House of Wax
Valerie Wang, BBA '08, carves out a successful marketing career in the world of wax figures.
Valerie Wang, BBA '08, works daily with Hollywood's A-Listers — Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, and the like. She's not an agent or studio executive. As marketing manager at Madame Tussauds Hollywood, part of the legendary London-based chain of wax museums, she hangs with replicas of yesterday's and today's hottest stars.
The museum's location on Hollywood Boulevard has made it a top Los Angeles attraction since its 2009 opening. It is part of Merlin Entertainment Group, the world's second largest visitor attraction operator based on admission numbers. Wang's job is to make the museum a must-see on every tourist's list. Since her arrival in April 2011, she has developed an electronic newsletter for the museum's fans and business partners and grown its Facebook following from 4,000 to nearly 30,000. Her goal is to surpass the veteran Madame Tussauds New York's count of some 35,000.
"I'm driven by competition," Wang says. "It keeps it interesting when you're trying to win. That's one of the things I love best about my job."
She draws on that competitive spirit to help determine what figure to launch next, and how to do so in a way that will generate buzz. To keep the museum fresh and in the headlines, Wang and her team try to launch a new figure or experience each month. They obtain four or five new figures annually, with a price tag of $300,000 each. They also borrow figures from other Madame Tussauds franchises or create a new experience with assets on hand.
"Being in Hollywood gives us an advantage because we are in the center of it all," she says.
Delivering the wow factor unleashes Wang's creativity. Last November her team replicated the Oval Office, complete with President Obama. They unveiled Tupak Shakur's figure on his birthday, complete with a local radio station spinning classic hip-hop and members of Bone Thugs and Harmony giving an impromptu performance. But the biggest success came courtesy of one of television's biggest reality stars.
The museum had arranged to borrow Kim Kardashian from the New York venue; as fate would have it, the launch was days before her wedding. Wang commissioned a designer to create three wedding dresses, and fans voted on their favorite for the launch. "Because press weren't allowed at the wedding, some ran photos of our figure with their stories," Wang says. "It was the perfect storm."
But it's not always easy dealing with celebrities. One launch was canceled when a figure was damaged just days before the launch; another was delayed four months because the celebrity was unhappy with the figure's hairline. Wang takes it in stride. "We poke fun of celebrities while still being respectful."
Navigating cultural differences with U.K. executives also is challenging. "It took us two years to convince them to make a Betty White figure," she says. "No one there had ever heard of her."
Wang's current gig isn't her first time creating a splash. Her interest in experiential marketing was fueled by her love of chaos and desire to fuse fun events with marketing strategy, so she launched her career as an event producer at KCET, an L.A.-based PBS affiliate. She grew the role from planning a few events each year to doing 40-50, but the game-changer was when she was asked to plan the launch of Ken Burns' documentary "The National Parks." Wang partnered with the National Park Service to host the screening at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, raising $200,000 for the project and drawing 2,000 people to the event. "Working for a nonprofit gives you more responsibilities than you might be prepared for," she says. "After that event, I had the CEO's support to run with my ideas."
The chance to dive deeper into marketing brought her to Madame Tussauds, but focusing on execution and strategy always has kept her grounded amidst the hoopla. "I once told Clint Eastwood that he couldn't sit in a section because I was reserving it for Clint Eastwood," she says. "He looked at me like I was insane."
— Amy Spooner
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Amy Spooner, (734) 615-5068, firstname.lastname@example.org