Awareness Initiative: Project Billboard's effort gets best of traffic in Times Sq.

Creating simple signage in the heart of Times Square when your goals are to raise aware-ness and educate the masses is not an easy task.

Creating simple signage in the heart of Times Square when your goals are to raise aware-ness and educate the masses is not an easy task.

Project Billboard - a non-partisan, not-for-profit, DC-based "think tank" that seeks to achieve a renewed national commitment to the principles of diversity and free expression - had an idea to place a billboard in Times Square that would tally the US costs of the Iraq war. But with a plethora of billboards and neon signs tap dancing up and down the streets in that area, the billboard faced the strong possibility of getting lost in all the traffic, glitz, and glamour.

Strategy

Project Billboard's plan was to bring awareness to the billions of dollars that have been spent on the war in Iraq, about $144 billion as of August 25. The idea was for a simple sign that read "Cost of Iraq War," with a ticker displaying how much the US has spent on the war since the invasion. The clock would start at $134.5 billion and increase at a rate of $177 million per day.

Facing the tough task of creating a cost-effective campaign that would also raise awareness for the many tourists and visiting Republican delegates during the Republican National Convention, Project Billboard took its idea to Alex Slater, senior associate of the Glover Park Group, who then approached US Newswire in mid-August with the hopes of providing a creative solution.

"During a dramatic week of unfolding events, it was important that we deliver a consistent message early and often," says Slater of not being lost in the shuffle with the RNC in town.

US Newswire's task was to take pictures of the billboard, which was unveiled on August 25, and then put out a full press release by US Newswire's National Circuit, which in turn would transmit the release, along with pictures, to all of the major newswire services.

Tactics

Taking photographs of the billboard proved to be challenging because of all the pedestrian traffic in Times Square.

On the day of the shoot, Robin Weiner, US Newswire's director of photography, faced another dilemma. A new, sexy billboard for women's clothing line Baby Phat ran adjacent to Project Billboard's, which could potentially distract from the effect of the Cost of Iraq War billboard. But thanks to timing, Weiner used a passing taxi cab to block out the unwanted billboard in one shot, and used people who stopped to look at the billboard to block the Baby Phat ad in another.

After the pictures were taken, Project Billboard distributed a press release via the National Circuit announcing the photos' availability on the newswire's photo website. The newswire's photo unit also sent the pictures to the wire services, including the AP, for free editorial use.

Results

Within hours of the press release's distribution, dozens of the photographs were being downloaded.

"The photography was a critical piece of our outreach that day and helped us to get a lot of coverage from major news outlets that we otherwise may not have received," says Slater.

To say this was a cost-effective project would be an understatement, as it was "more than what was expected, and we were quite pleased with the results," says Brian Taylor, VP of marketing for US Newswire. "We were able to achieve a creative solution while accomplishing what the client wanted for a fee that was not expected."

Because the photos were extremely effective and eye-catching, Project Billboard was able to receive vast coverage from such major outlets as CNN, USA Today, ABC News, and Al-Jazeera.

Future

Project Billboard will embark on a fundraising initiative to place billboards across the country, highlighting messages that spark debate on vital issues facing the US.

With the excellent results of this project, Slater says, "we will certainly be working with them again."

PR team: The Glover Park Group and US Newswire (both Washington, DC) for Project Billboard (Redwood City, CA)

Campaign: Project Billboard

Time frame: August 18 to 27, 2004

Budget: $810

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