In February 2008, the world’s foremost industry experts in solar technology and sustainable renewable energies gathered in Adelaide for the 3rd International Solar Cities Congress.
Convened by the Government of South Australia and Adelaide City Council under the auspices of the International Solar Cities Initiative and International Solar Energy Society, the biennial five-day event provided a global forum for policymakers and environmental leaders – including 100 speakers from 36 countries – to share ideas and discuss sustainable energy options for the future.
In the lead-up to the event, Hughes Public Relations was commissioned by the Congress organisers to provide communications support in light of poor early-bird registration numbers, minimal public awareness and no media coverage. With a brief to raise awareness of the Congress and help secure more than 500 feepaying registrations for the event, Hughes PR developed a comprehensive communications strategy to promote attendance and attract worldwide media interest.
Ultimately, the Congress exceeded the organisers’ expectations with more than 800 delegates from around the world attending the event to underpin its financial success. Significantly, extensive media coverage was secured to help publicise the event throughout Australia and overseas, and in doing so, strengthen SA’s position as an environmental leader in the development of renewable energies.
“The strategy that you developed, along with your company’s high level of customer service and flexibility of approach resulted in well over $600,000 of free media for South Australia and more than 800 registrations. The legacy may not be forever but five months on we are still receiving praise and requests for articles.”
Excerpt from letter from Tim O’Loughlin, Deputy Chief Executive, Sustainability and Workforce Management, SA Department of the Premier and Cabinet.
- See Appendix B.
In late 2006, Adelaide won the rights to host the 3rd International Solar Cities Congress, which was scheduled for February 2008 following previous events in Daegu, Korea (2004) and Oxford, England (2006).
The Government of South Australia and Adelaide City Council joined forces to underwrite the event, which was regarded as a crucial opportunity to promote the State’s “green” credentials to an international audience of government leaders, environmental scientists and public policy specialists.
The State’s Capital City Committee (a joint collaboration between the Government of SA and Adelaide City Council) was given the responsibility of organising the Congress and assembled an impressive line-up of 100 speakers from 36 countries to examine the latest thinking in sustainable options for the future.
The array of speakers included Time magazine “Hero for the Planet” Robert F Kennedy Jr, billionaire solar entrepreneur Dr Zhengrong Shi and world-renowned cultural ecologist Herbert Girardet. Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett and SA Premier Mike Rann were also among the distinguished list of keynote speakers.
In the months leading up to the Congress, the organisers became increasingly concerned that registration numbers were alarmingly below expectations and that there was virtually no public or media awareness of the event. Fears were harboured that the Congress would not realise its potential and reflect negatively on South Australia and Adelaide.
At this point, Hughes Public Relations was approached to develop and implement a wide-ranging communications campaign to bolster local and overseas awareness of the event and increase registration numbers.
Hughes Public Relations has a strong track record in providing communications support for major events and was able to adapt a number of proven strategies to help publicise the Congress.
The consultancy commenced its activities by reviewing operations and results of the 1st International Solar Cities Congress in Korea in 2004 and the 2nd International Solar Cities Congress in the UK in 2006. Hughes PR liaised with organisers to pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of each event, including respective communications strategies implemented regarding media opportunities, direct stakeholder correspondence and website effectiveness.
In addition, Hughes PR examined the reach and impact that advertising and promotional materials were having on publicising the Adelaide Congress, which was negligible. The consultancy reviewed and monitored the number of visitors to the Congress website (www.solarcitiescongress.com.au) as part of this process.
Importantly, Hughes PR also identified that the majority of early registrations for the Congress had come from existing stakeholders, partners and sponsors of the event. The consultancy subsequently recommended that this avenue be further explored as a primary means of boosting delegate numbers, with a “Friends of the Congress” database established to periodically communicate key Congress announcements in the lead-up to the event.
The 3rd International Solar Cities Congress was designed to appeal to all professionals and individuals with an interest in sustainable energy.
The Congress targeted business, government and academic leaders throughout Australia and around the world, with Hughes Public Relations focusing its activities on attracting:
- Renewable energy experts
- Environmental scientists
- Public policy specialists
- Government ministers
- City mayors
- Energy company representatives
- Architects, builders and developers
- Urban planners
Importantly, Hughes PR also deemed the media a key target audience due to its capacity to circulate news relating to the Congress and because of its power to influence public opinion.
In particular, the consultancy targeted News Limited publications as a primary vehicle for Congress information and secured a valuable partnership with the publisher in line with its “One Degree of Change” initiative. The ABC was also identified and embraced as a partner due to synergies between the demographic of its radio listeners and the target audience of the Congress.
In line with the brief given to Hughes Public Relations, a comprehensive communication strategy was designed to boost local and international delegate numbers for the Congress and build media and public awareness of the event.
