The historic Ford Theatres in Los Angeles had been closed for nearly two years for much-needed renovations when the team from M&C Saatchi LA was brought in to help re-ignite interest in the arts complex.
Since LA is such a culturally rich area, and the venues had been closed for a long time, M&C Saatchi and the Los Angeles County Arts Commission had a challenge on their collective hands. How do they get Angelinos interested in a place they may not know much about, and how do you pull in people to fill the seats?
The answer was to bring the art to the people before the venues opened. Through a series of online videos and documentary films that highlighted the diversity of programming – from music and theater to spoken word – people started to take notice.
“The team at M&C Saatchi became an extension of our staff, they worked side by side with us, embodying our mission and vision. This commitment combined with their expertise guided our campaign every step of the way, resulting in a successful reopening and launch of the summer season,” said Los Angeles County Arts Commission communications and marketing director Leticia Rhi Buckley.
The films added intimate views of the creative process, featuring TAIKOPROJECT + Quetzal, Flypoet and the Pacific Opera Project. A second series of films was created from a number of pop-up performances that were planned and captured around Los Angeles. Those films feature The Filharmonic, Vaud & The Villains and Versa-Style Dance Company. Other elements in the campaign include Instagram influencer takeovers, pole banners and billboards, collateral, digital display, radio and social content.
The John Anson Ford Theatres complex is one of the oldest performing arts venues in Los Angeles still in use, built in 1920 against the picturesque backdrop of the Cahuenga canyon. Each year, the Ford partners with LA County-based arts organizations to present an eclectic season of culturally diverse music, dance, theatre, film and family events. It was M&C Saatchi’s job to portray that diversity before the opening.
“I've been in Los Angeles for almost all my adult life. I had so little knowledge about the Ford Theater. It was amazing to me when we got them as a client,” said M&C Saatchi LA creative director Maria Smith.
What they lacked in knowledge, they made up for in spades by immersing themselves into the world of the Ford and helping the arts complex find its focus.
“They were missing a personality in a weird way. They had a mission, and their mission was to — this was something I didn't know — to really champion local artists. It's part of their mission to find talent in the city of Los Angeles. Particularly people who don't get to bring their art to a big public venue. Help them along so they can get to that stage in their performing careers, which I thought was really cool,” said Smith.
“They actually actively go out into the city and find these different acts to bring, and help them on board. They do workshops to help them understand ticket sales, marketing. It's almost like boot camp for these performers, to help them take that step from local theater houses to now, the big stage,” she stated.
Tons of talent
What truly impressed Smith was the diversity of the acts, the depth and high level of talent involved in the videos, and how these diverse acts truly connect the community to the patrons.
“It's the fabric of our city and the people who are really the living, working artists who make LA their home,” she said.
“There have always been these pockets of really great culture here, but they've always felt as though they've been siloed a little bit. It's been fun to rediscover what's been in our backyard this entire time.”
The folks they worked with show true passion for their art, and in some cases, how truly unique and engagingly eccentric they can be.
“The people that we've met, I've been so inspired by the process. You just realize how many creative people there are in this city. We've got the guy who has an opera group, who are impeccably talented. They sing the most difficult Mozart opera, but they're doing it as an homage to Star Trek, which is just wacky. You can't help but smile and be inspired by what people are doing,” she said.
While all the talent was there, what M&C Saatchi had to do to get people interested was to create buzz for a theater group that didn’t know the modern version of buzz, but had a loyal following nonetheless.
“They're relaunching; they need to let everybody know that they're back. They described to us that the people that they bring to the stage, they're pretty good at filling half of the house – a good 600 seats. The needed our help to fill the rest of the house. To do that, I think we wanted to give people a reason to go. I think there are so many venues in Los Angeles, there's a lot of cool ones,” she said, noting that while Angelinos have so many fine venues, they needed to discover the history and beauty that is the Ford complex.
Producing more with less
Since the Ford Theatres are public, they didn’t have a big budget to work with.
“It didn't make sense to go into, ‘we're going to get you a 30-second spot,’ or any of those super-expensive media buys, which might be one flash in the pan and then gone. Plus, we were dealing with the fact that they were renovating up until opening day,” she said. “We knew we couldn't necessarily get into the venue to shoot anything up there. When we thought about the creative task, we thought, ‘Maybe we take some of the stuff that happens, some of the magic that happens up at the Ford, and bring it out to LA.’"
The magic resulted in a library of short films.
“They've been really fun. Again, we looked at who was going to be onstage this summer and pulled some of the ones that we knew could help us create this identity for this client. I think what I'm starting to love is that, as I see these pieces come out, it does feel like, ‘That's the place that does this really unexpected, didn't know this thing even existed in LA. It'll get me a little closer to that talent, and it's more home-brewed. I want to be a part of that.’”
Smith said that she would love to see more civic pride come out of this campaign, having people proud of what’s happening in their city and championing the arts, rather than just being the typical freeway culture.
“You want people to be entertained, come to this show. The entertainment comes from the venue, being out under the stars. Having a great picnic dinner, and then seeing this act that you didn't know you could see in Los Angeles,” stated Smith.
She also hopes that a new slew of performers takes note and tries to become a part of the Ford experience, and that performers know that it is a place that nurtures talent. To that end, they haven’t finished their campaign.
“We've actually got one more piece coming in. We did the documentarian pieces. We did the pop-up performances. In a few weeks, we're going to do our last video piece, which is called 'Coffee for a Song.' In some ways, it's the purest representation of what the Ford is about. It's not necessarily based around a particular performer. What we're doing is we're going to take over a coffee shop right in the middle of Hollywood. For a few hours, I think we're going to do it for three consecutive days, we're going to invite people to, rather than pay for their daily java, they can perform for it. Literally, sing a song, do a little dance, do some spoken word poetry, whatever your thing is, for today, your coffee is on the house if you perform,” she said.
Smith loves celebrating the freshness of LA talent, and honors the spirit of the city through one of its oldest arts venues.