2, 2015, in Orlando. "The large entertainment owner/operators tell me that TEA’s member companies are their lifeblood.”

TEA COO Jennie Nevin said, "Especially in Asia, we are seeing dramatic growth in the leisure sector, and there is huge demand for what our members can provide."

Gary Blumenstein of sponsor company Rethink Leisure & Entertainment, sponsor of GibGab West on April 16, 2015 in the Los Angeles area, said, "It gives you a chance to meet the new talent and delve a little deeper into their skills and goals. Whether they are artists or engineers or both, they’re sharing similar goals to create the immersive stories and experiences of themed entertainment."

Click here to read the full article and learn more about TEA activities in professional development, networking, conferences and more.

14 November 2014

Bring me another bottle of stout and a salted chocolate rye cookie, Barry

Photo: Chip Cutlan, satchmos@sbcglobal.net
Grove East Provisions dishes up comfort in the Tower Grove East neighborhood of Saint Louis, Missouri

By Judith Rubin

Grove East Provisions opened in early June at the corner of Arsenal and Minnesota and quickly distinguished itself with pressed sandwiches, homemade soups, freshly baked bread and savories, local craft beers and the friendly personality of proprietor and head chef Barry Kinder.

Casual, warm and welcoming, Grove East Provisions is for the person who wants to grab a bite, or a bite and a brew, or a glass of wine and a gelato in a congenial setting, and perhaps add on a few groceries or a six-pack of beer to go.

Note: This article was first published in the Tower Grove East neighborhood newsletter.

Looking around at our independently owned restaurants, eateries and shops in Saint Louis, each has a unique person driving it, differentiating it. At Grove East Provisions, it’s Barry. He’s a jack-of-all-trades, a Saint Louisan who studied music at Webster, has lived on both sides of the pond (Europe and North America), and had successes as a professional musician (percussion) a sous chef at a top French restaurant in London (the Village Bistro in Highgate), and a myriad of odd jobs in between.

Now all of Barry’s skills, talent and spirit – and his Saint Louis connections - have come to play in Grove East Provisions - and like the ingredients of his popular chicken soup, the combination is attractive and pleasing to customers.

There’s a big dose of comfort in this place – from the food and libations, to the snug booth seating, to Barry’s hospitality.

Two businesses are in fact housed here. Back of the Provisions building, near the herb and tomato garden, stands a brick oven operated by Red Fox Bakery. Sweat equity built it: Barry and the Red Fox team, Jake Marks, Chris Sheets and Jenny Wilson. Provisions sells the fresh bread, ricotta cheese tarts and other items such as the much-in-demand salted chocolate rye cookies.

Shelves and refrigerated cases hold dry goods, bottles of wine, Excel sodas and beer from 4Hands, Civil Life, Schlafly, Urban Chestnut, Crown Valley, Excel and a new guest beer all the way from Kansas, Tallgrass. “I just love beer and what’s happened in Saint Louis with beer, how craft beers have been adopted by the community,” Barry says.

Photo: Chip Cutlan, satchmos@sbcglobal.net
He wasn't sure the Excel sodas would catch on in comparison to the better known brands, but they immediately did. There are also produce, a few dairy items and other groceries and gelato. Behind the counter is a beer tap (the selection changes) and on the counter is a selection of locally made soaps from the South Compton Soap Company.

Barry already has plans to reconfigure the space to liven up the produce and grocery displays and add more tables, going for something more “bistro-like.” This will support the Sunday afternoon programming he’s begun, that so far includes a wine tasting and afternoon of live music. He’s adjusting the mix as he goes along and finds what works for him and for his customers.

“I’m happy that the balance has been about 70% sandwich/restaurant, and 30% grocery,” he says. Although it has been a few years since his professional cooking days, he’s taken on that role with enthusiasm and will continue to expand the menu. “I’m working the restaurant more, adding more hot food, starting with soups. My first soup was carrot and lemon ginger. Then the beer-cheese soup, then chicken noodle, and now chili. I plan to add stews soon, such as ham-and-bean, cornbread, curries over rice, and eventually, rotisserie chicken.”

The recipes are all his own, “made from scratch with real food,” he emphasizes. “The chicken soup is one of my own traditions: I have made it practically once a week for years, but now I make it with homemade noodles.” Before chicken soup came onto the Provisions menu and became the best seller, the most popular items were the meatloaf sandwich and the club. All the dishes are surprisingly, refreshingly un-salty for Saint Louis fare.

