Bryan harris, VP-marketing, Arts & Exhibitions International

Everybody knows King Tut, but assembling sponsor team to cover huge overhead a challenge

By Published on .

He was a star 3,300 years ago, but it took U.S. marketing know-how to transform him into a box-office headliner. Ancient Egypt's King Tut is the spotlight of "Tutankhamun & the Golden Age of the Pharaohs," a four-city traveling exhibition comprising more than 130 treasures from the tombs of the celebrated boy king and Valley of the Kings monarchs, which has been breaking box-office records since its U.S. run began at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in June 2005.

Over four months, 937,000 people turned out at LACMA, second only to Tut's first U.S. tour in the 1970s. Next stop, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., attracted more than 600,000 (four times larger than any previous show at the Museum of Art there), and that's despite the whopping (and controversial) $30 ticket prices. It opens in Chicago next weekend.

Bryan Harris, 31, VP-marketing at Arts & Exhibitions International, oversees the national public relations, advertising and promotional campaign. Golin Harris is handling PR for the exhibition, while advertising varies depending on the host city. Public fascination with Tut makes the show an easy sell, he says, but bottom-line business success is not assured due to enormous overhead. The exhibition has a deal with the Egyptian government that takes the first $40 million in revenue, once the tour reaches certain ticket sales targets. In Los Angeles, the energetic Mr. Harris did his part: The exhibition staged a Hollywood-style red carpet premiere night. Mr. Harris signed up promotional partners, such as American Express Co., and those not typically associated with museum marketing-Ralphs, a California grocery chain owned by Kroger Co., offered discounts on admission tickets to Ralphs card holders. There was also an Egyptian trip giveaway (by way of the regional Coca-Cola Co. bottlers), which was promoted in Ralphs. See's Candies was among the other local sponsors. "King Tut Returns," sports fans learned about the show on the Jumbotron at Los Angeles' Staples Center.

Mr. Harris' marketing efforts also tapped the power of the Internet with e-mail blasts to culture mavens and a "Win a Trip to L.A." sweepstakes on AOL. National tour partner National Geographic did a documentary on its cable channel, in addition to running a magazine cover story on Tut, as well as running ads for the exhibit.

Mr. Harris says he and his colleagues have tried to make sure the promotional elements don't turn tacky-a button pusher in the genteel museum world. "There's a philosophical boundary you must not cross or it can quickly diminish the value of the project," he says.

Selected for: Tutankhamun

* E-mail blasts to culture database.

* Trip giveaways with Coca-Cola and other sponsors.
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