15 November 2009

Three Pavilions at Shanghai Expo 2010

Nick Winslow
This article originally appeared in the 2010 TEA Annual And Directory, published by the Themed Entertainment Association.

Three Pavilions at Shanghai Expo 2010
by Judith Rubin

The USA Pavilion: Triumph against the Odds
With the authorization of the US Federal government, Nick Winslow and his team are heading up the official USA participation in Shanghai Expo 2010. What that means, exactly, is a complete, soup-to-nuts endeavor, encompassing fundraising, project management, planning, design, production, construction, staffing, operations and, finally, disposal of the building after closing day.

Winslow is a seasoned consultant whose experience includes seven years with Warner Bros. Recreation Enterprises and 11 years with Harrison Price Company (now retired, Price was a leading economic analyst whose credits include feasibility studies for many world expo pavilions). In this venture, Winslow and his partner, attorney Ellen Eliasoph, have achieved the near-impossible, and the most impossible task was the first: getting the funds. Most countries that participate in world expos allocate some government funds toward the project. The US does not – a law passed not too many years ago effectively prevents the Fed from making such expenditures. Any group trying to mount a US expo pavilion finds itself in a Catch-22 situation: it's hard to raise the money if you don't have the official nod from the government, and the nod is hard to get if you haven't demonstrated you can get the money. It goes without saying that all this was made doubly difficult by the recession. All members of Winslow's team have been active in sponsorship transactions, notably Norm Elder and Jim Garber in the US, and Felix Wong and Dan Whitaker in China. “It's an event for the ages and I'm glad we're there,” said Winslow.

Winslow and Eliasoph persisted and prevailed, aided by significant support and votes of confidence from important voices within the US government, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, US Ambassador Elizabeth Frawley Bagley and the Office of Public-Private Partnerships, and Kris Balderston, Clinton's former chief of staff during her Senate years. Winslow's team raced against time and a recession to raise enough of the pavilion's $61 million budget to enable the project to reach the official groundbreaking on July 17. The pavilion's Oct 14 “topping off” ceremony marked completion of its superstructure – placement of the last steel beam. At the ceremony, the U.S. Ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, and the Deputy Secretary General of Shanghai Municipal Government and Director General of the Shanghai World Expo Coordination Bureau, Hong Hao, joined hands and drew Chinese calligraphy together on a vertical beam of the steel structure.

“We're going to make it,” Winslow said when we spoke in late September 09. He had just returned from a pre-opening meeting in Shanghai of the Expo's international participants and commissioner generals. He was in Washington, DC, preparing for a meeting with the US Department of State to finalize the content for the visitor experience, in order to begin media production. “Secretary Clinton made the expo an important part of her agenda for China,” noted Winslow. “The whole state department team was also very helpful. From the beginning, the Chinese were incredibly helpful. They told everyone how important us participation in the expo is, and thankfully people in Washington listened. They've given us wonderful support. That's what has inspired America's corporate leadership to support this in a significant way.”

On July 1, Secretary Clinton named Jose Villareal as Commissioner General of the USA Pavilion. Mark Germyn, an operations and financial expert with a background in major theme parks and international mega-events, was recently appointed COO. “We're beginning to staff up,” noted Winslow. “The commissioner general is the head of the delegation for the pavilion, and reps his or her country to the Expo governing authority. My job as president/CEO is to build and operate the pavilion. Ellen has been writing all the contracts, using her very substantial contacts in China, and her law firm has given her a huge amount of latitude to work on this project.”

Winslow describes the pavilion's business model as “the essence of public-private partnership - officially we loan the pavilion to the state department for the six months of the expo.” Asked what changes he'd like to see regarding future US participation in expos, based on his current experience, Winslow shared these opinions. “We should reestablish our position as a member of the BIE [the BIE is the Paris-based treaty organization that oversees world expos, and the US let its BIE membership lapse several years ago]. We should get rid of the law that prevents the Fed from using allocated funds to build the pavilions. And we should set aside responsibility, whether to the Department of State, or the Department of Commerce, to oversee US participation. Give them a little bit of funding so we can have proper design competitions three or four years in advance to put together concepts and help with fund-raising. I really do like these public-private partnerships, but it would be a whole lot easier if there was some existing money in the pot. That's not the process we have now, however, and we have taken it the way it is - and proved it can still be done! I was originally just going to make this a chapter in the book I will write one day, but this is going to deserve a tome of its own.”

