Learning from Spencer Tunick + Greenpeace - 2007 (2013)

R.J. Preece (ADP)
Creative Business & Entrepreneurship | 20 December 2013
This article was previously published on the International Sculpture Center’s members-only web special blog in May 2013.

Learning from Spencer Tunick + Greenpeace

Sometimes doing arts marketing and media/communications research is fruitful for brainstorming, and such is the case with the Spencer Tunick + Greenpeace “nudes on a glacier” project (2007) in Switzerland. I first learned about it at the time via a sensational news announcement on CNN Europe. However, without media coverage awareness, viewers may not realize that the piece of art news they are seeing on one media outlet is sometimes also being reported in tens if not hundreds of media outlets, sometimes national, and sometimes international. See Spencer Tunick art + Greenpeace = Publicity Extraordinaire (2010). [1] [2]

So, how much media coverage resulted in photographing 600 nudes on a Swiss glacier? Our informal compilation limited by our search methods shows over 780 “clippings” including print media, online articles, TV reports, high-traffic website blog postings, and Greenpeace press releases for national/regional/language markets, as well as over 240 samples of mentions of the specific project in later communications contexts. There probably is a lot more coverage, as indices don’t cover everything and we couldn’t afford a high-priced media clippings agency, nor an agency that could send radio and TV reports as audio and video files. You might say “good for Tunick”, but when thinking creatively you might also say “and very good for me”. Why? Because investing time into analyzing the compilation can result in interesting brainstorming for some of your art projects, that could be partnered with a like-minded organization, also with strong media/ communications resources.

In other words, deconstruct, simulate, refine to fit the project accordingly and give it a go.

Now let’s get started.

A. Project partnering with a proven media/communications-resourced partner has benefits

Here, Spencer Tunick teamed up his nudity events and photographs with Greenpeace, an organisation with a proven track record of enabling full-on international publicity to get their message into the media. Additionally, Euro RSCG, an integrated marketing communications agency, in Zurich was part of the project team, and they won the 2008 AME Grand Trophy for Public Service and Not-for-Profit (for advertising & marketing effectiveness), for their campaign for Greenpeace Switzerland, entitled “Naked testimony to global warming”. According to the press release, “The award winning campaign was centered around a publicity-based event featuring 600 people posing naked on the Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland.” [3]

While those with an art production-centred education may find this surprising and maybe even disturbing— while my media/comm colleagues would be giggling— art events are typically listed as an option for an organisation’s media and marketing/ communications. See for example Wikipedia’s entry for “Publicity”, where “Art exhibitions” are listed as a “promotional tactic”. But as you can see, the art exhibition is just one of a wide range of choices in this context, and the organization must consider their own objectives and stakeholders.

Possible alternative applications: This can depend on the artwork angles— within the realm of the language of the artwork. It could be teaming up with a materials/product manufacturer that makes sense; a company which does something similar, or has a similar theme, or related to their community engagement initiatives; a social organization; some sort of aligned musical band, (emerging) fashion designer, or maybe something completely different, etc.

Obviously when you bring in any partners, the decision-making and structure shapes a project to some degree, and this process and possible pre-testing— as well as the financial arrangement— of the relation must be considered. There’s one part of this that I’d definitely invest time into learning: can this organization really facilitate strong marketing/communications and media coverage? What have they achieved before? I’d definitely look closely at their online press release archive and deeply search their publicity outputs.

B. Messaging and different kinds of media coverage

Sensational messaging
The key messaging of the project is “600 strip naked”, “Swiss glacier”, “Spencer Tunick” (art celebrity brand photographer), “Greenpeace” (celebrity non-profit organization), “global warming” and “global warning”. If you compare related Greenpeace press releases with related editorial content, you can estimate how the messaging went from point A to point B, either through direct lifting of sentences, to rewriting, to content additions by journalists.

Our search did not include the contemporary art indices which potentially could have produced more art magazine writings. But then short announcements in hard-copy magazines aren’t always included. From the online research it was clear that the internet art magazine coverage was quite limited. In fact, it’s possible that Spencer Tunick’s work doesn’t really resonate with art magazine editorial; that’s what Mia Fineman in Slate Magazine says in her article. In any event, the communications value of Tunick’s work to mass audiences is impressive, and may be world-leading among Damien Hirst.

But other artists brainstorming their own communications possibilities should take into account the impact of populist media coverage in relation to their overall marketing and sales development planning— and their desired, future relationship to the art world. Some artists I know don’t care, they do what they want; others I know do care.

What’s also interesting and maybe inspiring is that while some headlines mention Spencer Tunick and/or Greenpeace, this doesn’t necessarily seem required to run the story, although it obviously helps. Many headlines simply state that 600 people got naked on a glacier to protest for action against global warming.

