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In an exciting presentation conducted by Lila Honaker, director of marketing and outreach at the Historic Tennessee Theatre, attendees of AMA Knoxville’s October luncheon learned about the specialized marketing campaign, media blitz and brand refresh utilized to celebrate the theatre’s 90th anniversary.

“Anniversaries are like birthdays: occasions to celebrate and to think ahead, usually among friends with whom one shares not only the past but also the future.” – Zbigniew Brzezinski

The Tennessee Theatre’s story begins on October 1, 1928 when it was opened as an escape to life’s troubles. This “otherworldly” movie palace took 11 months and around $1 million dollars to build. After years of touching the lives of locals, the theatre closed for a few years in the early 1970s. In 1981, Jim A. Dick purchased the theatre to save it from becoming a parking lot. After a few years, in 1996, he started a nonprofit and donated the theatre with the mission to “make sure that the Tennessee Theatre is accessible and available to all.” Since then, the theatre has undergone a massive renovation, totaling $28 million dollars, which was funded by various corporations and individuals.

October 1, 1928 The Tennessee Theatre opened its doors

After giving a brief introduction of the Tennessee Theatre’s extensive history and impact on Knoxville, Honaker jumped into a description of the long list of events and celebrations surrounding the theatre’s 90thanniversary. Celebrating such a big milestone presented Honaker’s team with “a once in a decade opportunity … to cement some of our nonprofit messaging.”

“We really wanted to connect with the community,” she explained. “Because part of our mission is being a theatre for everybody, we wanted this 90thanniversary to be able to touch everybody from all walks of life, from all backgrounds … as diverse as we possibly could.”

With Oct. 1 being the theatre’s official anniversary, Honaker and her team created the campaign “90 days for 90 years,” with special events and online messaging celebrating the monumental milestone from October until the end of the year.

As a kick-off for their 90-day celebration, the Tennessee Theatre hosted a speakeasy party. The main idea behind this event was not about one piece of entertainment, but a way to experience the theatre in a way that it had never been experienced before. This monumental cocktail party opened by leading the audience down a side alley and in through a secret entrance. Once they entered, they were greeted with food and beverages, jazz band, swing band and photo booth. This event was focused on celebrating the roaring twenties when the theatre was built and to emphasize the brand message of creating experiences, memories and stories.

#90yearspeakeasy

The Tennessee Theatre has a full docket of events, merchandise and more – some of which has not even be announced to the public yet. To secure awareness for this celebration, they have created a new logo, secured pole banners throughout the downtown area, created specialty pins for staff and flooded the media with information about their festivities.

Tennessee Theatre’s New Logo

While reflecting on the past 90 years, the Tennessee Theatre staff also used this time to look ahead at what they wanted their brand to become in the future. Using this 90thanniversary as a transitional period, Honaker’s team was able to rebrand the theatre with an emphasis on patron experience.

“Creating an iconic brand that captures the essence of the theatre starts by knowing who we are,” she said.

In order to fully understand and appreciate the patron experience, audience members were polled in the lobby, through email and on boards. These insights helped direct the rebrand.

The Tennessee Theatre unveiled a new logo, redesigned their website and changed out their bar signage, all with an emphasis on a cleaner, more modern look. With the theme of “A New Look for an Icon,” Honaker and her team had to ensure that the rebranding campaign encompassed the tradition of the well-loved building. The new designs incorporate patterns and visuals from the architecture of the theatre itself into their new branding.

“This theatre means a lot to a lot of people and we want to share that.”

Written by: Anna Wilt

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