Thinking outside the bunker

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By Leo Valiquette

Effective marketing is often an exercise in thinking outside the box to make the most creative use of assets already at hand.

In a content marketing context, this may mean tapping into the brain trust residing within your organization to use the industry experience, perspective and forward-thinking vision of key individuals to establish thought leadership through blogs, whitepapers and contributions to trade and industry publications.

There are also those instances where a certain caché can be built around providing a unique experience to your marketplace. British startup Screach, which we regularly check in with on this blog, is an excellent example of a technology vendor that is all about audience engagement and interaction by creating unique and fun experiences that take advantage of mobile ubiquity. But with any kind of product or service, there are unique aspects that can be used to create an original and memorable experience.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the staff of the Diefenbunker on the outskirts of Ottawa for a chat about how they have “thought outside the bunker” to creatively market and position the site for a variety of different market segments.

For those of you who don’t know, the Diefenbunker is a 100,000 square-foot, four-storey underground facility built in 1958-59 to protect Canada’s government from nuclear attack. It is an enduring reminder of the Cold War, the horror of nuclear conflict and the dedication of the personnel who were expected to leave their families behind to fulfill their duty.

It was also a massive white elephant before local interests decided to purchase it and turn it into a cold war museum.

“There is no other facility like this in North America built as both a nuclear blast and fallout shelter that is open to the public,” executive director Yetta Riegel told me.

But the museum’s team wasn’t content with pulling in the regular crowd of history buffs, tourists and bus loads of bored students. Instead, it has taken advantage of the site’s symbolic and historical significance in several ways. It is promoted as a venue for the ethics workshops and the emergency preparedness scenario testing required of some government departments, and for corporate retreats and team-building events. The staff also takes advantage of the retro ’60s look and the cold war spy theme to host cocktail (“shaken, not stirred”) and birthday parties. In July, the bunker even hosted a performance of the Moscow String Quartet called Beyond the Bomb: Music of the Cold War.

Granted, the Diefenbunker may be an extreme example given its unique significance and physical structure. But even here, it took creative thinking to consider how the site could position itself as more than just a museum. Regardless of the product, service, brand or venue in question, there is always the need to escape a rut that is dug by either the status quo or the obvious. It isn’t just a matter of asking “how are we different?” but, “How can we be different?”



  • Katherine Hollinsworth

    August 29, 2012 5:30 pm

    Leo, thanks for the story about wonderfully creative team at the Diefenbunker. It’s so satisfying to know that the “outside the box” thinking that created Canada’s Cold War Museum continues to inspire those who work there. I was part of the original founding group who came up with the idea to turn the Diefenbunker into a museum and succeeded in spite of local opposition.

    Of all the interesting projects and jobs I have had in my thirty-six year career, this was the most challenging, fascinating and satisfying.

    Kudos to the team at the Diefenbunker!! You are proving that the possibilities are limitless for this historic facility. Thank you.

  • Leo Valiquette

    August 30, 2012 8:49 am


    Thank you for your kind words. I do have a soft spot for heritage sites. Before I got into this writing for a living business, I was pursuing a career in museum work. I remember way back to the Ontario Museum Association conference held in Ottawa in the early ’90s and a talk by then Regional Chair Peter Clark who said cash-strapped museums had to think more like commercial businesses to come up with creative ways to generate their own revenue. Some people in the audience were ready to brand him the antichrist.


  • Kelly - the Diefenbunker

    September 05, 2012 11:59 am

    Thank you so much for writing this article Leo.

    We have been working on creative strategies to engage new audiences and rejuvenate the interests of current and past visitors.

    Katherine – I would love to talk to you sometime. Thank you for sharing your kind comments. Feel free to call or email me: 613-839-0007

    We have great plans for the future of this Museum and National Historic Site. Thank you for laying the ground work Katherine.

    Many thanks again to you both.

    Kelly Eyamie
    Marketing & Community Relations Manager

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