The spark of Grove East Provisions came to Barry in Dec 2012. Another local business owner, Chris Shearman of Gelateria del Leone, was a catalyst. “He introduced me to Jake & Chris [Sheets]. He thought Red Fox Bakery would be a great fit with my place, and it is,” says Barry. "I did research on bread, and they told me about the crazy, outdoor oven they wanted. It seemed like a good thing to me - I can’t have an oven in the kitchen because there’s no hood. I thought the city would never go for it, but it turned out not to be that big of a deal. Chris Sheets masterminded the design.” Barry makes use of the oven on Red Fox’s non-baking days. In addition to the oven, the group built an authentic, maple-topped baker’s table for the kitchen themselves.

The day was gray, damp and stormy as Barry and I sat discussing Grove East Provisions over a bottle of 4Hands Chocolate Milk Stout. A customer, Sharon Fowler of Compton Heights, volunteered a testimonial as she zipped up her raincoat. She had discovered Provisions the day before, and returned for more. “The wine is great, and the chicken soup is so inspiring. I will brave a thunderstorm for Barry’s chicken soup.”

Personally, I’m waiting for the rotisserie chicken.

Photo: Chip Cutlan, satchmos@sbcglobal.net

08 August 2014

Film-to-digital conversions in giant-screen cinema, GSCA and the "T" word

"Digital production of giant screen cinema remains controversial even as the 1570 film exhibition format on which the industry was originally founded is vanishing. Saying another's work looked like television was the big insult at the 2014 GSCA Film Expo." -- Judy Rubin
Steve Schklair at GSCA Film Expo. Photo: James Neihouse. ©GSCA 2014.

The GSCA 2014 annual conference convenes in Toronto Sept 20-23. In March, the 2014 GSCA Film Expo took place in Austin, Texas. This report by Judith Rubin was first published at IMERSA.org.

Of late, the Giant Screen Cinema Association (GSCA) Film Expo has been a showcase for digital technology as well as a market to bring together producers, distributors and exhibitors.

Within the giant-screen cinema specialty sector, the changeover to digital cinema technology is taking longer than it has in mainstream cinema. This is due to challenges in achieving a satisfactory digital replacement for the high visual standard of 1570 film plus the sheer size of the screen - and also because there is a powerful emotional legacy that the community struggles with.

Some giant screen theaters (mostly flatscreen) now have digital projection, but a goodly number still rely on film projection, and so the GSCA screening venue must accommodate 2D and 3D projection in both film and digital. Attendees were supplied with two different sets of 3D glasses (RealD and IMAX). This year’s digital projection system was a temporary installation furnished by Electrosonic in collaboration with RealD and Christie. The three companies have formed an alliance to provide giant-screen digital cinema systems for theaters converting from film.

Giant screen film domes have their own unique challenges when it comes to digital conversion. One of the companies specifically targeting this market is Evans & Sutherland. E&S touts the 8K edition of its new Digistar 5, recently installed and getting high marks at The Dome in the Science Museum of Virginia. An industry demonstration will be hosted in this location on Oct 22, 2014.

The technical session included a first-ever from 3ality Technica, the leading company in facilitating 3D live action capture for motion pictures and broadcast. 3ality Technica CEO Steve Schklair, who has a background in special venue cinema, appeared on camera himself in the premiere demonstration of a live 4K digital 3D theater broadcast. 

Production of giant screen content has likewise voyaged into the digital realm - not exactly a new development in the sector, but one that remains controversial, and the controversy seems to have intensified as the 1570 film exhibition format on which the entire industry was originally founded is on the point of vanishing. At this gathering, the worst thing one producer could say about another producer’s work was that it looked like television - and many were not shy about their use of the “T” word. What they are decrying is not the use of digital capture per se, but a lack of the sweeping visual language that characterizes classic giant screen cinematography. It takes more than a giant screen to make a giant screen experience.

(Cinematographer James Neihouse's Aug 12 article for GSCA, "Bring Back Our Wide Shots," addresses this directly.)

With the digital shift, there is new variety available to giant screen theaters - an array of choices that some appear to find a bit intimidating in its complexity. Distributors are likewise facing a brave new world in terms of competition for screen share. DCI compliant systems or inset projectors may be desirable in order to attain ultimate versatility. Some of those shopping for new digital systems view their spaces as something like today’s multipurpose performing arts centers – wanting accommodation for spoken word and traveling live shows as well as the ability to screen alternative content along with the main menu of educational shows.

