Campaign: Launch of Einstein Year
Client: Institute of Physics
PR team: In-house with Mission21
Timescale: September 2004-January 2005
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of some of Albert Einstein's most famous papers - including those concerning his theories on the Brownian motion, photoelectric effect and special relativity - the Institute of Physics designated 2005 as 'Einstein Year'. Part of the World Year of Physics, the year of activities is designed to encourage interest in the subject and project a positive, accessible image.
Mission21, having carried out opinion-forming activity around the initiative in 2004, was asked to help the Institute of Physics' in-house team manage the launch event for Einstein Year, which took place at London's Science Museum in January.
To increase awareness of Einstein Year among the public and deliver positive messages about the subject of physics to the widest possible audience in the UK.
Strategy and Plan
The Institute of Physics identified children aged between 11 and 14 as the primary target audience, feeling that nurturing an interest early on would be beneficial for the individuals and for the future of British physics.
Mission21 and the in-house team wanted to use a vibrant, image-led news story that would show physics in action in an exciting but real-world context. After two months of research, they recruited Cambridge University physicist Helen Czerski and top BMX stunt rider Ben Wallace to create a world first - a BMX bicycle stunt designed around Einstein's theories on kinetic energy and movement.
The stunt - appropriately named 'the Einstein Flip' - was demonstrated to the media with a three-dimensional computer simulation, which was developed to illustrate clearly the science behind the stunt in an accessible way.
Naturally, the stunt was extremely visual, allowing Mission21 to arrange a series of photoshoots.
To engage with parents, the campaign targeted the educational press, stressing the pedagogic nature of Einstein Year.
Measurement and Evaluation
The launch event was covered by The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, the Evening Standard, Metro and The Sun Online, and achieved front-page coverage in the Financial Times and The Guardian's Education supplement.
Blue Peter, which restaged the BMX stunt live, and The Funday Times provided coverage, as did The Guardian's science and environment section, Life.
Broadcast programmes that ran the story included Radio 4's Today, BBC and ITV lunchtime and evening news bulletins, Newsnight and 14 BBC regional radio stations.
According to Mission21, coverage of the launch event was worth around £4m and successfully raised awareness of physics among children. Portal www.einsteinyear.org, which was set up prior to the awareness year's official unveiling, experienced increased hits after the BMX stunt.
Ian Sample, who covered the story for The Guardian, tells PRWeek that the BMX stunt for Einstein Year was a memorable occasion.
'It was quite a funny thing and a good piece to write - about the Institute of Physics trying to be cool,' he says. 'The institute was fine, and there were certainly all the people there that I wanted to interview.'
Niall Scott, Beattie Communications Scotland director, also heads the press office at the University of St Andrews
As an overeager cub reporter I once buttonholed the Nobel Laureate Sir James Black and asked him, somewhat disrespectfully, to predict the greatest scientific achievement of the 21st century. The highest aspiration of science, he said, should be to win back the confidence of a sceptical public whose trust it had undermined by so many unfulfilled promises.
I am still uncomfortable each time I see coverage heralding a new piece of the great scientific jigsaw as the biggest, highest, longest, most significant next best thing. So much of the public profile of science still seems embroiled in a catfight for media attention fuelled by aspirational claim and counter-claim.
I liked this campaign because it did not fall into this trap. It was prepared well, worked with facts and recognised the importance of pitching science accurately but imaginatively to a young audience. Given the complex and potentially dry nature of the subject matter, its creative approach was just right and careful thought was clearly given to imagery.
The eclectic nature of the coverage demonstrates the campaign's mass appeal strengths. Either that, or it proves we're all big kids at heart.
A job well done.