Taking Cirque to the Streets

Welcome to the R\West blog, where we sell stuff through on and off-line storytelling supported by analytics data and behavioral economics. We call it story-selling. It takes messaging that engages the heart and convinces the mind. And that’s exactly how we get beers in hands, butts in seats and people to take action!

To give you an example of story-selling, we’ll start by recognizing some of the inventive work from the Public Relations Department. Eager to bring creativity to the realm of earned media, the R\West PR Team was given the opportunity to dive headfirst into an art-inspired project featuring Cirque du Soleil’s TOTEM.

TOTEM is a performance focusing on the evolution of mankind, from the amphibian stage all the way to human’s ultimate desire to fly. It is a traveling show performed under The Grand Chapiteau, which in recent years has been moved from the Marquam Bridge downtown to 8 miles outside of the city center, at the Portland Expo Center. The downside of the location was an overall lack of awareness; people didn’t realize Cirque was in town! We needed to bring the characters of TOTEM back into the city and remind the people of Portland that this was a show they didn’t want to miss.

Known for their death-defying acrobatics, vibrant sets and costume designs, Cirque du Soleil is a theatrical and magical art form. It is extravagant in every aspect of production, and as an agency, we wanted to express its true brilliance outside of the Big Top, stripped from all of the lights, music, and intricate props, and bared to the public. We wanted to bring the performers back to their roots, when they were just a group of street performers trying to make a buck and bring a smile to someone’s face.

Here at R\West we don’t rely on tradition, but instead challenge ourselves in creative and strategic ways, demanding change and attention. For this project, we stepped away from the traditional media alerts, press releases, and pitches to explore other opportunities, always from a PR perspective. We needed an image-based campaign that would speak to the strengths of Cirque du Soleil, something that would succeed in an ever-changing media landscape.

Inspired by the Ballerina Project, the Cirque Photography Project was created to show Cirque’s ability to dazzle audiences even in typical day-to-day Portland life. We brought TOTEM’s performers to the streets for a cohesive photography-based campaign, allowing citizens and Cirque members to interact organically within some of Portland’s most popular landmarks.

We had the idea; we just needed to execute it. Due to the Oregonian’s recent switch from broadsheet size to compact format, they offer more color and a stronger visual and digital presence throughout their mediums. Realizing that our project was photography-heavy, and that the Oregonian’s new design was transforming its photographers into digital reporters, the PR department at R\West saw an opportunity. The Oregonian was our best choice for the project and we joined forces with their passionate and well-organized photographer, Faith Cathcart, along with Francis Jalbert, the roaring publicist with Cirque du Soleil, in order to create the Cirque Photography Project. The project showcases a total of 13 performers featured at six different iconic locations, all shot in just two days.

The circus took over Portland, and it was hard for people not to notice! We specifically and creatively matched the performers and their personalities with appropriate backdrops: The luminous Disco Man was seen lurking around the colorful structures of the Graffiti Graveyard and staring at his reflection in the puddles, while a Hoop Dancer stomped and twirled in front of the Kamea Hadar and Meggs Mural. A group of Cosmonauts were caught playing along the Southeast Waterfront, and the feral and hungry Neanderthals were caught on the Portland Street Car, poking and prying at passengers. Not to mention, the duo of life-size Frogs splashing in the swamps of the Lan Su Chinese Garden, and the seven-foot tall Unicyclers seen juggling and catching bowls on top of their heads at Cathedral Park.

The Oregonian awarded the Cirque Photography Project “Photo of the Day” several times in the month of April, it was featured in 20 articles, and it was displayed on the cover of the Oregonian’s A&E section – much to the client’s delight!

“Sell your stuff and do it in a way that keeps on selling.” That’s what we say, and that’s what we do here at R\West, and The Cirque Photography Project was certainly a PR success!

-Written by: Kali Huebner

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