The plenitude of titles presented with space and astronomy content - such as In Saturn's Rings, which will be distributed by Tina Ratterman's company, BIG & Digital - made it clear that giant screen distributors are actively cultivating the planetarium market, and most mentioned plans for their new titles to be available in fulldome versions. Planetarium operators were present – we spoke to representatives of Tycho Brahe and of Fels Planetarium. Lisa Samford of the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival attended, looking for ideas, trends, and content to showcase at the Jackson Hole New Media Symposium in Boston, September 17-19, which will use multiple venues in order to meet its goal of screening everything in its native format – not just during the Symposium, but also for the judging of the Science Media Awards.

National Geographic's "Mysteries of the Unseen World" was a standout in its integration of science visualization and storytelling, with high production values. It is narrated by Forrest Whitaker.

nWave Pictures reported good success with its unique marketing approach for "Galapagos: Nature's Wonderland," a key element of which is a very active role for narrator Jeff Corwin, who has made numerous personal appearances to launch the film in theaters, and has enthusiastically promoted the film to his own following on social media.

At the National Geographic sponsored luncheon, Bryan Boehme of Christie, Tony Petruzziello of Electrosonic and Judith Rubin chat during the GSCA 2014 Film Expo in Austin, Texas

23 July 2014

Science Museum of Virginia revives interest in planetarium shows with "The Dome" and new 8K E&S Digistar digital video system

Attendance numbers are up dramatically and the Science Museum of Virginia is making the most of its new versatility thanks to a new Evans & Sutherland Digistar 5 8K system in The Dome, its renovated, 243-seat theater, open since March 15, 2014.

The attention of the museum and planetarium community will be on this 8K digital transformation of a dome that formerly emphasized IMAX films. My new article about The Dome and its new technology includes interviews with Jim Peck and Justin Bartel at the Science Museum of Virginia.

22 July 2014

The art of the press release: Distribution

It's a "press release," but are you, in fact, sending it to the press?

This is the first part of a new series on press releases and public relations, by Judith Rubin, editor, publicist and social media strategist for the visitor attractions industry.

You've got news to share and have written a press release. Where do you send it? Thinking about and planning distribution should be part of the process throughout, because your intended audience affects the language, emphasis and positioning of your announcement. Your target audience and your message should be clear to you (and they should be clear to your readers as well) and when you have that clarity, planning distribution will be simpler.

I'm an industry publicist and this discussion is from that perspective - which means I'm addressing the subject as if you had a business-to-business story - something about your company that you want to announce to your business colleagues and potential clients.

First, send it to the press
It's a "press release," but are you, in fact, sending it to the press?

Everyone is to some extent a self-publisher, as most have a website and/or blog and social media presence. As a result, you may not be fully availing yourself of the external media outlets that could be a source of additional visibility and support. Your own media streams are essential communications tools, but are you using them to compete with the media instead of collaborating with them?

Media outlets want to receive your news, and they want to publish it. Your news represents many things to them: fresh content for their publications, a relationship with your company, and material to share with their readers and inform their future coverage. They are competing with other publications in the field for readership, market position and advertising dollars.

In other words, media outlets have powerful incentives to help you get the word out. You can make them your partners.

Research and compile a representative list of media outlets, blogs and freelance journalists serving your industry. Make sure you are targeting the right people and that your email list is up to date. Share your press release with all of them. They will show you what they can do for you.

What about my own social media streams?
Your first impulses may have been in a different direction: to post the news on all your own social media outlets, then email the release to your client list. Eventually some members of the press will find it and pick it up... It may seem logical, but it's backwards. Why?

Think about the difference between taking the above approach versus deliberately reaching out to the media with the opportunity to spread your news for you, and in doing so, creating relationships that can benefit you down the road with further coverage. Those media outlets are set up to share information about your industry with as wide an audience as possible. That's their core business.

Give the media first crack at your press release: Let them compete to be the first out of the gate publishing your news, and to do the best job at building an article, slideshow or interview around it. Then, when you start sharing the announcement on your own social media streams, you can be sharing third-party links back to those media stories. Third-party links give a huge boost to your credibility and standing, and they help you build good relationships among the media. They're using your story, and driving traffic to you. You're sharing their coverage of your story, and driving traffic to them. There's a clear, mutual benefit. Meanwhile, you can focus more on your own core business.

Re the client list - Yes, of course you want to share your announcement with them. Think about whether it will have more impact when you can provide it with the added strength of third-party credibility. Your story as published in the media, versus your own version.

Another note about social media: If you have multiple pages and accounts you maintain yourself, it's easy to create what looks like a flurry of coverage and exposure by sharing your press release on all of them. But on closer examination you may well discover that this strategy has you mostly talking to yourself. Reaching out to the media helps you break out of your own bubble. And how your press release is received by them will help guide you toward the best way to create your next story.

