NATIONAL GALLERY OF CANADA:
THE THREE YEAR COMMUNICATIONS PLAN
This case was written by Audrey Doyle, Martha Musicco and Professor Michael A.
Guolla for the purpose of providingmaterial for class discussion. It is designed tobean
illustration of a managerial decision and makes no claim regardingthe effectiveness or
ineffectiveness of anymanagement issues. Anyreproduction is prohibitedexcept with
permission bythe authors. Copyright 1998 the Universityof Ottawa. Revised 2001
Ursula Thiboutot, Head of Media Relations and Marketing, was discussing the marketing
activities for the National Gallery of Canada with a co-worker in July 1998. With the end of the
Picasso exhibition, Ursula felt that marketing communications should focus on the permanent
collection. While the Gallery’s image had improved with successful “blockbuster shows” like
Picasso, Ursula knew she had to communicate all the Gallery’s products, services and programs
with limited human and financial resources. Ursula was aware that Pierre Théberge, the new
Director, expected the Gallery to increase its public outreach by appealing to local visitors and
their families to continue reaching record attendance levels. As Ursula considered her
recommendations for senior management, she began to see the need for a detailed three-year
integrated marketing communications plan that would go beyond the usual one-year plan.
Founded in 1880, the National Gallery of Can1da is the country's premiere visual-arts museum
and is located in Ottawa, Ontario. The Gallery has a legislated mandate to carry out four broad
activities: collect, educate and communicate, accommodate, and administer. In general its
strategic operational priorities are to reach out to the Canadian public throughout the land and to
optimize the financial situation. Since its inception, the Gallery had sought to develop its
holdings in a well-researched and scholarly manner. Prior to the 1990s, the Gallery was located
in a downtown office building and reported to the National Museums of Canada Corporation.
Consequently, the Gallery and other National Museums had limited decision-making authority on
organizational structure, programming, and related activities.
The National Gallery of Canada also includes the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography.
1 The 1987 Withrow-Richard report strongly recommended that the Canadian Government
devolve itself of the National Museums of Canada Corporation and restructure the four national
museums into Crown Corporations. The Museums Act received Royal assent on January 30 , th
1990 and was quickly proclaimed on July 1 . Recently, the Gallery celebrated its 10-year
anniversary along with the support of 5,000 visitors participating in the festivities.
Paralleling this transformation, the Government of Canada commissioned the construction of a
permanent building for the National Gallery of Canada. On May 21, 1988, the Gallery opened its
new home near Parliament hill overlooking the Ottawa River. It received both critical and
popular acclaim for its building, an architectural jewel designed by the world-renowned architect
The opening attraction was a spectacular and well-attended Degas exhibition. This set the stage
for many exhibitions, Egyptomania, The Queen's Pictures, Corot, The Group of Seven: Art for a
Nation, Renoir's Pictures and Picasso: Masterworks from the Museum of Modern Art that
reaffirmed and strengthened the Gallery as a significant tourist attraction of national importance.
Collectively, these “blockbuster shows” have raised attendance to record highs of over 600,000
visitors per year.
The Gallery has had its share of difficulty with its success. Some purchases were highly
controversial due to their abstract style, high-cost, and non-Canadian origin (i.e., Barnett
Newman's Voice of Fire in 1989 and Mark Rothko's No. 16 in 1993). In 1991, an exhibition of
the Czech born Canadian artist Jana Sterbak created a media debate and upset a portion of the
general public because one piece was better known as the "meat dress". More recently, the
Gallery's appropriations from the Government of Canada were reduced from a total of $32
million 1994-95 to $25 million in 1998-99.
There are three essential components that comprise the Gallery product: the permanent
collection, special exhibitions (i.e., “blockbuster shows”), and peripheral services. The strength
of the Gallery lies in its collection of art, architectural splendour, accessibility to the public and
staff expertise. The total collection consists of over 45,000 works of art. The building offers
spacious galleries and quiet courtyards which showcase approximately 1,500 works at any one
time that reflect a rich diversity of styles, origin, and historical periods.
The collections are divided into four broad categories; Canadian Art (pre-1970), European,
American and Asian and Modern Art (pre-1970), Contemporary Art (Canadian and International,
post-1970), Prints, Drawings, Photographs and Inuit Art. Three to four times a year, Gallery
curators rotate the works on view. More specifically, installations in the Contemporary galleries
change approximately three times a year; the Prints, Drawings, and Photographs galleries change
four times a year; the Inuit galleries change around twice a year; and the Asian galleries twice a
year. European, American, and Historical Canadian collections rarely change as they represent
the entire collection. The selection of art on view for a given period of time accounts for seven
percent of the total holdings. Each selection of the permanent collection is installed according to
various themes. A list of installations planned for 1998-99 is presented in Appendix A.