Winslow has found working in China an exhilarating experience. “The expo organizers have done an excellent job of opening the channels of communication to share technical and operations information that exhibitors need and get their questions answered. They understand the enormity of what they're trying to do. With 192 countries and 45 NGOs participating, as they say it's 'a lot of stuff.'” He observed that “China today seems to me to be a young person's society. You go around Shanghai particularly, and see this huge surge of population that occurred after the Cultural Revolution. They are the people changing the country. They are aggressive and upbeat. They see where China is going, and are anxious to be part of it. There's also a huge number of foreign-born younger people there to make their mark. Now we're hoping we can get the word out to the American public to see this thing. It's going to be a great show.”

Anyone wishing to inquire about joining or supporting the USAP effort should begin at the official website, http://www.usapavilion2010.com.

USA Pavilion's green design
USA Pavilion architect Clive Grout of Vancouver-based Clive Grout Architect cut his expo teeth working on seven different pavilions at Vancouver Expo 86. Bob Rogers was designer on three of those pavilions. His company, BRC Imagination Arts (Burbank) is designing the exhibits for the USAP.

Rogers' career was effectively launched by the work he did in Vancouver, which included the “Spirit Lodge” show at the General Motors Pavilion, and the “Rainbow Wars” film for the British Columbia Pavilion. His company has since designed and produced something like 20 expo pavilions altogether as well as numerous well-known attractions for museums and theme parks, including the Abraham Lincoln Museum in Springfield, Illinois and Shuttle Launch Experience at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Grout went on to head the firm Architectura, and one of his influential design triumphs with that company was a remarkable expansion of Vancouver International Airport, which, in its configuration, choice of materials and selection of public art, celebrated and evoked the beauty, unique terrain and cultural identity of the region much like a good world's fair pavilion. “We started this with Nick when he was trying to put the USAP together, knowing it was an uphill battle,” says Grout. “It's more than just a job.” Grout has been working very closely with BRC's designers to integrate their requirements for the pavilion guest experience into the show spaces Grout and his associates have roughed out.

Grout's pavilion design and BRC's guest experience will develop the expo's “Better Cities, Better Life” theme to envision and celebrate the sustainable cities of the future. The building's entrance and initial queuing area will be Grout's tree-filled “urban courtyard.” The trees will be accompanied by a waterfall, generated by a rainwater-fed pool. The landscaping will reflect the wide variety of climate and terrain in the US.

Inside the building, some 2,500 visitors per hour will be pulsed through the multimedia (“4D”) guest experience, which will relate, wordlessly, a story through the sensibilities of a Chinese-American woman living in the year 2030. As the story goes, this protagonist had been a visitor to the Shanghai expo in 2010, and her life as portrayed in 2030 reflects the “Better Cities” catalyst of the expo 20 years earlier – valuing teamwork, celebrating ethnic diversity and marking the accomplishments of the Chinese-American community. Post-show exhibits will portray the seeds of change and sustainability that will help lead the world to the “Better Life” of 2030.

Urban agriculture – a fruit and vegetable garden on the roof – will be a significant feature of the building. Some of the produce will be used for catering the VIP lounge. This low-tech aspect of greenbuilding will set the USAP building a little apart from buildings that depend more on technical and mechanical features such as photovoltaics and wind generation, although, notes Grout, “We're doing those as well.”

The two wings of the building symbolize the wings of an eagle. The structure is temporary on the expo site – after closing day, it will either be relocated and re-used, or dismantled and recycled. Materials and methods were chosen to facilitate this. The steel structure is bolted together rather than welded. The skin is of aluminum panels. The building's spaces are large and open. Grout emphasized that simplicity was important to fulfilling the vision and the message. “We have not felt the need to do an architectural handstand to get attention.”

The USAP guest experience – entertaining everybody at once
Bob Rogers
“In earlier decades, expos were the world's way of communicating - the only way for Westerners could, for instance, see South Sea islanders weaving leaves into thatch roofs, without going to the South Seas,” notes Rogers. “Over time, the expo has instead become a fabulous vehicle of regional economic promotion. Whereas the Beijing Olympics were the coming out party - China announcing its presence to the world – the Shanghai expo is going to be China announcing the connection of the world to itself. For many people within China, this is going to be a definitive identity shaping moment - a realization about its relationship to the outside world.”

