Charting the future of public relations
"Grafitti is Art" Media Event
Paul Holmes
Holmes Report

"Grafitti is Art" Media Event

Access was hired to create a mediagenic event that brings both broadcast and print visibility to Sega’s new “Jet Grind Radio” videogame for their Dreamcast console while reinforcing the company’s reputation in a positive fashion.

Paul Holmes



Create a mediagenic event that brings both broadcast and print visibility to Sega’s new “Jet Grind Radio” videogame for their Dreamcast console while reinforcing the company’s reputation in a positive fashion.


In order to obtain maximum exposure for “Jet Grind Radio,” Sega wanted Access Communications to conceive a unique event built upon the strengths of the game as “Jet Grind Radio” is an urban adventure that incorporates graffiti art, hip-hop music and in-line skating. Therefore, the Access team decided upon a “Graffiti is Art” contest.  Through the use of ads in local papers and on the Internet, contestants were asked to mail in a drawing of the graffiti design they would recreate if chosen to take part in our live graffiti art contest.  The five finalists would be flown to the city of San Francisco to compete on large publicly displayed canvasses for a chance to win the $5000 grand prize and a copy of the game.  In order to ensure a good turn out, KMEL, the largest hip-hop radio station in the San Francisco Bay Area, was brought in to promote the contest and DJ the event.  Also on hand were the Midnight Rollers, a roller-skating dance troop commissioned for the day to help tie in the skating aspect of the game.  No one anticipated what would happen next…


In September, Sega and Access decided to coordinate an event that would increase the awareness of “Jet Grind Radio,” an upcoming videogame for the Sega Dreamcast console slated to hit store shelves in October.  However, controversy was brewing.  A Milwaukee congresswoman, who had read a review of the previously released Japanese version of the game, criticized the title for encouraging vandalism and wanted Sega to cease releasing it in the U.S.  Her grievances resulted in a nationally distributed Associated Press story, giving the game a national presence before it was even released in the US.

Still, Access recommended that the event should proceed. Once announced, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown condemned Sega’s intentions in a San Francisco Chronicle front-page story. With a city-planned graffiti clean up activity going on simultaneously as our event, it created even more pressure for Brown to speak out. While his words would generate a fair share of media, it was Access’ job to both proactively and reactively touch base with all of the local media to ensure that our positioning was prevalent in all coverage.  

As a result of the media hype, our overall communications objectives were to bring visibility to “Jet Grind Radio,” while positioning Sega as a socially conscious company.  It was important to make it clear that while Sega was embracing graffiti as a legitimate form of art, they were not endorsing graffiti when performed as an act of vandalism. We also wanted to reinforce the Sega brand through the introduction of “Jet Grind Radio,” an innovative, cutting-edge title.  


Prior to scheduling the event, Access performed an audit with the leading local broadcast and print outlets to see if it would be a viable undertaking for coverage. Although they couldn’t commit at that time, there was enough interest expressed that it was worth pursuing. We also learned from the broadcast media that if it were held on a weekend, there would be fewer competing events to upstage it in the news.

Because the event required a high traffic area that would appeal to both visitors and attract curious passers by, Access staged it at Justin Herman Plaza on a Saturday.  The Plaza has a very art-oriented aesthetic and since it was near shops and the Bay, it was a good location to attract weekend traffic and tourists.  Even with our research, the controversy took center stage and the media flocked to the event.


The main challenge initially faced was securing news coverage for an event that was very PR-driven.  Although our audits reflected the media’s interest in the event, there was no guarantee they would be coming. However, once Mayor Brown made a public outcry against the proceedings, his announcement ignited press interest and guaranteed press attendance. Consequently, the new challenge was ensuring that the media focused on the game and our key messages, not the controversy. This was a very critical situation since the potential for misrepresentation was extremely high with the feared result being that Sega was pro-vandalism and anti-city.  Since Peter Moore, the President of Sega, had recently attended the high profile FCC hearings on Capitol Hill in which he spoke out against marketing mature videogames to children, any coverage that would make him look like a hypocrite would be devastating to both him and the company. 

Extensive call downs were made to every local print and broadcast outlet to lock down the time they would be arriving so we could have our spokespeople standing by.  Access contacted the media and reassured them of our key messages, including that although Sega considers graffiti a legitimate art form when created in a legal setting or fashion, such as on canvasses, they do not condone graffiti when performed as an act of vandalism. Access also assisted Sega in cultivating their messaging to ensure that every sound bite was on point.  

In order to ensure that Sega would be perceived in the proper fashion, Access paid special attention to the press kits and pre-packaged broadcast footage (b-roll) that we distributed at the event. The press kits contained press releases on the event and the game, in addition to a corporate statement regarding Sega’s stance on graffiti in the event that a spokesperson wasn’t available. Meanwhile, b-roll shot by Access, excluded any potentially negative videogame footage.  It also included the anti-graffiti warning screen featured at the beginning of the game, illustrating that Sega is a responsible corporate citizen.

Due to the controversy surrounding the event, Access recommended that a spokesperson from the city’s Neighborhood Beautification Program be present to speak out during the festivities against graffiti as a form of vandalism.  Access also encouraged Sega to offer both a donation and proceeds from the game to help in the city’s graffiti clean up efforts. While it was important to have the event, it was as equally vital to not alienate the city council.

Following the event, call downs were made immediately to all of the major stations to inform them of the late breaking news that Peter Moore planned to donate a portion of the game proceeds to charity.


Thanks to Access’ adept communication efforts, 95% of the garnered coverage included game footage, game branding and key message points from Sega’s spokespeople, with an overall balanced focus.  There were also ongoing references to the game’s warning screen from our b-roll tape.

Access was able to exceed our objectives by securing attendance from every local broadcast affiliate, including prime time coverage on ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, WB and UPN.  More than 50 related TV and radio broadcast segments aired in key cities all over the US including Las Vegas, Miami, Chicago, Los Angeles, Grand Rapids, Kansas City, Detroit and Raleigh.  Every report presented Sega’s perspective with visuals or mentions of the game, while there was not a single network or newspaper in the San Francisco Bay Area that didn’t run coverage of the event.  The total number of viewers that saw our game and heard our messages was 23,481,500.

In addition to garnering coverage on every local station, we also appeared in the three largest San Francisco Bay Area newspapers, including San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner and San Jose Mercury.  Even more remarkable was that Access managed to seed this story in several long lead publications like Source and Detour. Since these publications have three month lead times, they often won’t cover events that will be dated when the issue surfaces. However, we were able to convince them that the significance of both the game and the event would have longer lasting appeal than the events they normally pass on covering.
Given our objectives, the odds, and the controversy, we believe we far exceeded our expectations for an astounding publicity event.

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