Aquarium account switched to Eisner

Agency will promote $88 million expansion, attendance drive

August 10, 2002|By Paul Adams | Paul Adams,SUN STAFF

The sharks, dolphins and other famous sea critters that entertain 1.6 million visitors to the National Aquarium in Baltimore each year signed a new agent yesterday.

Eisner Communications Inc. landed the $2 million advertising and communications account, which will center on promoting the aquarium's $88 million expansion and new exhibits planned for the next few years.

The aquarium hopes to boost annual attendance to 2 million when its new wing opens in spring 2005, marking the first major addition to the Inner Harbor's No. 1 attraction since the Marine Mammal Pavilion opened about 11 years ago.

Ground will be broken on the 12-story, glass-walled expansion next month. Eisner's job will be to make sure that if they build it, the people will come.

"The aquarium is embarking on a very challenging transition into our next life, basically, and we need an agency that's going to help us get there," said Lyn Frankel, the aquarium's senior director of marketing.

Eisner beat out incumbent Carton Donofrio Partners Inc. and several other local and regional firms for the job, marking another in a series of recent wins for the 150-person firm. The company, which had billings of $248 million last year, has won $50 million in new billings in the past year, including a $20 million US Airways account.

The 10-firm competition, which began in May, came down to two finalists, Eisner and the Campbell Group, a small Baltimore firm with solid credentials in the tourism industry. Eisner won for its superior strategic vision, Frankel said.

"I think it has to do with our ability to help them crystallize a vision into the future but to never lose site of the fact that you need to move people in and out of the doors on a regular basis," said Steven C. Eisner, president and chief executive of Eisner Communications.

The job is more about hometown pride and the prestige of representing one of the city's top attractions than about making money, advertising experts said.

"The aquarium isn't a profit-making venture and working for them isn't either, and I think that's the way it should be," said Chuck Donofrio, whose firm previously held the account. "It's not pro bono ... but if you're looking just to make money, you wouldn't take on the aquarium. You've really got to do it for the love of it."

The aquarium addition is to be built just north of the original building on Pier 3. It is to include a gift shop, a cafe and an entrance to a new Australia exhibit featuring a 40-foot waterfall. Visitors will be able to see through the glass building and into the new exhibits, creating a striking view for pedestrians and motorists.

The challenge for Eisner will be to build momentum for the new wing and keep visitors coming during the difficult construction phase. The firm also will be charged with promoting new features, such as a revamped dolphin show scheduled for 2004, and the aquarium's aquatic stewardship programs in education and conservation.

"It [the aquarium] sets the standard, I think, for education and entertainment at the same time," Eisner said.

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