Effective world's fair pavilion design requires divining the true nature of both the public and private audience and accommodating both with the best show in town. In terms of the public, world expos welcome an international audience and many foreign visitors will pass through the gates of Shanghai 2010. All the same, the bulk of attendance at any world's fair comes from the host country and the largest portion from within a 150-mile radius of the host city. “The host learns as well as teaches,” remarked Rogers. “The vast majority of the attendees of expos will be Chinese. It will be an announcement to China of who China is.”

The private or VIP experience is equally important. While the public are on the main floor, “there is a huge business-to-business and government-to-government interaction happening upstairs,” noted Rogers. “If you've got an extremely popular pavilion, others want to trade favors with you. Corporate sponsors of the USA Pavilion, for instance, will be approached by VIPs seeking access.” It is a corporate rep's dream scenario. “You've got tickets to the most popular show and the window is limited,” explained Rogers. “The potential clients call you up and qualify themselves in the course of requesting access to your pavilion, and you host them in your VIP lounge before taking them through the show. It's very conducive to building relationships. You've got two simultaneous worlds of critical relationship building: one is a game of huge numbers - the millions of general public going through - and the other one is small numbers – the VIPs.”

How does one go about producing the best show in town? “You've got to have some real information and present it in way that just charms the socks off them – a combination of scholarship, showmanship, and salesmanship that dazzles. You have to know the audience better than the client knows them,” said Rogers, whom TEA recently honored with the Thea Award for Lifetime Achievement. Understanding the special nature of an expo audience is vital. “It's about the last general audience left,” explained Rogers. “We divide ourselves into niche audiences more and more. But an expo has got everybody - the kind of audience that in the US in the 1950s were all watching the big three networks together. In many ways we've forgotten how to entertain everybody at once.

A Look at Two Corporate Pavilions
China Mobile & China Telecom
“In the near future, everything is going to be talking to everything. You'll walk down the street and you'll be hearing from your shoelace that it isn't tied,” said Bob Rogers, whose company, BRC Imagination Arts, is designing the guest experience for the corporate pavilion jointly sponsored by China Mobile & China Telecom at Shanghai Expo 2010. “Your media player is going to be able to call your home cooling unit and tell it to lower the temperature. The stuff is going to start talking to the stuff. Conversations will be between people and people, people and things, things and things, and that connectivity will be transformational.”

At this writing, Rogers was not able to divulge many details about the show content, however he was able to convey that the building is vast and the show interactive. “This is going to be a very exciting pavilion, and I daresay we will have more screens in our theaters there, than any pavilion show ever. It's going to be colossal. It's got a mixture of scale and intimacy, of big and small, that I don't think we've seen before.” The pavilion will have a capacity of 2,000 an hour, in which visitors will spend about 12 minutes per area for a one-hour guest experience, and, Rogers said, the VIP area will be “incredible.”

As befits the sponsors, the guest experience will celebrate and explore the role of the handheld electronic device. “All this stuff is all folding into this one thing in your hand and how small can it get?” said Rogers. “The experience in the pavilion will take that and use it and it'll be a lot of fun.” There will be illusion. “In one space you'll walk in thinking you're looking at one thing and find you're looking at something else.” And there will be simulation. “We will tease the visitor's equilibrium with the illusion of a thrill factor.”

State Grid Pavilion
Big-screen media experiences have been a hallmark of world expos since Montreal 67, and the latest eye-popping, visitor immersing models will be astounding visitors at Shanghai Expo 2010. World's fairs are a laboratory and international showcase for experimentation on many fronts including architecture, media and entertainment, and without a doubt Shanghai's best innovations will plant seeds in the minds of today's Experience Designers – potent seeds that will grow into concepts for future permanent attractions. The show produced by ECA2 for the State Grid Pavilion, which will feature what are said to be the largest LED screens ever built, could scatter a few such seeds.

State Grid is in the business of building and operating electric power grids in China, working toward the goal of establishing a secure, modern and reliable statewide supply. As a global partner of Expo 2010, State Grid will have a pavilion with a multimedia show conceived, designed and produced by ECA2, a French company well known for its media spectacles and productions at world's fairs, Olympics and major sports events, theme parks and mega-celebrations.

For 10 hours a day, seven days a week throughout the six months of the expo, visitors will experience Le Voyage de l’Energie, which Pépin has described as an “immersive experience of multimedia art in 720 degrees.” It will use six LED screens to surround the visitor with images of energy in motion. At 350 visitors per four-minute show, ECA2 estimates the pavilion will host a total of some 5 million visitors. Concept designers are Yves Pépin and Sophie Poirier. Artistic director is Moïra Smith and producer is ECA2.

