Welcome to NonProfit PRO's 2016 Nonprofit Professionals of the Year Awards. This entry is for Marketer of the Year. To view all of this year's award winners, click here.
Adler Planetarium had a problem. The Chicago museum was competing with the city’s many high-profile attractions and arts institutions—and losing. Its advertising model was stale. Brand awareness was poor. Sales had been flat for more than 20 years.
Enter Marc Lapides.
When Adler Planetarium hired him in 2014, the former advertising executive was new to the museum space. But he wasn’t new to marketing. And he quickly identified the organization’s problem: too much volume, not enough impact. “Wallpaper,” he called its marketing.
“He saw the need to increase equity in the Adler Planetarium brand as a whole, versus exclusively advertising a new show, new exhibition or event here and there,” said Erin Wilson, director of marketing for the planetarium. “He made a very compelling case to our CEO that commercial practices can apply to nonprofit cultural content, and then went about making it happen.”
The plan was simple, at least in concept. Lapides would make Adler Planetarium cool. He overhauled the planetarium’s marketing, adopting an edgier voice. He implemented a campaign that would deliver eye-opening space facts translated for broader appeal—stuff like “there are diamonds in space bigger than Earth” and “there’s a planet that rains glass.” The campaign, titled “Space is Freaking Awesome,” at first made trustees uncomfortable. He knew he was on the right track.
The planetarium backed the campaign with strategic ad placement in high-traffic areas—digital billboards, wallscapes, a double decker bus. It also used five animated television spots and relied on targeted digital and social media marketing.
“In 2015, Adler Planetarium had record attendance, welcoming more than a half a million visitors—the most since 1993,” said Wilson. “Attendance was up 22 percent versus 2014, which was 14 percentage points higher than our Chicago museum counterparts. And revenue year over year was up 23 percent—all inconceivable given the trajectory of the last two decades.”