By Dawn Erickson
One of Branson’s biggest and most unusual attractions has already become a leader in producing special events. The Titanic museum’s imposing façade and one-of-a-kind interior on Branson’s West 76 “Strip” presents unlimited opportunities, as its co-owner Mary Kellogg-Joslyn has already proved to the community.
Mary her husband John Joslyn have long histories in television production and no detail has been overlooked to present a multi-media, interactive experience at the Titanic. The experience begins before a guest enters the doors. Attendance at the attraction is brisk, and when lines form, waiting guests find themselves under a replica of London’s Waterloo train station with authentic sound effects. Throughout the two-story museum, sound effects, interactive educational displays and costumed characters bring the ship to life.
Mary discovers Branson through Regis and Kathie Lee
Special events began with the museum’s grand opening in April 2006. The Titanic hosted a “christening” party with Regis and Joy Philbin, who were important in Mary’s career as a senior vice president of many television programs, including “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee.” It was this show that introduced Mary to Branson. She received a letter from the community’s marketing and public relations representatives inviting the show to Branson. Mary discussed the letter with producer Michael Gelman and they traveled to Branson, where they were met by the Presley family of Presleys’ Country Jubilee, one of Branson’s oldest music shows.
“I told Gelman, ‘you know, I think we need to come to the heart of America,’” Mary said.
Two years later, they brought “Live with Regis and Kathie Lee” to Branson to produce several shows from the Grand Palace. The television productions attracted 25,000 people to the Grand Palace, she said.
“My strategy at the time was not Branson but the 12 television markets around Branson,” she said. “We brought in television and radio from those markets. It was huge.”
Presley family credited for bringing Titanic to Branson
Over the years, she stayed in touch with the Presleys and they became very good friends. She and John visited Branson for 10 days each July for 12 years, and telephone calls to the Presley family were part of the Sunday night routine, she said.
In the meantime, John was amassing one of the world’s most important collections of Titanic artifacts. He began collecting 20 years ago, Mary said. The Presley family influenced them to build a museum for the artifacts in Branson.
Although Mary is a marketing expert, Steve Presley helped her with the finer points of marketing within the Branson community. “You have to start a year and a half to two years ahead,” she said. Presley also helped her choose the local media that would be most effective for the museum.
Event marketing creates local “buzz” and community partnerships
“My philosophy is that you have to have event marketing,” she said. “It creates talk in town and it creates opportunities for me to share partnerships with other individuals in town.” An example is an annual June event with Beatles impersonators the “Liverpool Legends,” a popular Branson show managed by original Beatle George Harrison’s sister Louise Harrison. Linking the Beatles and the Titanic was simple – the Beatles were from Liverpool; the Titanic was registered in Liverpool. “So we put the Beatles up on the bow of the ship for an outdoor concert,” Mary said. Attendees sat on the lawn and set up lawn chairs on the parking lot.
“Our outdoor activities are free,” she said. An exception was when Les Brown, Jr., and his orchestra performed for “Dancing under the Stars.” The Titanic staff brought in tents, lighting and flooring for the dance. “It was a rainy night and we still had more than 150 people,” she said.
“We can hold two types of events inside the museum,” she said. “We can close the museum and hold a 90-person sit-down dinner. Or we can hold up to 350 guests for a progressive dinner throughout the museum, and we’ve done several of those.”
One of the Titanic’s most dramatic displays is a reproduction of the “Grand Staircase.” The Titanic’s first wedding on the Grand Staircase was taped by MTV. The wedding was followed by a dinner for 350 guests.
The museum was designed with media coverage in mind, and the technical needs of television and radio stations are easily accommodated inside or outside during special events.
The Titanic hosts an ice sculpture competition in January, and the first sand sculpture event will be held in September as the Titanic is recreated with 15 tons of sand. An English high tea party for “Titanic Princesses” is held in April and October. The Titanic also participates in community-wide events such as the Branson Motorcycle Rally and other activities, and it is popular with charity fundraisers. Sweethearts are celebrated in February, a tribute to the Titanic’s Irish passengers is held in March, and military veterans are recognized with free admission during Veterans Week in November. Christmas on the Titanic is featured throughout November and December. Many private events are also held there.
Crew members add much To atmosphere and guest experience
Titanic staff or “crew” members add much to the guests’ experience. They are expected to know the history and the museum’s features before they begin working. “Jaynee,” in the character and costume of a first class maid, is the official spokesperson and accompanies Mary to schools and other locations for presentations. Captain Smith and other authentically costumed passengers greet guests at various locations.
New this season are popular characters Rose and Jack from the 1997 film. An entire script was written to integrate the characters into the museum, Mary said. A casting call was held for the Rose character. Mary designed Rose’s costume and a milliner in Ohio designed her elaborate hat.
Jack’s character was scripted as a third-class passenger wishing he could get to first class, Mary said. The character wins a first-class ticket. Jack appears in formal attire.
Audio tour features survivors’ voices
Also new in 2007 is an audio tour of the museum. An audio device Mary designed can be worn around the neck on a cord for convenience. The audio tour was created as a “mini-movie production,” Mary said. Four months were spent on the script. Actor Bernard Hill, who played Captain Smith in James Cameron’s film, narrates the audio tour. The narration was recorded in London; the audio device was built in France.
“What really makes the audio tour an unbelievable guest experience is that in 1987, John Joslyn went to the Titanic and made the first television show after the wreckage was found. He recorded survivors in 1987,” Mary said. “I took those tracks and they are on this audio tour. You are actually going to hear survivors talk about their experience on the Titanic.”
The Titanic museum’s concept is a celebration of the ship and her passengers, Mary said. “Everything that is in the museum is from passengers who survived, or they perished and family members were able to retrieve the items. Nothing is from the bottom of the ocean.”
The Titanic’s passengers are made real to guests on entry to the museum. Each guest receives a boarding pass that features a passenger and a brief history of the passenger. At the tour’s end is the Memorial Room, where guests can determine whether or not the passenger survived.
Education, interaction play key role for student groups
Education is one of the museum’s most important missions, and school groups make up an important part of the marketing program. Scavenger hunts and interactive displays draw up to 1,000 children each Friday morning.
“Creating events is an opportunity to talk to people who might not have thought of coming to the museum,” she said. “We are surprised at the repeat business from children. They come in again and again.”
Special event planning is under way for 2008 and 2009, Mary said. “We’re working on 2012 right now with Belfast and London, too. We will make the 100th anniversary celebration a very important event.”
All elements of special events including catering, music and entertainment for meetings, parties, weddings and corporate events can be arranged by contacting director of sales and marketing Kristy Merritt at (417) 334-9500.
(Dawn Erickson is a contributor from Branson, Mo.)
More information about the Titanic is available at www.titanicbranson.com