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HomeCase StudiesDuckTales: How the story of a giant rubber duck got everyone quacking

DuckTales: How the story of a giant rubber duck got everyone quacking

Redpath Waterfront Festival


Some stories are pretty hard to ignore — especially when they’re about a giant inflatable duck that becomes a lightning rod for both fascination and criticism from a wide range of observers.

However, like any good comms professional, the Harmony Marketing team was able to turn what began as a controversial issue into good news stories – and get the results they were looking for.

The duck starts quacking

Charged with publicizing the Redpath Waterfront Festival Toronto, which ran from July 1-3 last year, Harmony Marketing recognized an opportunity to capitalize on the interest and excitement around the 150th anniversary of the Canadian Confederation, as well as the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Province of Ontario.

While it normally requires something special to draw a crowd to the festival — such as the tall ships that visit every three years — the team had something truly novel to promote this time around: the world’s largest rubber duck, a 61-foot tall, 30,000-pound spectacle that stood about six stories high.



Unfortunately, not all interest in the duck was positive. A major newspaper published a story that took some comments out of context about the level of government funding to rent, transport, and set up the duck on Toronto’s waterfront. This resulted in a wave of stories criticizing the entire initiative.

“Our phones were glued to us. The calls were coming morning, noon, and night,” says Victoria Syme, Harmony Marketing’s manager of marketing and communications.

While the same grant, in higher amounts, had been given to many other events in the province, some of the coverage implied much larger sums were given solely to bringing the duck to Toronto. “Some political leaders used it as leverage and it started a larger discussion,” she notes. “There was an interview that really went viral.”

While the coverage was huge — Harmony Marketing tracked close to 1,000 stories based on an initial press release — it obviously wasn’t entirely the kind of media attention the team wanted.

“From a PR perspective, it was a tough call,” recalls Alyson Bruce, Harmony Marketing’s coordinator of comms and PR. “We asked ourselves: Do we continue to take these interviews or keep our mouths shut or let it die down? We wanted to ride the wave we were getting, but at the same time we had a lot of other things to do as the festival got closer.”

Taking control

Harmony Marketing needed to manage ongoing coverage, while continuing to distribute more news and details about the upcoming festival. The company used Cision’s distribution service (powered by Canada Newswire), which offers a distribution platform that reaches more than 4,000 local media outlets and more than 10,000 others around the world. Cision’s targeting, monitoring, and marketing solutions also include the ability to distribute multimedia assets such as photos and videos.


Our phones were glued to us. Calls were coming morning, noon, and night

Victoria Syme, Harmony Marketing


Harmony Marketing’s strategy, which included an initial awareness-building news release about the giant rubber duck, was multifaceted. Over the course of promoting the Redpath Waterfront Festival, the team used half a dozen press releases and advisories to share more information about the event, including details about the real numbers and correct information behind the duck. These releases received more than 21,000 views and hits, with multimedia assets garnering more than 59,000 views, reaching a total potential audience of 87 million people.

The earned media strategy worked: The 2017 year festival made more than 310 million impressions, a 15% increase over last year. Almost three-quarters (71%) of all impressions came from earned media. This included significant earned media coverage from local and national outlets such as Global News, Breakfast Television Toronto, CBC Radio, and CP24. The event attracted tourists from many regions, with 31% residing more than 40 kilometers away from the event site. Among the non-locals, 5% resided in other provinces, 11% were from U.S., and 6% were international travelers.

Harmony Marketing also reaped additional benefits, including:

Access to a wide range of the right influencers

Cision’s in-depth reach and streamlined distribution process made the process much easier, notes Syme. “We used to have to do it all manually — by emailing our release to a big media list. Cision’s Canada Newswire feed just makes it so much easier.”

Multilingual and omnichannel support

Besides offering a distribution platform, Harmony Marketing notes that Cision was able to accommodate bilingual messaging and access to French media, which was new to the strategy. The team also benefited from visibility on the home page and tweets from Cision that boosted awareness about the duck and the Redpath Waterfront Festival’s overall programming.


Quick and easy access to insights

Harmony is a small team, Syme and Bruce explain. There’s no one to whom they can delegate analytics duties. “We are all hands on deck for the months leading up to these events,” Syme says. “It can be very tedious to manage not only the distribution but the reporting aspects of things. The visibility reports Cision gives us are great.”

By providing greater education about the duck’s funding sources through a follow-up release, Harmony Marketing watched as newspapers including The Toronto Star ran headlines such as “Giant duck gives Toronto’s waterfront a boost.” In fact, the Redpath Waterfront Festival broke its three-day attendance record in 2017, driving huge numbers of tourists to local businesses.

“We saw a shift in the coverage of people backing us up, talking about what a great thing this was for the city,” Syme says. “we had a negative story that turned into a positive one.”


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