A rolling “PR Calendar” drafted by the consultancy underpinned the strategy, which was reviewed and regularly updated in collaboration with organisers to maximise promotional opportunities and ensure ongoing accountability of the campaign in accordance with the brief.
- See Appendix A for “PR Calendar” .
The PR Calendar focused on the Congress’s target audience of professionals and individuals with an interest in sustainable energy. Specifically, businesses in the renewable energy industry, government leaders, urban planners and academics were pursued.
A pro-active media publicity program was also developed and rolled out. A key element of this was the establishment of an extensive media list to disseminate regular news about the Congress. Hughes PR compiled a comprehensive list of editors and environment reporters worldwide across press, radio and television, specialist trade publications and new media. The consultancy also notified more than 200 relevant websites about the Congress.
One of the main considerations throughout the lead-up to the event was the line-up of keynote speakers, which was an important selling point for prospective delegates and potential media coverage. Significantly, Hughes PR collaborated in advance with several speakers – including US environmental activist Robert F Kennedy Jr, billionaire solar entrepreneur Dr Zhengrong Shi, world-leading urban ecologist Herbert Girardet and South Australian Premier Mike Rann – to generate widespread pre-event media interest, and in turn, boost delegate numbers.
- See Appendix A for examples of media coverage.
Implementation of the communications program consisted of the following key elements:
- Publicity of the Congress in local, national and international media before, during and after the event.
- Establishment of a media partnership with News Limited which saw involvement of the media conglomerate’s New York office and a series of articles supporting News Limited’s “One Degree of Change” climate awareness series.
- A “high level” letter from SA Premier Mike Rann to his counterparts in Australia and overseas encouraging representative attendance at the event.
- See Appendix B.
- Promotion of key developments in renewable energy practices.
- Ticket competitions to attend the Congress.
- Opportunistic story proposals to visiting national and international media.
Over the course of the six-month campaign, Hughes Public Relations distributed one news release per month to its target media list to firstly establish interest and then build momentum for the Congress.
- See Appendix A for example of media release.
The consultancy also implemented a “Media Accreditation” section on the Congress website to encourage journalist participation leading up to the event. This also enabled the consultancy to pinpoint and capitalise on specific media outlets interested in the Congress, building a valuable database for coverage before and during the event.
Importantly, Hughes PR recommended taking maximum advantage of the commitment of stakeholders, partners and sponsors of the event, with a “Friends of the Congress” database developed. This database was used to disseminate correspondence of Congress activities in the lead-up to the event. Monthly “E-News Updates” created by Hughes Public Relations were sent to the database from September 2007 to February 2008.
- See Appendix A for example of E-News Update.
Another crucial role undertaken by the consultancy was the establishment of an onsite media desk to assist visiting journalists. In addition to facilitating press conferences, exclusive interviews and photo opportunities with various speakers, the consultancy oversaw an online media conference for journalists around the world, which was conducted in conjunction with the Australian Science Media Centre.
The 3rd International Solar Cities Congress exceeded the expectations of organisers in terms of attendance, attracting more than 800 delegates from around the world to underpin the financial success of the event.
- See Appendix B for letter of appreciation from the SA Government.
High levels of international awareness of the event and public recognition of the broader issues of climate change and environmental sustainability were also achieved.
Media coverage of the Congress received across Australia between January 17 and February 27, 2008, had an equivalent advertising spend rate of $630,000 – a figure that excludes global website articles and calendar listings, and international magazine stories, which would have markedly increased the equivalent ASR.
The event was covered in all major newspapers across the country as well as through numerous radio and television broadcasts. Significantly, several overseas publications published articles on the Congress endorsing South Australia as a world leader in implementing renewable energies.
- See Appendix A for example of media coverage.
The communication campaign supporting the South Australian Government’s goals for the 3rd International Solar Cities Congress must be considered to be highly successful when judged against the campaign objectives as outlined below:
- Objective: Raise awareness of the 3rd International Solar Cities Congress and help secure more than 500 registrations for the event from February 17-21, 2008.
- Outcome: More than 800 delegates from 36 countries and across Australia attended the event – well in excess of the target of 500 registrations sought by the organisers.
- Objective: Position South Australia as a renewable energy leader, particularly relating to environmental sustainability and climate change.
- Outcome: Through publicity and the successful staging of this global conference, the campaign assisted in positioning South Australia as a renewable energy leader, particularly relating to environmental sustainability and climate change.
- Objective: Showcase local innovative technologies.
- Outcome: The conference served to showcase local innovative technologies to national and international delegates and provided a catalyst for local media interest in the State’s sustainability initiatives.
Importantly, high levels of international environmental sustainability sector awareness and Australian community awareness was generated by the campaign through significant new and traditional media publicity, which further endorsed its success.