Phil Lobel and Dale Boyer
Behind the Publicity for IVG
WORDS BY GEORGIA GARDNER | TORONTO | VISUAL ARTS
APR 03, 2023 | ISSUE 6
Dale Boyer & Phil Lobel
Madonna at the Exhibit
George Lucas at the Exhibit
With every successful artistic production, there’s usually a story within the story. For the Immersive Van Gogh exhibit, that underlying story is certainly how an international team—with its headquarters in Toronto—was able to persist with its vision despite the pell-mell of a global pandemic. Of particular note is how quickly the social media team was able to scale the operation from one to upwards of fifteen cities within the last year. This exhibit’s ability to simultaneously draw-in A-list celebrity attention, while remaining true to the art-lovers that popularized it, is likewise commendable. To get a peak at how the social media and PR sausage is made, smART Magazine
welcomes Phil Lobel—mastermind behind the ubiquitous PR company, Lobeline Communications—and Dale Boyer, Social Media Manager for Lighthouse Immersive.
sM | When you started work on IVG, did you foresee it getting this big? How has the success of the exhibit surprised you personally?
DB — The success of this exhibit has required all departments to scale very quickly and I’ve never been a part of something that grew so quickly. Last year we had one exhibit in Toronto and now have specialized local social media presence in 20 cities.
I'm surprised every day by the emotional responses we get on social media to the exhibit. Obviously, when patrons are standing in the exhibit, they can go on the journey that the creators have made, but it appears that these feelings stay with our guests well after they leave the exhibit. Sometimes we get messages, weeks after their visit, by people still processing the beauty of the exhibit or asking for the soundtrack, or just posting photos. It’s exciting that the experience is touching people so deeply.
sM | What were some of the more unusual challenges working on the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit in the earlier days of the pandemic?
PL — While Lobeline has over three decades of experience managing PR, this is certainly the first time doing so in a pandemic (and hopefully the LAST!).
Some of the unique challenges that we’ve faced during the beginning of the pandemic were in planning for the opening of an event, and not knowing if it would happen or not. As publicists, it’s in our nature to have backup plans and adjust on the spot immediately. Putting together an opening strategy while being at the mercy of the latest COVID restrictions (which are different in each state) kept us hyper-vigilant from start to end.
While everyone has been in quarantine and we’ve been unable to meet with clients in person, all of the conference calls have turned into Zoom meetings. So, in a strange way, we’ve had more “facetime” with our clients during the pandemic than we have had in the past. Another thing that this pandemic changed, not only with our clients, but also with the entire industry is how the media books guests. In a way, it’s allowed us to book clients on shows virtually, and more frequently; whereas, in the past, they would have had to travel to be on-site.
Neil DeGrasse Tyson at the Exhibit
sM | What were some of the growing pains in the initial phase of developing the social media presence and how were you able to scale that across various cities and platforms?
DB — Our number one goal on social media is to present an empathic and meaningful conversation with our patrons and followers. To achieve such a personalized and bespoke experience, we need to have personal responses and a team directly interacting with our guests online. We don’t rely on bots or automated responses because, at our core, we want to have real conversations with people. This of course requires real live people and scaling our team, and growing twenty-times larger during a pandemic has been challenging. I have yet to meet almost everyone on my social media team in person!
We not only have a central team but we also have local social creators in each city to make content that is specialized to each market. Each city has its own mood, its own quirks, and its own challenges. So we decided to not take the easy monolithic route of content creation and instead tailor each market specifically. This takes time, needs a lot of management and also requires trust in your team to know what is the right tone for each city. We retain so many followers because we are not constantly screaming to buy tickets, we are building a community by exploring ideas and everyone is welcome.
sM | How does your team go about orchestrating celebrity engagements, and what are your points of emphasis for generating interest for a unique exhibition like IVG?
PL — We’ve been thrilled with the enthusiastic response that we’ve received from the public and celebrities—including recent lengthy, multiple posts from Madonna to her over 14 MILLION FANS on Instagram! Because of the quality, attention to detail, and talent of the Immersive Van Gogh team, we have been lucky enough to attract big-name stars and public figures organically by securing benchmark media placements with influential national and local press. Not only do we highlight the use of the latest technology, but we also showcase the incredible talent Immersive Van Gogh brings in, like Emmy Award-winning, Tony-nominated designer David Korins; or one of the hottest stars, Lily Collins from the hit Netflix show, Emily in Paris.
There is something for everyone with this exhibit, and it has been a pleasure having the opportunity to highlight what makes this experience so extraordinary. The bottom line is guests are literally in awe of what they experience, and in today’s world-wide connectivity via social media, THAT is a major key to the show’s success!