Event Helps Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center Build Buzz for Research Facility

Posted on by Beth Negus Viveiros

A grand opening event helped Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center create buzz for a new biotech research laboratory and build brand with established and potential donors.

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC is a major academic facility affiliated with Wake Forest University. It has approximately 14,000 employees and serves 19 counties in western North Carolina and six counties in Virginia; the health system provides direct clinical care as well as a school of medicine with over 500 students.

The new building, Wake Forest Biotech Place, which opened early last year, is based in one of the largest urban-based research parks in the country. The site itself was originally an old tobacco warehouse donated to the medical center. An outside partner, Wexford Science and Technology, was brought in to develop the property. They gutted the buildings and retrofitted it, maintaining historical elements while at the same time renovating it for scientific use.

The marketing goal of the live event was to build PR and attract national players and prospects to the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter research park. “It was only going to thrive if we could create buzz and excitement, and bring in innovative tenants [big and small] from around the country to the park,” says Lisa Wyatt, vice president and chief communications and marketing officer, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

TCG Events was in charge of the overall concept and design of the event. “We’re not a real big fan of traditional ribbon cuttings, so we spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to do that differently,” says Cassie Brown, CEO of TCG.

To showcase the new building’s high ceilings, the ribbons were dropped from the ceiling rather than just stretched across a room. A “Kabuki drop” system was used to drop the ribbons from the ceiling. The effect was appropriate to the biotech location, as it made the ribbons look like a DNA helix.

To highlight the importance of the building and stress that someone who worked in the building could indeed change the world, banners of historical figures with such importance such as Marie Curie and Florence Nightingale flanked the stage. “It brought a human element to the event,” notes Brown. “We were worried that ‘biotech’ could be an ambiguous term and people wouldn’t necessarily understand what they do.”

About 400 people attended grand opening in February 2012. The event resulted in 300 news stories, and attracted high level politicians and executives. As a result of the PR, Vice President Joe Biden’s team came to speak at a later event in June 2012, generating more PR for Wake Forest.

The facility’s development office was involved in the event, making sure major and prospective donors were involved. “Direct follow-up [with attendees] always occurs,” says Wyatt. “A lot of the high level stuff in development is personal cultivation of people who are engaged with the institution.”

While there weren’t any post-event surveys done to see what kind of goodwill was generated, the ROI was measured based on who attended and the magnitude of their value to the institution. It can be hard to quantify, Wyatt notes, because many large donations happen after 4-7 years of cultivating the prospect.

The branding for the research park has been considered a success in that more tenants have moved in—one large building is nearing completion, and upwards of 1,000 people will work there, she says.

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