For the past 18 years, Brown & Williamson’s Light Up Louisville has enjoyed a prominent place as one of Louisville’s most loved and well-attended community events. This unique holiday kick-off festival happens in the heart of the city the day after Thanksgiving, and draws thousands of families from every neighborhood in the Louisville area and Southern Indiana. The 2000 event surpassed client expectations on all levels, from record attendance to unprecedented news coverage. Whimsical elements, including 30 ft. tall inflatable fly guys, a visit from the real Santa Claus, and a Winter Wonderland Children’s Activities tent, delighted people of all ages. Yearlong planning efforts by Weber Shandwick, extensive participation from city government and close coordination with print and electronic media make this signature holiday event an integral part of our city’s heritage.
In 1982, Brown & Williamson seized the opportunity to become sole sponsor of this community event. The company’s long history in Louisville is built on a foundation of community involvement and improvement. Brown & Williamson executives recognize the importance of giving back to the community in which it operates.
Along with the opportunity came considerable challenges. Though Brown & Williamson has been the title sponsor of this event for 18 years, it had received only minimal recognition. Choosing an effective media partner to promote the event was critical to its success. Additionally, in 2000 the event budget was considerably less than in years past due to the well-known challenges in the tobacco industry, requiring the Weber Shandwick team to use exceptionally strategic decision-making regarding event elements and resources.
To begin the planning process, objectives were outlined:
  • Raise awareness and recognition of Brown & Williamson’s sponsorship of Light Up Louisville
  • Generate enthusiasm in the community around this holiday tradition
  • Increase attendance from previous years
  • Maintain quality and excellence from years’ past on a reduced budget

Planning began with a thorough review of last year’s planning and production process in order to repeat effective steps and improve upon necessary elements. Frequent and consistent communication with a 50+ person volunteer planning committee, in addition to the core account team, began in early February and continued through event execution. Ongoing strategic planning with a technical producer for special effects and pyrotechnics ensured a flawlessly executed, awe-inspiring event.
Weber Shandwick conducted extensive negotiations with local ABC, NBC and CBS affiliates to ensure the most benefit to B&W, as well as maximum event coverage. WHAS television (ABC) and radio was selected as Brown & Williamson’s Light Up Louisville media partner. One month prior to the event, promotional spots were aired on the television and radio stations and were visible on WHAS’s Web site.
Weber Shandwick created compelling pre-event publicity opportunities, including a kick-off news conference at the Mayor’s office, airport preparations for Santa and his reindeer to land, an official “holiday tree” cutting, a ceremony introducing a commemorative postmark and renaming of one of Louisville’s thoroughfares to Santa Claus Lane, among others. In 2000, numerous elements were added to the event and many of these were secured for free, including craft supplies, main stage entertainment (five different acts) and volunteers.
Brown & Williamson trademarked the name of this event to make itself easily identifiable as the event sponsor. In all oral and written forms of communication, the official trademarked name was used.
To bring smiles to children of all ages, Weber Shandwick worked with the show producer to make the opening ceremonies unforgettable. A façade resembling the style of the famous toy store, FAO Schwartz, was created to mask the exterior of the Brown & Williamson tower, the corporate headquarters. To officially kick-off the event, a parade of human toy soldiers exited the tower with fanfare playing and confetti cannons blowing. The soldiers marched through the streets of downtown with kids following closely behind. Arriving at the center of the festival, the soldiers presented the Mayor with a magic key to insert in a special machine to set the event in motion.
Brown & Williamson’s Light Up Louisville provided something for everyone. Horse-drawn carriage rides, train rides, tree decorating, face painting, children’s theatre and holiday music were among the many highlights of this extraordinary event. Weber Shandwick selected a variety of local and regional food and craft vendors to participate in this event. Food vendors spanning several city blocks offered a range of delicacies, from sushi to corn dogs. Craft vendors provided the 100,000 attendees the perfect opportunity to start their Christmas shopping.
Nearly ninety minutes prior to the actual “Light Up” of the city, thousands of attendees gathered around the main stage to get the best view of Santa’s arrival downtown. Perched atop a specially designed float, Santa Claus made his way down the main thoroughfare of the city. As he walked across the stage and presented the “Magic Plug” to the Mayor, the crowd roared with excitement.
Following a perfectly orchestrated computerized countdown, Santa Claus, the Mayor, and a Brown & Williamson spokesperson made their way to the larger-than-life electrical socket. As the digital clock flickered at “1”, the Mayor inserted the plug, illuminating the city with 400,000 holiday lights. A cascade of rainbow colored fireworks closed out the celebration.
All objectives were successfully met, as noted by the client and all involved parties, including Louisville’s Mayor. A record attendance of 100,000 was achieved. Not including the promotional spots provided by the media partner, Weber Shandwick garnered 108 placements in print and broadcast media on behalf of Brown & Williamson. Community enthusiasm was obvious, as evidenced in the coverage during pre-events and event day. “The results of this event are perfectly aligned with our corporate goals and objectives”, said Gail Strange, Sr. Manager, Corporate and Community Relations.