2 The Gallery presents special exhibitions, often called blockbuster shows, which are organized by
its own curators and in collaboration with museums around the world. These exhibitions of
Canadian and international artists tend to be well attended and receive a high profile by the
media. Since the late 1980s, the Gallery had built a reputation for a list of successful shows (see
Appendix B). The two exhibitions that were the most popular and reached record attendance
levels were Renoir’s Portraits and Picasso: Masterworks from the Museum of Modern Art.
There were several factors that made Renoir and Picasso instant hits such as the public’s
fascination with the artists, the fact that these works were never or rarely seen in Canada, and the
extraordinary choice of masterpieces that would make up the two blockbusters.
Between June 27 and September 14 1997, Renoir’s portraits, a theme that had never been a
separate exhibition, was presented at the Gallery. The 61 portraits featured were accessible and
appealing by all audience since they were aesthetically pleasing and reflected people as real life.
Renoir broke all previous attendance records attracting 340,000 visitors from the local area, other
Canadian provinces, the USA, and other countries. The show also generated economic benefits
for the greater Ottawa area of $17.7 million and some $67 million for Ontario and Quebec.
Picasso, which was organized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, was presented at the
Gallery from April 3 through to July 12 , 1998. The exhibition surveyed the development of
Picasso's work as he pursued his styles and ideas from the early years of the Blue and Rose
Periods, through Cubism, Neoclassicism and Surrealism, to his defiant confrontation of old age
and death. These rarely loaned signature pieces were available for an exclusive Canadian
viewing. Picasso received 253,100 visitors surpassing attendance to Degas in 1988. Future
exhibitions similar to Renoir and Picasso are listed in Appendix C.
Other activities that took place at the Gallery include putting together education and performing
arts programs to enhance the permanent collection and temporary exhibitions. Art publications
were sold in the Gallery Bookstore, throughout Canada, the USA, and Europe. The museum
experience also featured a Cafe, Cafeteria, underground parking, and visitor information services.
MARKETING’S ROLE AND OBJECTIVES
Prior to 1988, the Public Relations and Information Services were responsible for a limited
amount of communication activities and was mainly reactive in focus. By 1988, the marketing
role was formalized and for the first time a Director of Communications was hired who changed
the department name to Communications and Marketing. Simultaneously, an advertising agency
was contracted to oversee the advertising campaign for Degas exhibition and the grand opening.
The new strategy concentrated on media previews, tours of the building, and giving the Gallery a
new profile. In the 1990s the marketing role matured and concentrated on market research,
tourism marketing, communications and marketing planning, and creative advertising for
exhibitions, collections, and non-exhibition programming.
In April 1998, the new Director of the Gallery, Pierre Théberge, decided to change the entire
organizational structure. The Communications and Marketing branch became Public Affairs.
Ursula would continue in her responsibilities of Head of Media Relations and Marketing, and the
departments of Education, Publications and Visitor Services would now also report for the first
3 time all together to the Director of Public Affairs. The entire branch had a total staff of 25 and
had 4.5 staff members assigned to the Media Relations and Marketing function.
The annual marketing plan reflected the corporate objectives and strategies for public outreach.
Being cognizant of these priorities, Ursula identified the marketing objectives for 1998-1999: to
reach attendance levels of 600,000 visitors and to continue membership expansion reaching
11,200 by March 1999. She added the following specific objectives for her department to remain
ongoing from year-to-year: (i) to continue to raise awareness of the Gallery to existing and new
public groups; (ii) to monitor and evaluate all marketing activities to ensure their effectiveness;
(iii) to pursue opportunities for promotional partnerships with the tourism industry; (iv) to
develop efficient methods of evaluating visitor and non-visitor perceptions.
MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS BUDGET AND ACTIVITIES
Except for the extensive opening blitz, Gallery marketing and communication budgets had
predominantly focused on exhibitions; media coverage for them had been more or less extensive,
depending on the show. For example, in 1997 $120,000 was spent on advertising the Renoir
exhibition, then in 1998 $120,000 was spent on Picasso. Both shows reached record attendance
levels and left a positive image with the public. As a result, Ursula feared that the public had a
relatively narrow perception of the Gallery's mandate and lacked awareness of its broad range of
programs and services.
The proposed budget allocation for 1998-99 was $1,168,183 that would be invested in
advertising, the Web site, tourism marketing, media and public relations. The advertising
allocation was $401,719 for exhibitions and $122,758 for non-exhibitions. Ursula reflected on
the past activities and their results as she began to decide upon the content and feasibility of a
three-year integrated marketing communications plan.
The Gallery received local and national media coverage free of charge (i.e., newspapers,
magazines, television and radio) which reported on many aspects of the Gallery's operations,
exhibitions, performing arts, education programs, sponsorship, and staff. Media programs such
as personal contact, press releases, Public Service Announcements (PSAs), fact sheets,
familiarization tours, media previews and conferences were implemented for all exhibitions,
education, and special events programming, however, varied according to funding. Media tours
were developed for the Director and other key staff such as the Chief Curator who was
responsible for the planning of travelling exhibitions in large and small cities across Canada.