What about exclusives?
The nature of a press release is that it is not exclusive - it's free content for the media to publish and share. Distributing too broadly (to outlets where there is no clear connection to your news) is counterproductive, as editors may start to see you as a spammer and filter them out. But all media outlets whose coverage is relevant to your industry and to your story belong on your distribution list. If you are overly selective in your distribution, you aren't making the most of the potential media coverage you could get, and you risk damaging your relationship with those who were left out of your information chain.

Foster and cultivate strong relationships with the media. Learn which are the best vehicles for your news and supporting your business goals. At the same time, keep your door open. Long term relationships are good for you - practicing favoritism is usually not. Don't burn bridges. Media outlets come and go. They change their focus and their formatting. So do their editors and writers. Keep the dialog going with all of them in order to maximize your coverage and reach the widest audience.

Your own backyard
In your quest for media coverage, remember to find and include journalists, bloggers, photographers, videographers and podcasters in your own metro area and region - or your project's. This includes your local business writers - and, in this age of freelance independence, your local pool of potential media partners could also include specialists in your own particular field. They'll attend your press events in person and be appreciative of the opportunity to meet with your people and chronicle your achievements first hand.

What about newswires?
If your story has a potential mainstream slant, you may want to consider adding newswire distribution, especially if you want to reach the mainstream editors in a particular region. Newswires, like media outlets, make it their business to share news and provide tools for targeting specific audience segments.

This continuing series of articles will in future also address writing and positioning press releases, as well as other aspects of public relations. -- J.R.

Judith Rubin is a freelancer serving the visitor attractions industry. She is co-editor of InPark Magazine and publications editor/social media strategist for the Themed Entertainment Association. In 2013 she was honored with the TEA Service Award.


17 July 2014

Some great, current Saint Louis projects

Saint Louis keeps getting better. Here are some of the ways --

Riverfront: Progress continues on the CityArchRiver rejuvenation project. The grounds are being revamped and the museums updated around the Gateway Arch, the city's famous icon designed by Eero Saarinen. The project was mounted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Arch in 2015. Here's an article I wrote about it last July that includes an interview with Bill Haley of Haley Sharpe Design. DJ Willrich Ltd. is providing AV services on this project. Here's a story from June 2014 about the Park over the Highway.

Midtown: The former Sun Theater has been fully restored to become the performing arts center for the Grand Center Arts Academy. Architect on the project was The Lawrence Group, which has its corporate headquarters in Saint Louis. This feature in NextSTL.com has excellent before & after photos by Michael Kelly.

The new Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum opened April 7, 2014 at Ballpark Village. The museum was designed by Saint Louis based PGAV Destinations. The $100 million first phase of Ballpark Village opened in late March. The Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) is holding a behind the scenes industry event at the new Cardinals HOF on July 24.

Union Station's new owner, Saint Louis based Lodging Hospitality Management is renovating the 120-year-old facility, and the Grand Hall has been transformed with an immersive, projection mapping experience provided by Jack Rouse Associates and Mood Media. Here's the story released July 17, 2014. Below is a video.

Transit: Saint Louis has a reasonably good public transit system that includes a light rail system (connecting to the airport among other places). Recently they added several newly acquired articulated buses to help alleviate crowding on the busiest bus line, the #70. Metro Arts in Transit, directed by David M. Allen, jumped into the act and had a public bus painting event for the occasion. This is my neighborhood bus, and I am an artist, so I joined my neighbors in the volunteer, paint-by-numbers exercise and was included in coverage by the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch:
Saint Louis Post Dispatch
"Judy snaps a selfie" Saint Louis Post-Dispatch

07 June 2014

TEA & AECOM release 2013 attendance numbers for world's top theme parks & museums - free report

Published by the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA) and the Economics practice at AECOM, the TEA/AECOM 2013 Theme Index & Museum Index is available free on the AECOM website at http://www.aecom.com/themeindex and on the TEA website at http://www.teaconnect.org/pdf/TEAAECOM2013.pdf. It will also be distributed in a print version and Chinese-language translation at the IAAPA Asian Attractions Expo in Beijing, June 17-20.

Click here to see the press release.

This is the 7th consecutive year TEA & AECOM have collaborated to create and publish the report, and, I'm pleased to say, my 7th consecutive year in the role of editor. Thank you and congratulations to all involved in the making of this vital resource for the leisure and travel industries. -- J.R.