The New Millennium Experience Company seriously underestimated the marketing budget needed to promote the Dome, according to a National Audit Office report published last week.
Dome board executives incorrectly assumed that positive press coverage and word of mouth recommendations would be sufficient encouragement to pull in millions of visitors. As a result, the 12 million visitor forecast proved hopelessly over-optimistic and had to be revised down to six million.
“Marketing and sales strategies were based on the Dome selling itself,” says the report.
In February, after chief executive Jennie Page was replaced by Pierre-Yves Gerbeau, marketing was reviewed. Management decided the original marketing budget of £27m – covering labour costs for the press and marketing departments, as well as the Greenwich Visitor Centre, the call centre, educational publications and advertising – “had been set at a low level compared with other large visitor attractions”.
Executives assumed ticket sales would be driven “by massive free media exposure, word of mouth and a traditional fascination with Expo-style events.” But this turned out to be “very high risk” as the Dome was new and unproven, had little time to establish a reputation and faced a lot of competition.
The marketing budget was increased to £40m. In total, some £16m is being spent on advertising through M&C Saatchi, and further sums on direct marketing. Indirect marketing was carried out by sponsors, who spent an estimated £33m promoting their Dome sponsorships. The Dome attracted hostile press coverage after its disastrous New Year’s Eve opening.
Ticket sales and retail and catering turnover will bring in only £47m and £6m respectively by the end of the year.
NMEC Marketing director Sholto Douglas-Home says: “As the report points out, the marketing budget was not up to the task, and word of mouth was hindered by the fact the Dome experience is difficult to encapsulate, making it hard to explain to other people.”