10 November 2009

US Pavilion at Shanghai: Incisive Commentary from China Daily

"Fear not: The pavilion will not resemble the mobile home shacks the Bush administration gave to Southerners displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Do expect a nice blast of air and a spray of water - in a good way..."

China Daily copy editor Brad Webber wryly spells out the struggles the USA Pavilion has overcome to bring itself into existence, conveying the spirit and optimism of the enterprise, and remembering his own visit as a youth to Spokane Expo 74. Well-written, well-informed and well-observed.

Update: Monday 16 Nov, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visits the expo site and calls for more sponsorship support.

Update: US Pavilion is recruiting for a variety of positions.

Update: Pasadena Rose Parade to feature Shanghai Expo 2010 float.

18 October 2009

Jumana Brodersen's transition from Busch Entertainment Corp exec to independent businesswoman

This article by Jumana Brodersen explains how she's adapted to being an independent after having always worked for large firms - most recently, 10 years as director of creative development at Busch Entertainment Corp. It's an inspiring story of a resilient and successful business person, and it has struck a chord in the themed entertainment industry. It's been widely read and commented upon, and Brodersen herself has received many complimentary notes from people who find it resonates with their own experiences. Read the article here.

In dome theaters and planetariums, digital and optical systems combine

I wrote this article for IMERSA, the trade group that is working to spread the word about fulldome digital technology to the planetarium community and to the themed entertainment community at large. The issue is that Most digital projectors do not produce true blacks, but instead fade to a uniform gray sky. The traditional optomechanical projectors give you the deep blacks but not the versatility of fulldome. This is prompting manufacturers to come up with combination systems and also to strive to produce blacker blacks with digital systems. The article was first published in Sept 09 in The Planetarian (International Planetarium Society quarterly) and then online at Blooloop.com here.

Photo: Central placement of the 2 JVC video projectors on either side of the GOTO CHIRON allow for 100% fulldome coverage with no starball shadow on the dome at Fujisawa, Japan the most recent HYBRID dome. Image courtesy GOTO.

30 July 2009

USA Pavilion at Shanghai 2010 reaches milestone

The very, very good news is that the USA Pavilion is officially moving forward -- with a signed participation agreement between the US Fed and the Shanghai Expo, an official groundbreaking in Shanghai on July 17, and a first-rate project team headed by Nick Winslow and Ellen Eliasoph, with veteran expo designers Bob Rogers of BRC Imagination Arts and Clive Grout of Clive Grout Architect.

I've written two articles about it, both published on Blooloop:
July 16: USA Pavilion Groundbreaking in Shanghai shares the details of the project's graduation to official status
July 30: Not an Architectural Handstand focuses on the sustainable design of the pavilion

Also of interest is Knute Berger's July 24 article on Crosscut, "Chinese Puzzle," about the diligent efforts of US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke (third from left in the picture above) to galvanize support for the USA Pavilion.

The USA Pavilion official website is here.

01 July 2009

USA Pavilion breaks ground in Shanghai

From the USAP website
World Expos: USA Pavilion Groundbreaking in Shanghai
 (Originally published on Blooloop.com in July 2009)

by Judith Rubin

Nick Winslow
It's official: the USA Pavilion (USAP) at Shanghai Expo 2010 is a done deal. The governments and people of both countries welcome a positive new chapter in what has been a difficult, suspenseful and sometimes uncertain undertaking. In a difficult economy and a compressed timeframe, the team headed by Nick Winslow and Ellen Eliasoph has succeeded in raising enough private funds for the US and China to enter into a formal participation agreement and for pavilion construction to officially commence. Jose Villareal, US Commissioner General, and Gary Locke, US Secretary of Commerce, will both be present on the expo site for tomorrow's ceremonial groundbreaking.

The accomplishment of Winslow's team is that much more substantial in light of the fact that 100% of the $61 million needed to build, staff, operate (and, after closing day, tear down and remove) the USAP had to be obtained from private sources. Most international pavilions at a world's fair receive at least some government funding, which helps kickstart the process in a practical sense and also makes a diplomatic statement. Although Shanghai expo organizers did at an early stage select and hold a well-located plot of land on the expo site for the USAP, there was some very real and justified concern that the US might not come through.