The Gallery contracted an advertising agency on a request basis for advertising creative,
production, and media buying for various exhibitions and programs, and especially for the
“blockbuster” exhibitions like Renoir and Picasso. In addition Ursula worked on campaigns
throughout the year to increase the local market’s awareness of the Gallery and to generate visits
when blockbuster shows were not scheduled.
4 The 1995 campaign featured newspaper and elevator ads with headlines that read “Draw Your
Own Conclusions” and “Come Stare at Our Walls”. The first body copy suggested that whatever
your art interests were, the Gallery had it on display in its permanent collection for free viewing.
The second body copy had a similar message and listed the specific exhibition themes on display
and other information regarding tours and free admission. The placements occurred on the
weekend during the winter months from December to March.
The 1996 campaign again featured newspaper and elevator ads with headlines that read “Venus
Uncensored” and “You’re About to Discover That Van Gogh’s Life Was Not A Pretty Picture”.
A visual of a piece of art was included and it took up approximately fifteen percent of the ad
space. The body copy for each ad was extensive and described the art or artist. The ad also
mentioned that a mini-talk would be held at the Gallery a few days later. Again, the placements
occurred on the weekends during the winter months from December to March.
Advertising at a national level recognized the priority of three primary geographical areas where
the opportunity for visitation is highest: National Capital Region, Montreal, and the Toronto and
Southwestern Ontario. The advertising placement strategy was fourfold:
Daily and Community Newspapers were generally used to advertise specific Gallery
exhibitions and programming in the National Capital Region, Toronto and Montreal and
other markets reached through the national editions of the Financial Post Daily and The
Globe and Mail. Editorial supplements in national editions were also utilized.
Special Interest and Alternative Publications (i.e., Ottawa Xpress, Montreal Mirror, Now
Toronto) were used to reach an arts or culture sensitive audience.
Out-of-Home and Transit were usually used for the promotion of specific exhibitions, or
awareness campaigns for the Gallery
Local radio in the Ottawa and Hull markets were used for on-air promotions.
Membership was one method for immediate revenue generation and potential future value since
members were predisposed to making donations to the Gallery in both money and time.
Historically, memberships averaged between 2,000 and 4,000, peaked to 9,000 with the opening
of the new building in 1988 and eventually dropped off significantly. The Gallery developed a
plan (i.e., telemarketing, an integrated database system, in-house leads, and customer histories) in
February 1997 to reach a total of 10,000 members up from the current membership of 2,800. An
official campaign commenced in August 1997. The campaign generated close to 100,000 leads.
Sixty percent of leads came from people who had a relationship with the Gallery in the past,
namely former or lapsed members, and Renoir or Picasso ticket buyers. The campaign appeared
successful as membership numbers increased to nearly 13,000 by 1998.
5 Web Site
The Gallery’s web site averaged 11,000 visits a month. It started as a method to display
upcoming programs, but has since taken a more interactive and educational focus. In January
1999, the site would be a learning centre for teachers and would include activities and
information for people of all ages throughout the country.
In 1997 the Gallery was the only fine-arts museum in the country to have three television series
broadcast on three national networks: CBC, for the children's series Painting Pictures and the
Chief Curator's, Dr. Colin B. Bailey, presentation on CBC Midday; Radio-Canada for J'aime La
Peinture, and the History Channel for Art of History. For 1998, the Gallery anticipated
producing a minimum of 12 new presentations with Dr. Bailey for CBC-Midday. Future
opportunities included a new series for YTV and vignettes on the European Art collection for
the Art of History series.
Since 1989 the Gallery either conducted its own or contracted out a number of market research
studies to determine the socio-demographic profile of its visitors and non-visitors during peak-
tourism and non-peak periods. Across a number of studies a clear picture of the Gallery
consumer emerged consistently. Research conducted during summer exhibitions (Egyptomania
and Corot), two summer exit surveys (summer 1995 and 1996), and a visitor survey for the
Ontario Association of Art Galleries (1995), all indicated similar results for peak-tourism
periods. The surveys concluded that approximately 60% of summer visitors were women, close
to 40% were from the local/National Capital Region, 40% were from the other Ontario and
Quebec regions, and 60% were university educated. Close to 70% of visitors were aged over 40
During non-peak periods, telephone surveys were conducted in October 1993 and March 1995
among adults living within an 80 kilometer radius of the Gallery. They revealed information on
awareness of the Gallery itself, the exhibitions, programming, activities, and the free admission
policy, plus the frequency of visits and reasons for visiting or not visiting (Appendix D).
The summer 1997 Economic Impact Study confirmed that more than one-third of Renoir
Exhibition visitors came from the Ottawa (114,600) and Hull (16,500) with another one-half
living in other parts of Ontario (71,900) or Quebec (99,600). Other Canadians represented a
small proportion of all visitors (11,400), while those from the USA (13,400) and other countries
(12,600) combined to represent about one-in-twelve visitors to the exhibition.
The Study also concluded that the Renoir visitor was highly educated, middle-aged or older, an