Hell has frozen over. Or so it appeared to many Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota, residents and politicians who thought they would never see the infamous “Block E” in the heart of downtown Minneapolis developed into anything other than a parking lot. Once a magnet for derelicts and drunks, the businesses on Block E were razed leaving a barren parking lot needing serious improvement.
After nearly 15 years of ideas, dreams, stagnation, arguments and disappointments, the media and public no longer had interest in another “story” on the possibilities of Block E (each block in Minneapolis’ downtown core is known by a letter). Block E now sounded more like a prison wing than a success story.
The announcement of the approved entertainment and hotel complex fell on tired ears, barely getting any notice. So when it was time to break ground on the historic project, McCaffery Interests, the site’s chief developer, sought the help of Carmichael Lynch Spong Public Relations (CLS). The task was to create a groundbreaking event that would not only capture the attention of the media, but build anticipation and excitement for the future of Block E. The challenge - create an identity and an event around a highly anticipated entertainment complex that had yet to be named and do it within two weeks.
CLS developed and implemented “The Block Formerly Known as E” groundbreaking event playing off Minneapolis’s own Megastar, Prince, who changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol.
Given the infamous nature of Block E and the importance of obtaining positive attention for the groundbreaking, CLS had to do its homework.
Searched previous media coverage on Block E to determine attitudes and feelings towards the project.
Investigated media coverage of similar groundbreaking ceremonies to alleviate any duplication or formulaic approach.
Conducted online search surrounding The Artist Formerly Known as Prince to spark creativity and develop identity.
A virtual revolving door of developers interested in Block E had been crying wolf on the project for nearly ten years. CLS faced a skeptical public and media and sought to develop a an groundbreaking event that would generate the excitement the project warranted.
Capture the Twin Cities media’s attention to entice them to attend and cover the event.
Celebrate the project with entire city including dignitaries, politicians, investors and citizens.
Target Audiences
Primary: 2.3 million residents in the Twin Cities metro area.
Secondary: 4 million residents statewide. City and county leaders, mayor’s office, downtown business owners surrounding Block E.
Announce the groundbreaking of the Block E complex through a highly creative and visible event.
CLS was given the challenge to create an identity, plan an event and conduct media relations surrounding the event within two weeks.
The attitude of the public and media toward the Block E project was cynical and bored.
The project complex itself did not have a name, thus leaving an open hole of exactly what should be announced.
Create a unique and highly visible groundbreaking event that will capture the attention of the public and media.
The Block Formerly Known As E
At the time of the project’s approval, the complex had yet to be named. CLS lightheartedly approached this challenge by focusing on Minnesota’s native pop music icon, Prince, who got his start across the street from Block E in the nightclub First Avenue. Prince’s debacled name change to an unpronounceable symbol sparked the phrase “the artist formerly known as Prince.” Inspiration struck CLS, and the unnamed project became “The Block Formerly Known As E.” A logo identity was created mimicking Prince’s symbol, a familiar sight to the media and the public of Minnesota. Invitations emblazoned with the new “E” logo were sent to nearly 750 guests and dignitaries. All signs, media materials and even event hardhats were adorned with the symbol.
E’s Biggest Fans
The day of the groundbreaking event, CLS staged a mock “protest” by fans of the letter E. The premise: not everyone was happy about the name change to the Block Formerly Known as E, especially the fans of the letter E. The “protesters” believed that Es are vital to our alphabetical existence and since the letter can’t speak for itself, the fans of the letter E were going to. During rush hour traffic, supporters of the letter E hit the streets with picket signs reading “Give Es a chance!” and “Es are letters too!” Armed with a lead E and a bullhorn, the chants of the “protesters” and the story of Block E became the water cooler talk of all downtown business people.
The Big E-vent
Each day, thousands of business people pass by Block E on their way to work. In order to generate excitement and call attention to the site, CLS constructed a 16-foot purple letter E that stood tall and proud in the center of the site for three days before the groundbreaking event. The day of the event, it served as a backdrop for the ceremony as the mayor of Minneapolis, Sharon Sayles Belton, led the entourage of speakers including investors, partners and city supporters. The E also provided a dramatic conclusion to a historic as Sayles Belton helped smash the past notion of Block E symbolized in the 16-foot letter, by knocking over the letter with a backhoe.
Media Relations
CLS prepped the media by faxing an alert to all state and local media three days before the groundbreaking ceremony.
A media kit was developed
using “The Block Formerly Known As E” symbol on letterhead and labels. But instead of creating slides for the architectural renderings and floor plans, a CD resembling an actual Prince music disk, was created to stay true to “The Block Formerly Known As E” identity.
Objective One: Capture the media’s attention enticing them to attend the groundbreaking event and cover the story.
The alert that hit media’s desk the previous week generated pre-event buzz. Skyway News, a downtown weekly, featured “The Block Formerly Known As E” as its cover story the week of October 2, reaching a pure downtown Minneapolis audience whose support is vital to the project. The Minneapolis Star Tribune included the groundbreaking event as an event to watch in its “Week Ahead” section the previous Sunday. Day of event coverage included an article in the Star Tribune, a teaser on KARE-TV (NBC), and the Supporters of E not only captured the attention of the downtown work crowd, but also those outside the downtown core through live, pre-event interviews with the head E on KSTP-TV and WCCO radio.
The event received more than 7.1 million gross impressions
Coverage includes:
Major dailies including the Minneapolis Star Tribunes and the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
Twin Cities metro television news programs, including KARE, KSTP, WCCO and KMSP
WCCO Radio and Minnesota Public Radio conducted live and taped interviews
Online news services including Channel 4000, startribune.com, pioneerplanet.com and twincities.citysearch.com
Local weekly newspapers including Skyway News and Finance and Commerce
Objective Two: Celebrate the project with entire city including dignitaries, politicians, investors and citizens.
Although the temperatures were only slightly above freezing, nearly 250 people attended The Block Formerly Known As E groundbreaking event. Guests included downtown business owners, current and past City Council members, Chamber of Commerce Board members, project investors, Mayor’s office employees, well wishers and downtown residents. All cheered when the giant “E” symbolizing the past was knocked down by the back hoe of progress, making way for the future of downtown Minneapolis.