The Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago (MSI) was in the midst of a historic $205 million capital campaign to renovate a significant portion of the Museum’s 14 interior acres with new, state-of-the-art permanent exhibits and had rolled out a new brand identity focused on MSI’s transformative experiences for guests.
To showcase the ambitious changes and introduce its new identity, the Museum and its retainer agency, PCI, needed a high-impact stunt that was as innovative as the Museum itself. The answer: Month at the Museum (MATM)—a worldwide search to find a curious, adventurous and outgoing person to become the Museum’s first-ever roommate. The winner would live inside the Museum for 30 days, experience the Museum from every vantage, and share his/her experience with the world through traditional and social media.
In addition to unrestricted access to the largest science center in the Western Hemisphere, the winner would receive $10,000, tech gear to document their experience, and the adventure of a lifetime. The call for applicants captured the imagination of people around the world, resulting in more than 1,500 entries, 1,137 media hits and unprecedented social engagement online. Thousands followed the winner, former teacher Kate McGroarty, during her 30-day residency by meeting her in-person at MSI and interacting online through her Facebook updates, tweets, nightly videos, photos and blog.
• Uncharted territory: no cultural institution had ever attempted such a project.
• Logistics: the roommate would need three meals a day, a place to sleep, shower, exercise, and work 24/7 for 30 days.
• Empowering the winner to create her own voice with minimal guidance from the Museum’s PR staff.
• Unknown applicant quality and quantity: the success of the stunt relied on finding compelling applicants to keep public interest strong. It was impossible to know if the 30-day commitment would prevent ideal candidates from applying.
• Maintaining interest: Research showed interest in similar “search” contests spike early and level off once a winner was chosen, precisely when the Museum would be showcased in-depth by the roommate.
RESEARCH / PLANNING
The PR team planned the project for more than a year, with a multi-disciplinary committee consisting of staff members from several Museum departments contributing to the effort. Highlights include:
• Conducting market research to determine the Museum’s primary audiences are families with children, and reviewing their perceptions to learn most were unaware of the recent changes at MSI.
• Analyzing other stunts and contests, such as Australia’s “Best Job in the World” competition, including content, levels of engagement, online traffic, and media strategy.
• Researching, preparing and solidifying complex safety, security, and liability issues months before an announcement.
• Developing a comprehensive strategy to maximize each stage of the contest throughout the four-month span.
• Reviewing, vetting and judging more than 1,500 applications – consisting of short answers, videos and essays – and narrowing the number down to 25 semifinalists in just two weeks.
• Creating a compelling schedule that exposed the roommate to everything the 14-acre Museum has to offer while allowing unscheduled time to explore the Museum independently and mingle with guests.
• Leverage contest to position the Museum as the premier science center in the world and raise awareness of its recent transformation through traditional media (goal: 200 million media impressions and 10 percent increase in attendance).
• Create meaningful engagement opportunities and channels through social media (goal: 100,000 website visitors, 2,000 Facebook friends, 1,000 on Twitter, 25,000 YouTube views).
• Reinforce the Museum’s new brand as a fun, innovative place to current and potential Museum visitors.
• Create and identify media opportunities throughout the contest to maintain interest.
• Develop a program that allows for extensive online participation and engagement.
• Maintain absolute authenticity to create an experience that is genuine and real.
• Execute the contest in a way that reflects the Museum experience and brand – world class, visionary, transformative, uniquely real, amazing, and fun.
• Announced the contest by inviting media to tour “the cube,” a glass box outfitted with a bed located in the middle of the Museum’s main hall to illustrate the unique nature of the experiment. The cube remained on display as a prop until the roommate moved in to generate interest among Museum visitors.
• Created teaser video that simulated sleeping overnight in MSI’s U-505 Submarine to introduce the contest online.
• Launched branded microsite [MonthattheMuseum.org] with contest overview, application, FAQ, images and updates.
• Required applicants to complete the application form, draft a 500-word essay and create 60-second video.
• Announced more than 1,500 applications were received from all seven continents and 50 states.
• Posted applicant video highlights online through the Museum’s social media networks to maintain interest.
• Created a “thank you” video and headshot mural featuring all 1,500+ applicants to illustrate the widespread interest and applicant diversity. Applicants and fans shared the video with contacts on social networks.
• Conducted 20+ phone interviews and several in-person interviews by flying semi-finalists to Chicago for a series of interviews and activities, plus a professional personality assessment and drug testing.