Timing— before, during, and after the project
In the compilation, you’ll see the following timing angles: (a) calling for project participants one month before project event (18 & 19 July 2007) and leading up to the project, (b) during and shortly after the project (18 August 2007+), and (c) it’s mentioned within lists of previous sensational projects.

Local/regional/national press releases
According to the compilation, press releases were issued out of Greenpeace Switzerland in French and German, presumably to their national media contacts and perhaps crossing into international. Also one needs to take into account the impact of the Euro RSCG agency, and how that was coordinated regarding media contact.

International press releases and media coverage
Press releases appear to be issued out of Greenpeace International and 24 Greenpeace national organizations in Australia(-Pacific), Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Mexico, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, UK and USA.

Extensive media coverage generally occurred in countries where the releases were issued as well as in 30 additional countries. Overall, the art event was written about in over 25 languages.

Wire service activation: Imagine this much investment and attention on your art project
Instead of just one article produced, tens or more can be if your story gets picked up by a news agency. In the compilation, you’ll see that over 15 news agencies, including AFP, AP, DPA, EFE, Reuters, SDA, and UPI, released stories into their network, overall in more than 15 languages. AP issued the story under different kinds of wires: international news, entertainment news, and “state and local newswire” bringing the foreign project to the smaller US newspaper level. EFE included the story in their science and technology focus. Reuters issued this in their national focuses for India, the UK, the US and US – Green Business. Two other news agencies offered this in their Latin American focus news.

This all happened on perhaps a slow news day in August, and on a Saturday, but Spencer Tunick + Greenpeace on a glacier was clearly of extensive, international interest, at a time when the environment was definitely a hot topic.

Different kinds of media coverage
The art project achieved the following kinds of coverage: mainly quick news reports with a photo, some features and TV reports with video footage— from California to Switzerland to Australia. It was also reported in newspaper types from the New York Post to the New York Times to USA Today, impressively crossing these boundaries. Overall the news coverage included major international newspapers in different related sections and TV, probably radio, and regional/local newspapers like the Erie Times-News in Pennsylvania. The question soon becomes not which newspapers covered the event, but which didn’t.

Additionally, the story was reported in news magazines, environment-oriented sections, publications and websites like the New Zealand Energy & Environment Business Week, and even some sports and the outdoors websites, as well as The Economist, and The Chronicle of Philanthropy as well as a conservative political blog.

There are also some additional angles developed by journalists such as in the Salzburger Nachrichten in Austria (30 July 2007), which highlights that Spencer Tunick comically invited all Swiss members of parliament to participate in the photo shoot. “Nudes on a glacier” is embedded in an international news roundup for the day and also the week. Sophie Roselli in Le Matin (19 August 2007) goes into the very interesting financials of the project. In Germany’s Der Tagesspiegel, Viola Zech mentions the project within the context of guerilla marketing (30 September 2007). Additionally, on 17 December 2007, we read that a photo of the event won best press photo of 2007 in Switzerland, and Time includes photographic coverage of the event in its “Pictures of the year” (31 December 2007).

Multiple quote placement
On the fifth page of the compilation at the bottom, a link is provided showing 45 placements (c. 2009) of the following quote by Spencer Tunick, “I want my images to go more than skin-deep. I want the viewers to feel the vulnerability of their existence and how it relates closely to the sensitivity of the world’s glaciers”. And this is just in English. This quote can be traced back to, for example, the Greenpeace International press release. It’s important to note that the quote is designed for populist media consumption, and therefore not in artspeak.

C. The compilation as a resource to brainstorm possible project collaboration and media/communications goals

So what do we learn from Spencer Tunick + Greenpeace with 600 nudes on a glacier (2007)? With the right project, and working with the right project partner, sometimes amazing communications results can be achieved. While celebrity brand recognition can be very helpful, it’s not absolutely necessary— just look at the headlines. What’s important is a strong project, with a strong newsworthy angle, and excellent media/communications. Maybe 1000+ publicity outputs won’t be achieved, but what about 100, or 50?

Here’s a final tip if you decide to take this forward: show this compilation to your proposed project partner— and their brilliant, result-driven PR officer— and ask them: What would we have to do to achieve something maybe like this?

And let the brainstorming begin.

[1] See the final page of the compilation for details on the search limitations. Also note that searching different Google country sites can produce different results, and when searching Spencer Tunick in some other languages like Russian, that you need to search using the letters of that language.

[2] In the Art Design Publicity magazine context, music and a film clip are added to the compilation pages, which comment on the coverage and represent the emotions felt towards the project and its media coverage as time progressed.

[3] (3 November 2008). AME Announces 2008 Award Winners, Grand Trophies Go to Euro RSCG Zurich and ZenithOptimedia New York. Market wire.