But the past few months have seen an ever increasing base of support for the pavilion in the US and China and Winslow and his team stayed optimistic. “It's been a collaborative effort getting the sponsorships,” Winslow says. “Some sponsorships have been driven from the US and some from China. Those on the Chinese side had to want to be participants; those on the American side had to want to spend the money. On the US side, the State Department and other high level Federal people made it clear through a series of meetings, phone calls and other communications that this is an important piece of American diplomacy and they are looking to corporate America to get it done. Hillary Clinton says she is 'obsessed,' with this project. It getting absolute top-level treatment.”

Bob Rogers, BRC Imagination Arts
While the US State Department cannot itself solicit funds, it can create a setting for doing so, and Winslow reported that US Ambassador Elizabeth Frawley Bagley, a well regarded political fundraiser, has played an instrumental role in helping to host events for potential sponsors to connect with US and Chinese officials. After the first few sponsors came in the gate, others started to follow and they are now signing up at a steady pace. The current list includes Pepsico Inc., General Electric, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Golden Eagle International Group, Yum! Brands Inc., Dell (China) Company Ltd., Microsoft Corp., The Boeing Company, Committee of 100, Intel Semiconductor Ltd., Panasonic Corp. of North America, 3M China Co. Ltd., Cargill, Corning Inc., Nyse Euronext, The Executive Centre Hong Kong Ltd., and USA-China Education Science & Culture Assn.

“Some companies were sitting on sidelines waiting to see how important this was to the Chinese,” says Winslow. “And the Chinese have been very public in communicating that it is. People like the story of the pavilion that we are doing.” All members of Winslow's team have been active in sponsorship transactions, notably Norm Elder and Jim Garber in the US, and Felix Wong and Dan Whitaker in China.

The pavilion itself will welcome the general public and also have what Winslow terms “absolutely first rate” VIP facilities for business-to-business and business-to-government interactions, a critical function at world expos. Clive Grout Architects designed the building and BRC Imagination Arts is providing the multimedia guest experience. The USAP will explore the “Better Cities, Better Life” theme of the expo by telling a story through the voice of a Chinese-American woman living in the year 2030, who was a visitor to the Shanghai expo in 2010. Her life as portrayed in 2030 reflects the “Better Cities” catalyst of the expo 20 years earlier, and the values of teamwork, and celebrates ethnic diversity and the accomplishments of the Chinese-American community. This message from the future will play out in a 4D multimedia theater format. The post show exhibits will portray the seeds of change and sustainability that will help lead the world to the “Better Life” of 2030. The four cornerstones are identified as health & nutrition, teamwork, sustainability and the success of Chinese people in America.

Overseeing the USAP project for BRC Imagination Arts is Tisa Poe, BRC vice president, brand and entertainment experiences. Her team includes Greg Lombardo, director, brand experiences, Gerry Smith, project manager, John Emshwiller, art director and of course the overarching leadership of company founder and chief creative officer Bob Rogers, who has some 20 expo pavilions to his credit going back to the groundbreaking “Spirit Lodge” pavilion for General Motors at Vancouver Expo 86 but also including such recent triumphs as the US Pavilion for Aichi Expo 2005 in Japan. “Expos are our sweet spot,” says Poe, whose own expo pavilion credits include project management for the “Postcards” large format film that was the centerpiece of the Korean Airlines Pavilion at Taejon Expo 93. “We are honored to be asked to tell this story. We take our responsibility very seriously and will deliver the message of the USA pavilion properly, respectfully, and presented in a manner that engages the audience.”

The 2-story, 6,000 square meter pavilion will itself be sustainably built and energy efficient, and many of its components will be recycled or re-used after the expo. It will have an urban farm on its roof. Shanghai Expo 2010 opens in less than a year and will run for six months, from May 1-October 31, 2010. In addition to the physical expo, there will be a complete, detailed virtual presence online that includes all pavilions.

Bob Rogers exclaims, “The 2010 expo is going to rank as one of the great events of the 21st century – a once in a lifetime opportunity for advancing brands, business connections and diplomatic ties between China and the USA. To not show up would have been an insult, the equivalent of boycotting the Olympics. Local surveys show that even before this announcement, already over 60% of the Shanghai residents rank the US Pavilion as one of the top pavilions they want to see. This is an opportunity and a responsibility. As a country and as an economy, we must not disappoint. The US simply must have a pavilion and it must be great. We will deliver on that high expectation.”

The project caught the attention of many Chinese-Americans who have expressed interest in being volunteer staff for the pavilion. Winslow noted that his team brought a coordinator on board to handle such issues.

The USAP maintains a legacy website at http://pavilion.expo.cn/c5001/ssize/en/index.html.

