ROBBERY AT THE ISABELLA STEWART
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum called in Wanger Associates to manage all the media relations relating to the sensational theft of over $200 million in priceless paintings stolen from the museum. The robbery was called the largest art theft in history by the FBI. Our effort on the museum's behalf won several major public relations awards.
Since we were called in only hours after the robbery and there were already requests for more information from more than 75 journalists from around the world, we developed a crisis plan on the fly. Our initial objectives included the following:
- Get the accurate facts out to the press as quickly and fully as possible.
- Support as much media coverage as possible in order to increase the chances of someone spotting the stolen paintings.
- Establish a singular media control center and one main spokesperson to keep the messages consistent and the information accurate.
- Insure that the trustees, major donors, museum members and staff were kept fully informed about the evolving situation.
- Assure the public that the theft was an isolated incident and that the loss of a number of important paintings would not, in the long run, seriously diminish the appeal or the importance of the collection.
- Take advantage of the media attention to showcase the Gardner, with or without the stolen paintings, as one of the most unique and important museum's in the area.
- We conducted a major news conference for over 60 journalists within five hours after being called to the scene. We followed up with a news conference once a day for the next three days and a media tour.
- We established an effective press control center to channel media requests for interviews to the appropriate spokesperson – usually the director or Wanger Associates – and manage all the photo shoots, electronic set-ups and press conferences in an organized and manageable fashion.
- We worked with more than 100 journalists on the story, including virtually every major newspaper, news magazine, and television and radio station. All the stories but one were accurate and balanced.
- We provided information about continuing developments to the museum's key internal supporters before the information was reported in the media.
- We generated a story that attributed the cause of the theft to human error without making scapegoats out of the guards. We made a top security consultant available to the press to verify that the museum's system was state-of-the-art. There was no drop-off in attendance after the museum re-opened.
- We provided the media with extensive background about the museum and encouraged them to write about the Gardner's extraordinary art and architecture. We also generated a number of major stories about the museum's outreach programs and achieved one of our most important goals: a feature story about the Gardner in the Smithsonian Magazine.
“Your ability to get over here in less than an hour, analyze our situation and create and implement a crisis communications effort on the run was amazing.”
“You dealt with the all the media in an exceptionally professional way and, in fact, some of the reporters complimented us on how well we were able to meet their needs.”
Isabella Steward Gardner Museum