For its 150th anniversary, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) teamed up with Google Earth - which provides geographic information via satellite imagery, maps, and 3-D building images - to communicate AIA's message: "Celebrating the Past. Designing the Future." The partnership aimed to demonstrate architecture's role in daily life and showcase Google Earth as a resource.
"AIA felt strongly that we should re-engage the public that architects serve," says Phil Simon, AIA MD of marketing and PR. "Conversation about the role architecture plays in our lives [is important. There's] synergy between Google Earth and what architects do."
AIA created a Google Earth layer (category) called America's Favorite Architecture (AFA). Harris Interactive polled AIA members, who identified 248 significant buildings. Next, 1,800 adults were surveyed to choose 150 of the buildings for the AFA layer.
Another layer was created for Blueprint for America (BFA), an AIA-funded nationwide community-enhancement initiative.
Google wanted to show how to use Google Earth layers. A video for YouTube, which Google had recently acquired, was created to showcase AIA layers and Google Earth's SketchUp 3-D modeling technology. "Man on the street" clips of public feedback on what architecture means to them were included in the video.
"Asking [for public] opinions on favorite buildings made it less tutorial and more engaging," says Martha Mallonee, Imre's VP of associations. "The campaign was about places, people, and stories. Dialogue was key."
The YouTube idea was exciting but "not without trepidation," notes Simon. "We didn't know if would get traction because we hadn't tried it."
AFA survey results were announced, and then the YouTube video launched on April 24. To continue public dialogue, the video encouraged viewers to post videos of their favorite buildings.
Imre pitched national and local print and broadcast outlets and blogs. Releases included YouTube, AFA, and BFA Web site links. The AIA's 81,000 members were sent a cryptic "teaser" message via a weekly membership e-newspaper. The YouTube video also was shown at the AIA's annual meeting.
Google helped by announcing the AIA layers, partnership, and YouTube link via its press page, blog, and newsletters. It also sent the AIA news release to its press contacts.
The YouTube video was the most viewed spot in the travel and places category during its first week and remained in the top 10 for several weeks (with 10,000 views in the first five hours and 20,000 within 24 hours). As of June 21, it had more than 63,000 views.
"It appears it's being shared quite a bit," Mallonee says. "The beauty of a viral campaign is it's coming from everywhere."
Simon adds: "It hit the mark. We'll be using this tactic again."
As of May 16, the AFA poll garnered more than 210 media hits, including The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and LA Times.
Web site www.AIA150.org received more than 1,100 unique visitors per day.
BFA results will be presented next year. Imre will work with Manning Selvage & Lee (the agencies won the AIA150 business together) on the BFA piece moving forward.
It's hard to imagine a better fit than Google Earth and the AIA. Though the partnership wasn't created for the sake of marketing, it turned out to be a great example of how impactful PR can emerge from strong synergies.
Google Earth is a great platform for AIA's mission to engage the public. AIA is a great resource for Google. The public is stimulated, heard, and gets to experience architecture through a very cool platform.
The YouTube video clearly paid dividends. The strategy was thoughtful and well executed. Incorporating even more public input in and around the video was wise and helped convey the message of architecture playing a role in people's lives.
PR team: American Institute of Architects (Washington) and Imre Communications (Baltimore)
Campaign: AIA150 Google Earth launch
Duration: February 23 to May 5, 2007