Woody Guthrie Center - Case Study - Saxum

WorkWoody Guthrie Center

The Challenge

George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) is a charitable organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty through investments in early childhood education, community health, social services and civic enhancement.

In 2011, the foundation acquired the archives of Woody Guthrie, a legendary Oklahoma folk singer, and announced intentions to bring the collection to a permanent home in Tulsa, Okla. In addition to original musical recordings, the archive includes nearly 3,000 song lyrics, many rare books by and about Guthrie, more than 700 pieces of artwork, letters and postcards, as well as manuscripts and personal journals. A key piece of the collection is Woody Guthrie’s original handwritten copy of “This Land is Your Land.”

The permanent home of the archives, the Woody Guthrie Center, opened in Tulsa, Okla. in late April 2013. Woody Guthrie Center desired to involve and engage the entire Oklahoma community in the opening of the new museum, as well as engage Woody Guthrie and folk music fans from all across the nation. The media relations budget was $12,000.

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Our primary objective for this project was to generate as much positive media coverage possible for the archives and the celebration. Saxum was tasked with leading efforts of the grand opening for the Woody Guthrie Center in collaboration with the Grammy Museum Live out of Los Angeles.

Saxum planned a targeted national media relations campaign for the Woody Guthrie Center opening, compiling lists of media contacts nationwide, including music reporters and publications, as well as drafting media invitations. This plan also included the execution of securing nationwide media placements. Using our team-based approach, we executed a nationwide media blitz, resulting in extensive coverage among local, regional and national media in March, April and May of 2013.


The announcement of the Woody Guthrie Center opening and subsequent promotion of the opening events led to more than 470 media placements across Oklahoma and the nation. These placements reached an estimated audience of 22 million individuals. Highlights from coverage included placements with ABC News Online, National Public Radio, Orlando Sentinel Online, Houston Chronicle Online, Denver Post Online, Kansas City Star Online, Yahoo! News Online, Huffington Post, Dallas News Online and more, along with every major news outlet in the state of Oklahoma. These results do not include the postings from the newswire service.


The opening celebration engaged the Tulsa community and state to include numerous concerts and a lecture from Nora Guthrie. The Guthrie family was closely involved in the celebration and Nora Guthrie gave a speech along with leading the crowd in a special song at the ribbon cutting. The Brady Arts District, where the Center is located, celebrated the new neighbor through a weekend full of free concerts at the Guthrie Green public park and popular food trucks from around the community also parked at Guthrie Green located right across the street from the Woody Guthrie Center.

Programming for the weekend included concerts, lectures, question and answer sessions, and an opportunity to mix and mingle with the Guthrie family members.

Quality/Continuity of Project Components

The program was an integrated effort including media relations, creative projects and collateral materials, digital strategy, social media execution, and event coordination and execution.

Overall Impact/Effectiveness of Program

The community and media welcomed the archives home with open arms. The opening received a tremendous media response, including over 450 placements.

Public Grand Opening – Over 1,000 people attended the Woody Guthrie Center grand opening weekend. Saxum designed and created free ticket vouchers for the public with assigned time slots to enter the museum in order to manage extreme crowds.

Educators Reception – A few days before the public opening, Tulsa Public Schools educators were invited to tour the museum early and hear museum staff discuss all the educational opportunities available complete with curriculum and lesson plans.

Exclusive Media Tour –Over 30 media professionals attended the media tour at the Woody Guthrie Center, in which they were granted early exclusive access to the center and all interactive artifact displays before the public opening. At the exclusive tour, members of the media were also given the opportunity to interview the Guthrie family members as well as Deana McCloud, executive director of the center.

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony –On Saturday morning, directly before the public grand opening, Saxum coordinated a ribbon cutting event with speakers including Nora Guthrie (daughter of Woody Guthrie), Mayor of Tulsa Dewey Bartlett, Bob Santelli (President of the Grammy Museum), Ken Levit (director of George Kaiser Family Foundation), and Deana McCloud (executive director of Woody Guthrie Center). Attendees of the ceremony included other city officials, all Woody Guthrie Center and Grammy Museum staff, several major news outlets, and dozens of general Tulsa community members.


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