Solar Decathlon participants

Challenge

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Decathlon is a biennial competition that challenges collegiate teams to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are affordable, energy efficient and attractive. The nearly two-year project culminates in an unprecedented display of highly efficient houses that are open to the public for 10 days. During this time, the houses compete in 10 contests that gauge livability and performance, including everyday tasks such as cooking and laundry. DOE engaged Stratacomm to tell the story of the innovative student teams and help educate Americans about cost-effective ways homeowners can use clean energy for the 2009, 2011 and 2013 competitions.

Our Approach

For each competition, Stratacomm developed and executed a robust campaign with a strategic blend of media outreach, digital and social media tactics to build buzz around the Solar Decathlon. Keys to success included:

  • Telling the Solar Decathlon story through the students – featured the student teams and their personalities, hard work and accomplishments through media interviews, videos, photos and social media interactions, and conducted an in-person media and social media training workshop with the teams
  • Analyzing media trends and coverage of the energy landscape – researched relevant news cycles, known newspaper and magazine editorial calendars, major industry events and competition milestones for potential news hooks
  • Helping followers visualize the story – provided media and fans pictures and videos of the people, houses and technologies, including daily photos, an online architectural gallery of homes and virtual tours
  • Positioning energy efficiency as an economic issue  showed how clean energy products will save consumers money
  • Emphasizing a variety of clean energy solutions for the home in addition to the benefits of solar – efficient materials, windows, appliances, lighting, heating, cooling and plumbing systems are available now, and are not just cutting edge
  • Highlighting how Solar Decathlon is preparing a new generation of clean energy innovators and workers in America – nearly 20,000 college students have participated in Solar Decathlon, receiving exceptional training to help them succeed as young professionals in the clean energy job sector

Results

The Solar Decathlon communication campaigns reached millions of Americans and others around the world. Specific results from the 2011 and 2013 competitions included:

Extensive Media Coverage 

  • More than 600 million media impressions by conservative calculations per competition, with over 2 billion total media impressions per competition calculated using traditional PR metrics
  • 2,400+ total media stories on Solar Decathlon 2013, and 2,200+ media stories on Solar Decathlon 2011
  • Over 350 print articles on Solar Decathlon 2013, and more than 250 newspaper articles on Solar Decathlon 2011,including multiple stories in the Washington Post (17)USA Today (4), New York Times (2) and Los Angeles Times (6)
  • Broadcast coverage every year, including 500 television stories worldwide in 2011 and 150 radio interviews in 2013, featuring spokespeople from all teams and DOE

Social Media Audience Growth and Engagement on Digital Platforms

  • 13,500 Facebook fans, including 5,000 new fans in 2013
  • 11,600 Twitter followers at the conclusion of the 2013 event
  • 4 million overall image views on Flickr from 760 Solar Decathlon 2013 photos
  • Over 490,000 video views on Solar Decathlon’s YouTube channel for 2011
  • More than 3,500 uses of the custom-created event hashtag #SD2011 in 2011
  • Approximately 900 check-ins on Foursquare in 2011

Drive Foot Traffic to the Event

  • Over 350,000 house visits from the public in 2011, up from 307,000 visits in 2009, despite poor weather
  • Nearly 300 reporters onsite in Washington, D.C. for the 2011 event, and 225 media onsite in 2011 at a new location one hour south of Los Angeles

The campaign was awarded the prestigious Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Silver Anvil award, the PR Daily Digital & Social Media Award, and the National Association of Government Communicators Blue Pencil award, all recognizing the Solar Decathlon communications campaign as one of the best in the country.