In July 2017, a group of IMAX filmmakers had received word that the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History was planning to demolish the Samuel C. Johnson IMAX Theater in order to expand the museum’s cafeteria. If the museum went through with this decision, it would mean the loss of a significant educational tool that has immersed and inspired hundreds of thousands of visitors on the mall for decades. As the premier large screen venue dedicated to the natural world, choosing fast food over film would also set a terrible precedent for the industry. The question they had: What can be done to stop this?
Immediately, Melwood went into campaign mode, designing a multi-pronged strategy that would shape the public discourse around the theater’s closing and put public pressure on the museum to reconsider the decision to close the theater. Melwood quickly created a website where the public could find information on the theater’s closing and become involved with the campaign through letter writing. Our team launched social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter, and started a Change.org petition to further educate and galvanize the public.
Over two and a half months, Melwood controlled the public narrative on the theater’s closure, keeping the museum in reactive mode. The campaign garnered nearly 30 media hits in major outlets such as The Washington Post, WTOP, NPR’s Kojo Nnamdi Show, The Globe and Mail, and popular DC newsletters and blogs such as the 7:30, Prince of Petworth, DCist and CurbedDC. Coverage that was heavily in favor of our client’s position ran on every local TV news channel in Washington, DC. In addition to coordinating these interviews, we secured an editorial board meeting with The Washington Post, which resulted in a Sunday editorial in favor of our client’s position, and two organic Letters to the Editor. We also drafted and placed three op-eds that ran in The Washington Post, on the Fox News website, and The Hill.
Our social media campaign drew more than 6,000 followers, with over 4,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter and almost 2,500 signatures on our Change.org petition.
Melwood drafted several letters on behalf of the filmmakers to the museum’s director, the Secretary of the Smithsonian and Congressional Committee staff, working alongside our client’s lobbying firm to engage with elected leaders and to develop messaging for key meetings. We also mailed over 1,000 letters from supporters, targeting key decision makers.
While ultimately the campaign was too late in the process to change the bureaucratic decision of museum leadership, Melwood drew thousands of individuals together, and garnered almost universal support within the media, in support of saving the IMAX theater.