The Customer

Based in Toronto, Harmony Marketing is a full-service agency that handles everything from strategic marketing and development plans and government relations to corporate and media partnerships. The team, which describes itself as “small but mighty,” has become a key player in some of the city’s most high-profile events, such as Sail-In Cinema, Fashion Cares 25 and many others.

Some stories are pretty hard to ignore — especially when they’re about a giant inflatable duck that becomes a lightning rod for both fascination and criticism from a wide range of observers.

As Harmony Marketing discovered, though, there are ways to turn even controversial issues into good news stories, particularly when you have the reach and reporting capabilities provided by Cision.

The Challenge

The Redpath Waterfront Festival, which ran July 1-3 in 2017, was an opportunity to capitalize on the interest and excitement around the 150th anniversary of Canadian confederation, as well as the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Province of Ontario.

While it normally requires something special to draw a crowd to the Festival — such as the Tall Ships which visit every three years — the team had something truly novel to promote this time around: the world’s largest rubber duck, a 61-foot tall, 30,000 lb spectacle that stood approximately six stories high.

In the initial coverage, however, a major newspaper published a story which took some comments out of context about the level of government funding to rent, transport and set up the duck on Toronto’s waterfront. This resulted in a wave of stories criticizing the entire initiative.

“Our phones were glued to us — the calls were coming morning, noon and night,” says Victoria Syme, Harmony Marketing’s Manager of Marketing and Communications. While the same grant, in higher amounts, had been given to many other events in the province, some of the coverage implied much larger sums were given solely to bringing the duck to Toronto. “Some political leaders used it as leverage and it started a larger discussion. There was an interview that really went viral.”

While the coverage was huge — Harmony Marketing tracked close to 1,000 stories based on an initial news release — it obviously wasn’t entirely the kind of media attention the team wanted.

“From a PR perspective, it was a tough call,” recalls Alyson Bruce, Harmony Marketing’s Coordinator of Communications and Public Relations. “We asked ourselves: Do we continue to take these interviews or keep our mouths shut or let it die down? We wanted to ride the wave we were getting, but at the same time we had a lot of other things to do as the Festival got closer.”

The Solution

Harmony Marketing used Cision’s distribution service (powered by Canada Newswire), which offers a distribution platform that reaches more than 4,000 local media outlets and more than 10,000 others around the world. Cision’s targeting, monitoring, and marketing solutions also include the ability to distribute multimedia assets such as photos and videos.

The Results

Harmony Marketing’s strategy wasn’t limited to an initial awareness-building news release about a (giant) rubber duck. In fact, over the course of promoting the Redpath Waterfront Festival, the team used half a dozen news releases and advisories to share more information about the event, including details about the real numbers, and correct information, behind the duck. These releases received over 21,000 views and hits, with multimedia assets garnering more than 59,000 views, reaching a total potential audience of 87 million people.

This year’s Festival made more than 310 million impressions, a 151 percent increase from last year. Almost three-quarters (71 per cent) of all impressions came from earned media. This included significant earned media coverage from local and national outlets such as Global News, Breakfast Television Toronto, CBC Radio, and CP24. The event attracted tourists from many regions with 31 per cent residing more than 40 km away from the event site. Among the non-locals, five per cent resided in other provinces, 11 per cent were from the United States, and six per cent were international travelers.

Other benefits included:

Access To A Wide Range Of The Right Influencers:  “We’ve always found that competitors just don’t have the same list that Cision has or the same reach,” says Syme. “We used to have to do it all manually — by emailing our release to a big media list. Cision’s Canada Newswire feed just makes it so much easier.”

Multi-lingual And Omni-Channel Support: Besides offering a distribution platform, Harmony Marketing noted that Cision was able to accommodate bilingual messaging and access to French media, which was new to the strategy. The team also benefited from visibility on the Newswire.ca home page and tweets from Cision that boosted awareness about the duck and the Redpath Waterfront Festival’s overall programming.

Quick And Easy Access To Insights: Harmony is a small team, Syme and Bruce explain. There’s no one to whom they can delegate analytics duties.

“We are all hands on deck for the months leading up to these events,” Syme says. “It can be very tedious to manage not only the distribution but the reporting aspects of things. The Visibility Reports Cision gives us are great.”

Top-Tier Service: In the heat of promoting a major event, there’s no time for troubleshooting. Harmony Marketing describes Cision as a hands-on, always-available partner in its success.

“Our interactions with the Cision team have been amazing,” Syme says. “Whenever I needed to call them for any reason they’ve been really supportive.”

By providing greater education about the duck’s funding sources through a follow-up release, Harmony Marketing watched as newspapers like The Toronto Star ran headlines such as, ‘Giant duck gives Toronto’s waterfront a boost.’ In fact, the Redpath Waterfront Festival broke its three-day attendance record in 2017, driving huge numbers of tourists to local businesses.

“We saw a shift in the coverage of people backing us up, talking about what a great thing this was for the city,” Syme says. “With help from Cision, we had a negative story that turned into a positive one.”