• Announced five finalists by posting their bio and entry video online, and inviting the public to vote for their favorite. Received more than 20,000 votes from 57 countries.
• Conducted local media outreach in each of the five finalists’ local markets to drive participation across the country.
• Announced the winner, Kate McGroarty, in a live science demonstration at the Museum; five finalists poured liquid into a flask but only the winner’s flask produced a colorful chemical reaction, creating a powerful visual for media.
• Partnered with sponsors to help with logistics and promotion. CB2 furnished the “cube” area and private bedroom in a “science chic” design; Best Buy provided a tech package to help the winner blog; and Sodexo and Whole Foods provided catered meals. All sponsors included messaging to “Follow the Experiment” in-store and online.
• Created individual Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube profiles for the roommate to update several times per day.
• Invited media to attend the roommate’s “move-in” welcome ceremony where winner received her tech package and all-access pass, surrounded by cheering MSI guests and staff.
• Provided her a uniform of bright orange MATM logo t-shirts for each day of her stay, numbered 1-30, to keep her highly visible in building. Scheduled one-of-a-kind MSI events for Kate, including breakfast with Astronaut Capt. Jim Lovell in front of the Apollo 8 spacecraft, dinner inside the Museum’s Smart Home with its architect Michelle Kaufmann, ghost hunting at MSI with paranormal experts on Halloween, sleeping on the Museum’s U-505 submarine, tours of the Museum’s extensive off-exhibit collection, climbing on the wing of the 727 jet, and more.
• Participated in several “field trips” including riding a zamboni during intermission at a Blackhawks game, visiting a local farm that supplies the Museum with its iconic chicks, and science classrooms at area schools.
• Invited select media to shadow the roommate day and night, and conduct interviews throughout the month.
• Invited media and the public to attend the farewell ceremony on Nov.18. For her last official duty, the roommate “lit” the Museum’s 45-foot holiday tree.
Objective 1: Raise awareness of the transformed MSI using traditional media (goal: 200 million media impressions and 10 percent increase in attendance):
• 1,137 media hits with more than 460 million impressions including:
o A live talk-back on Good Morning America with host George Stephanopoulos on the roommate’s first day.
o Two live MSNBC interviews with anchor Tamron Hall, mentions on CNN and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
o Six AP stories, including a nationally distributed feature covering Kate’s entire month at MSI.
o Two USA Today features; interviews on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and PBS Newshour.
o High-profile online coverage from Wired.com, FastCompany.com, BoingBoing, AOL Travel and more.
o Local media covered each phase of the contest, resulting in seven feature stories in both the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times, and blanket local television hits including multiple live shots and in-studio interviews.
• Compared with the same months last year:
o Museum attendance grew 36 percent in November and 20 percent in December
o School group attendance grew 52 percent in November and 25 percent in December
Objective 2: Engage audiences through social media (goals: 100,000 unique website views, 2,000 people following Kate on Facebook, 1,000 followers on Twitter, 25,000 YouTube views):
• More than 288,000 unique visitors viewed the Month at the Museum website.
• More than 4,000 “likes” on Kate’s Facebook page and 1,600 followers on Twitter in one month. MSI’s Facebook fans grew by 25 percent, with record levels of engagement, commenting and interaction.
• More than 100,000 views of all MATM-related videos posted to MSI’s YouTube page (application videos, finalist videos, winner announcements, etc.), with 43,000+ viewing Kate’s videos alone.
• Hundreds of applicants posted their own entry videos to YouTube, generating thousands of additional views.
Objective 3: Reinforce the Museum’s new brand as a fun, innovative place to current and potential Museum visitors:
• According to a survey conducted Nov. 13-18, 59 percent of all MSI guests were aware of MATM prior to their visit and many cited it as a reason they came.
• Initial reaction was wildly enthusiastic, resulting in 1,500+ applications from all seven continents and all 50 states.
• Overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic reaction from fans:
o “A seven-year old girl has been enlightened and enthralled by reading your posts and getting to meet you.” – Meghan, Nov. 18, via the Month at the Museum blog
o “If it weren't for this past month, it might have been many more years before my husband and I returned to MSI, and our young children would have missed out. Now we're members and our children are begging to know when we can go back!” – Rachel, Nov. 19, via Facebook
o “…Your rediscovery of the museum often brought a tear to my eye. It was nice to share your experiences through your blog entries and your videos. I too will be sad when you finish your time there.” – buck020, Nov. 18, via YouTube