09 June 2009

World Expos: From One Expo to the Next, Transfer of Knowledge is Tricky to Achieve

Transfer of knowledge is all-important to world's fairs because these gigantic, expensive undertakings are one-off events. A city or region gets one chance to do it right and the potential long-range benefits are huge. Accurate documentation of an event provides material for future organizers to draw upon and the opportunity to bestow (and receive) credit where it is due.

Click here to read my new article about the Edmonton 2017 expo bid, and transfer of knowledge, on Blooloop.

01 June 2009

More promising news for USA Pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010

Some good news from Hank Levine's blog, Behind the Curtain, about US-China relations.
"Shanghai Expo: A Corner Turned

Readers may have noted the most recent bit of positive news regarding the US Pavilion for the Shanghai Expo: the adding of Yum Brands as a sponsor (here’s one report from AP via LA Times.

But the fact is, something much more profound has taken place. Secretary Clinton and her senior staff are now actively engaged in support of the fundraising efforts by the State Department approved group that is working feverishly to get the Pavilion built..." click here to read the full post.

Hank Levine has worked for the US State Department as well as the American Embassy in China. He also blogs at Behind The Curtain and speaks fluent Chinese. He has held positions in the Office of Chinese Affairs at the State Department and in the US Embassy in Beijing, as well as serving as US Consul General in Shanghai and the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Asia.

15 May 2009

Calif Academy of Sciences exhibits - definitive coverage

Image from Cinnabar Inc., producer of exhibits for the Kimball Museum of Natural History at the new California Academy of Sciences
In Style and Content, the California Academy of Sciences
Points the Way to a Greener Future...

I wrote this detailed feature for Lighting & Sound America magazine. It is a definitive study of the design, tech design and installation of all the exhibits in all three museums contained in the new Academy - the natural history museum, the aquarium/rainforest and the planetarium. The Academy posted this article on their website here.
Photo: Joe Fletcher

28 April 2009

"All buildings are now theaters" -- Steve Thorburn

"It has been coined AIR (Acoustically Integrated aRchitecture) and we have been practicing it for much longer than we've had a name for it," says Steven J. Thorburn, PE. His company, Thorburn Associates Inc., specializes in building technologies and acoustical engineering, and counts numerous architectural firms among its 800-plus clients.

Says Thorburn, "Green building ideals and LEED, the role of technology in daily life, the placement of mechanical/technical components and the needs of human gathering spaces all require specialized technical solutions in the conceptual stage - they all need AIR."

"What we're now seeing is that the integration of acoustics, engineering and architecture that is standard practice in a performing arts center is also a necessity in most every new project, because of the amount of audiovisual equipment and other technology involved. As a result, they all require a level of integrated design in the early stages comparable to what is common practice in theater development. In a very real sense, all buildings are now theaters."

To illustrate this premise, Thorburn cites two of his company's projects: the San Francisco Federal Building, and the De Anza College Performing Arts Center. Full story here.

TEA/ERA Attraction Attendance Report 2008

The 2008 attendance numbers for the world's top theme parks and waterparks have been compiled by ERA (Economics Research Associates) and published by TEA (Themed Entertainment Association). Destination parks took something of a hit from the recession but regional parks are holding their own. Economic recovery might start to manifest by the end of 2009 or it might hang fire until 2010. Europe is bracing for a tough season. Theme park development in the Mideast has slowed to a crawl but Asia continues to blossom. Click here to read and download the full report with attendance charts from the TEA website. (I have edited this annual report for the past three years, since TEA took over as publisher.)

The Un-Planetarium: Marketing & Branding Fulldome

Deep Space Adventure, Adler Planetarium
As IMERSA’s director of communications, it’s my job to help spread the word about fulldome (the medium of digital dome video projection) within the planetarium community and also to its other developing markets in entertainment and education. My April 2009 column for The Planetarian, published by the International Planetarium Society, examines branding and marketing of fulldome theaters, via interviews with Dan Neafus (Gates Planetarium, Denver Museum of Nature & Science), Mike Murray (Sheila M Clark Planetarium, Salt Lake City) and Paul Fraser (Blaze Partners LLC). To read the two-part series on the IMERSA website, click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

Interview with Steve Judson and Chris Palmer of MacGillivray Freeman Films

On the heels of the recent Giant Screen Cinema Association (GSCA) film expo in Los Angeles, Charles Read and I connected with Steve Judson (Vice President of Film Production and Post Production, and a 25-year veteran of the company) and Chris Palmer, (President, MacGillivray Freeman Films Educational Foundation).

