Illinois Governors Mansion Case Study Hawthorne Strategies

Illinois Governor's Mansion Association

The Challenge

Transform a Mansion into a Mission 

Built in 1855, the Illinois Governor’s Mansion is one of the oldest and most historic governor’s mansions in the U.S. But after more than 150 years of occupancy and recent neglect, the Mansion had fallen into complete disrepair.

Through a $15 million privately-funded renovation project, spearheaded by the Illinois Governor’s Mansion Association (IGMA) and then-First-Lady of Illinois, Diana Rauner, the Mansion would get more than just a structural update, including a programmatic overhaul to position the Mansion as a center for art, history, and education in Illinois, including a professionally curated “Art of Illinois” exhibit. But IGMA couldn’t just build it and hope people would come. They needed an integrated strategy to educate the public on the importance of the restoration and establish the Mansion as a prime spot for visitors in Springfield.

While an incredible amount of work had been undertaken to raise funds and awareness for the Mansion’s renovations, the community had, at best, a passing idea of what the renovation would entail. It was time to re-introduce the Mansion.

In February 2018, IGMA hired Hawthorne Strategy Group for communications support. To drive a deeper understanding of the mission of the renovation, Hawthorne worked with IGMA to develop core and promotional materials and media relations efforts to expand the public perception beyond just a home renovation and drive attendance to the grand reopening weekend.

The Solution

Communicate the Focus on Art, History and Education and Accessibility for All

The renovation was more than fixing a leaky roof and rotting floorboards. The vision from IGMA was to transform the Mansion from a residence with some limited public access to “The People’s House,”

Key elements of this transformation included:
– Adding a Visitor Center with professionally trained docents and tours available 7 days a week
– Making the building fully ADA accessible
– Creating a visitor experience that tells the history of the stateroom by room through art, architecture, and historical artifacts

Hawthorne’s challenge was to bring these new elements of the Mansion to life and to drive visitors to the Mansion. Specifically, the strategy focused on:
– Generating excitement and interest in advance of the opening of the Mansion through earned media opportunities
– Leveraging the Mansion reopening to generate media interest across the state and with regional, trade, and special interest publications and drive attendance to the Grand Reopening event
– Engaging likely partners and advocates, including schools, museums, and members of the tourism community
– Leveraging the opening with an ‘Open House’ so citizens could experience The People’s House first hand
– Retaining momentum following opening weekend

The Results

Overwhelming Opening Weekend Attendance and Media Attention

In coordination with the Illinois Office of Tourism, Hawthorne created tourism materials to be distributed across the state, driving record-breaking attendance.

Through our media outreach strategy, we were able to generate over 900 news stories and achieve 300 million impressions and more than $3M in advertising values during the 5-month span of this project.

Additional results included:

– A steady drumbeat of coverage, highlighting construction progress through hard hat tours, the First Family moving back to the private residence, and coordinating exclusive tours of the finished Mansion with outlets including the Chicago Tribune, NBC 5 Chicago, ABC 7 Chicago, the State Journal-Register, and WCIA-TV.
– Over 2,000 visitors to the Mansion and several media outlets to opening weekend
– In the first month of opening, 4,000 visitors would take a tour of the Mansion
– Within the first three months of opening, over 15,00 visitors from every state and several foreign countries had come to the Mansion, which was more than the entire year prior

One Year Later

– Since reopening, 29,004 visitors have taken a tour of the mansion, according to the Governor’s office. While more than 90 percent reported being Illinois residents, there have been visitors from 48 U.S. states and 41 countries spread across six continents – In August 2018, the Illinois Realtors Bicentennial Plaza opened just to the east, offering a direct connection between the mansion and Lincoln Home Historic Site – This summer, the Levitt AMP Springfield Music Series has brought hundreds to the mansion’s front gates for free weekly concerts every Thursday night.