Wednesday, May 27, 2009

More from May's FUNWORLD: Madame Tussauds Waxes On

OK, we all know they’re not real, but the depictions inside Madame Tussauds Wax Museum sure are convincing; guests can’t help posing and interacting with the figures (to the right, the real Jonas Brothers band members pose with their wax counterparts). Before I even started working for IAAPA, I was mesmerized by the museum’s coupling of history and fun, so it was an extra special treat to interview Shameka Lloyd, the marketing manager at Madame Tussauds in Washington, D.C., for May’s Quick Hits. Below is an extended interview with Lloyd on how the museum utilizes its features to draw in customers.

FUNWORLD: How does Madame Tussauds extend beyond a museum to become an interactive attraction?
Shameka Lloyd: Unlike a traditional museum, Madame Tussauds DC (MTDC) is highly interactive—nothing is kept behind glass, rope, or stanchions. We invite our guests to touch the lifelike wax figures and actually get a sense of what it would be like to stand among such great historic icons in the world of politics, music, film, sports, and more. We also allow guests to capture their visit by taking photos, which is typically taboo in most museums. Visitors can sit next to President Abe Lincoln in a replica of his box at Ford’s Theatre, or sit on an actual bus seat next to the mother of the modern civil rights movement, Rosa Parks. Visitors interested in pop culture, celebrity, and sports can dance with Beyonce, be proposed to by George Clooney, or stand toe-to-toe with Evander Holyfield.

FW: You’ve said that launching new figures is one of your favorite parts of the job—what will MTDC introduce next?
New figure launches are definitely one of the most exciting elements of this job. Since we are still a fairly new attraction (less than two years old), we rely heavily on building greater brand awareness through our public relations efforts by launching new figures.
Typically, who we launch is kept secret until the last possible moment, but the media was savvy enough to get wind that Madame Tussauds had a wax figure of First Lady Michelle Obama (left) in production. After launching Barack Obama in February of 2008, it was a natural fit to add Michelle Obama, given the historic nature of her new claim to fame as the first African-American First Lady, not to mention her enormous influence as a style maven in the world of fashion. She is very relevant to our attraction in terms of what is new and current. MTDC always wants to be forward thinking with the individuals we select to immortalize in wax—it’s part of our tradition, which is more than 200 years old.

FW: Tell us about some of the special events MTDC has hosted and how you put a twist on the experience.
MTDC hosted several parties during our first year and each was very different. One group from the hotel management industry was brought over by bus and enjoyed a fun evening of heavy hors d’oeuvres and drinks, pictures with President Obama in his Oval Office (or his wax likeness and a replica of the Oval Office), and a souvenir of their own hands immortalized in wax.
Another group from the financial industry wandered around the attraction while dining on a buffet dinner and sitting with their favorite A-lister, U.S. President, civil rights leader, or sports figure. The attendees admitted it was difficult to decide where they wanted to be seated, but were all smiles during the event.
DC Lottery invited their 150 top clients to launch its “Pathway to Change” event. Guests were each presented with a Black History month poster which honored Dr. Martin Luther King and President Barack Obama among many other African-American icons. They were served light snacks during the two hour affair.
During the presidential election, student groups loved to see the great figures we have, and their teachers enjoy the opportunity to let them learn about famous icons—past and present—while enjoying a fun scavenger hunt. They also celebrated with a pizza party, which helped them save time during their day touring.

FW: What advice can you give to attractions holding such events and what lessons have you learned from planning for these?
I’ve learned to be flexible and know your audience. Someone from the museum meets and discusses goals and objectives with each group’s meeting planner to ensure we know who their clients are and what objectives they have for the event. Then we match that with our everyday operations to provide them with a personalized experience. All have bee pleased with our results!

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