MacGillivray Freeman Films is one of the most successful producers and distributors of giant-screen 70mm documentaries, typically shown in Imax theaters in museums and science centers. Some MFF titles, including “Everest” (1998) and “To Fly” (1976) are, in the US, among the highest grossing documentaries of all time – right up there with mainstream docs like “Fahrenheit 911” and “An Inconvenient Truth.” The company has been honored with numerous filmmaking and conservation awards. At GSCA, MFF screened new releases “Grand Canyon Adventure,” and “Van Gogh: Brush With Genius” and works in progress “Arabia,” “Return to Everest,” and “To the Arctic.” Click here to read the interview.

31 March 2009

Theme Park Design and Project Interruptus – David and Linda Smith of Smithink, former Busch Entertainment execs, carry on

As corporate VP, entertainment and corporate VP, brand management, respectively, Saint Louisans David and Linda Smith were front and center for many of the greatest achievements of Busch Entertainment Corporation (BEC) – including the rebranding of SeaWorld Parks and the creation of Discovery Cove.

Declining to follow BEC when it relocated to Orlando, the Smiths resigned in October 2008 and created their own company, Smithink, to offer strategic planning, creative development and brand development services. Smithink was immediately hired by BEC to conceive and executive produce Worlds of Discovery Dubai, a Busch-branded project that would comprise four parks and a shopping and retail environment to be built on the crown of Palm Jebel Ali... Click here to read the full story on Blooloop.

16 February 2009

Good prognosis for US pavilion at Shanghai 2010

Plans for realizing a US pavilion at the upcoming world expo in Shanghai - which runs 1 May to 31 Oct 2010 - appear to be on track and the nonprofit group led by Nick Winslow and Ellen Eliasoph is heading into the design development phase, with detailed estimates in place and major sponsorship announcements imminent, according to Winslow, who spoke with me by phone on Feb 13.

In April 2008, the US Dept. of State issued a letter of intent authorizing Winslow's team to take on the challenge of putting together a national pavilion concept – a package including creative, construction and sponsorship. Two recent design presentations given by Winslow's group in Shanghai garnered positive responses from the Shanghai expo organizers as well as the business community.

There are still hurdles to clear. Winslow's group must have letters of intent from sponsors by April 15 in order to break ground by May 1... click here for the full article.

Official US Pavilion Website is here.

Images: Rendering of pavilion concept by Clive Grout Architects, and picture of Nick Winslow.

06 February 2009

15th Annual Thea Awards

TEA's 15th annual Thea Awards Gala takes place at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim on March 7, 2009. Tickets are available through the TEA (Themed Entertainment Association) website. It is a really grand evening of music, dining, imbibing and awards, with everyone in tuxes and evening gowns - a valuable and enjoyable networking event for all. This event is open to the public.

Here are links to various press releases and articles related documenting this year's awardees:
Air Force One Discovery Center at the Reagan Museum
The Simpsons Ride at Universal
Forces of Nature at the Arizona Science Center
Jungala at Busch Gardens Tampa
Audubon Insectarium
Disney's Epcot, Muppet Mobile Lab, Legend of Mythica and Finding Nemo the Musical
Wynn Macau's Tree of Prosperity
The Newseum
Operation Spy at the International Spy Museum
National Museum of the Marine Corps
Molenheide The Forgotten Mine
2008 Summer Olympics Opening Ceremonies
Robert L Ward

09 January 2009

Marketing and Customer Service: What Are You Really Selling, and to Whom?

I spent nine years running a small retail music store with my husband, and an ongoing concern was the physical layout of the space. I watched closely how customers moved through the store, what caught their attention, how they handled merchandise and how their behavior indicated comfort or discomfort.
We arranged and re-arranged accordingly to maximize sales opportunities, extend the length of the customer's visit and to facilitate and simplify the selection and purchasing processes. We moved tables and shelves, added rugs and seating, widened corridors, provided coffee and snacks, created a transaction area with designated “buyer's chair,” redesigned and repositioned price tags, provided surfaces for people to put their stuff down, etc. etc.

We gave the same kind of close attention to how people reacted to what the staff said and how and when they said it, and trained ourselves and our staff to deliver the best possible sales support and customer service. We applied similar methods to our marketing efforts and our website. We were rewarded with increased sales and more satisfied customers – because we took the time and made the effort to understand what they wanted and needed, not just through their words but through their actions, and we altered our words and actions to meet them.

All this makes me a picky consumer today. When I deal with a retail or service outlet I am very sensitive to the merchandising layout and the quality of service, and I'm not particularly shy about pointing things out. No, I don't offer myself as a consultant or try to run anybody's business for them...

I'll give some examples. A pet peeve is salespeople in a bricks-and-mortar location who send me back home to the Internet. I've taken the trouble to visit the store to see things in person and talk to a human face to face, and they suggest I go back home and shop on my browser. This is so wrong in so many ways that I admit I have a hard time even knowing how to begin phrasing my objection. It happened to me more than once in a major department store chain (one that is in serious financial trouble now) and I sent an email about it to the store manager, who I''m hoping was not typical, because his response was personally offensive (after telling me how rude I was, he suggested I needed to get in touch with a doctor).

Very recently, I tried on clothing in a local fitness wear store. The range of merchandise was so limited that there wasn't a single top in my size. For someone who has been working out at the gym for years and is reasonably fit, as I am, this kind of experience is marginalizing, even humiliating. I'm a gym-goer and yet my shape and size put me outside a fitness store's perceived demographic. I shared these thoughts with the apologetic salesperson before I left the store.

Even more infuriating, illogical and downright hypocritical is a detail of the gym itself: No dedicated place for a person to stretch. Maintaining flexibility is an important part of a well-rounded fitness program, right? We all know that, right? But when it comes down to manifesting that by setting aside actual, dedicated space on the gym floor, something intrudes. It might be that thing we learned about in art school called “horror vacui” - fear of empty space – which was part of instructors' teaching us to leave some white space on the page, dammit. But I think it is simply the need of an equipment company to sell or lease equipment having overcome the gym operator's sense of proportion. And once that equipment is there, they keep the sense of proportion at bay to justify the expenditure. The result: no place to stretch. Naturally, I have brought up the issue more than once and we are now at the “nobody else is complaining” stage, which means that the equipment is more important than the customer and if necessary they'll designate me a lunatic and sacrifice my business to the cause. In other words, the gym's unwritten, true mission is to house equipment, not to provide users with the environment for a balanced fitness program.

It's important in any business to take time for a reality check. Ask yourself honestly what business you are in, what your mission is and who your customers are. Then find out if your perception matches that of your staff, and that of your customers. And – MIND THE GAP!

Recommended reading: Selling the Invisible: A Field Guide to Modern Marketing, by Harry Beckwith.

Jonathan Katz Speaks about California Academy of Sciences at Events in San Francisco, Feb 27 and April 3

Cinnabar CEO Jonathan Katz, executive producer of 35,000 square feet of multimedia exhibits for the celebrated, new California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park, will speak on two industry panels in the San Francisco area, Feb 27 and April 3, 2009.

Feb 27:
With the exhibits “Altered State,” (executive produced by Katz) the Academy adopted a bold stance on the issue of climate change. The panel, “Exhibitions: Experimentation, Risk and Reward,” takes place Feb 27 at the Hotel Kabuki in San Francisco. It addresses the rewards and challenges of experimentation and risk-taking in the museum sector – daring to try something new in a community that is traditionally risk-averse. It is moderated by Ann Marshall of the Autry National Museum. With Katz on the panel are Kitty Connolly and Karina White of The Huntington Library and Jonathan Spaulding of the Autry. This session is part of the California Association of Museums Annual Conference running Feb 25-28. More info: www.calmuseums.org.

April 3:
“The Living Building” is a by-invitation event for the design community, focusing on the professional teamwork that created this breakthrough facility. This panel discussion takes place April 3 at the Academy. It is presented by Metropolis magazine and Coalesse, and the discussion will be led by Metropolis editor-in-chief Susan Szenasy. Katz is joined on the panel by Brett Terpeluk of Studio Terpeluk (architecture), Paul Kephart of Rana Creek (ecological design), and Jean Rogers of Arup (design & engineering). More info: coalesse.com or phone 866-645-6952.

Katz brought his innovative creative approach, his green-building expertise, his efficient management style and his company, Cinnabar Inc., to the production of 35,000 sq. ft. of original, new exhibits and multimedia for the Kimball Museum of Natural History within the new California Academy of Sciences. As executive producer, Katz assembled and oversaw the creative team to develop the exhibits on a modular, sustainable scale to complement the architecture, fulfill green building criteria, minimize power usage while meeting high project standards, adhere to the Academy’s budget and timeframe, and facilitate future modification.