University of Louisville Grawemeyer Awards
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

University of Louisville Grawemeyer Awards

For several years, the University of Louisville and the Grawemeyer Foundation have awarded a prestigious prize for scholarly work, known as the Grawemeyer Awards. However, awareness beyond the music field and awareness of the other four Grawemeyer awards

Paul Holmes


Imagine that you just won a prestigious prize awarded to you for excellence in your chosen profession.  In addition to being a great honor, you receive a check for $200,000 for your idea, musical composition or book.  Sounds thrilling to finally be recognized for your life’s work.  Now imagine that no one hears about it. Your colleagues don’t really understand the value of the award, your boss isn’t impressed and your own family, while proud of your achievement, doesn’t recognize the true value of the award.  Imagine you are a Grawemeyer award winner before Weber Shandwick joined forces with the University of Louisville and the Grawemeyer Foundation to develop a marketing communications plan to bring the award to the forefront and to gain its winners the national recognition they deserve.  If you are a Grawemeyer Award winner then you believe the following program is an award winner, too.


For several years, the University of Louisville and the Grawemeyer Foundation have awarded a prestigious prize for scholarly work, known as the Grawemeyer Awards.  Music Composition, the first award presented, is well known and highly regarded in its field.  However, awareness beyond the music field and awareness of the other four Grawemeyer awards is minimal.  Because the year 2000 marked an increase in the monetary award to $200,000 and the addition of the fifth and final Grawemeyer Award, the University felt it was time for a more aggressive marketing communications plan.  The plan developed by Weber Shandwick began in 1999 to initially prepare for the 2000 Grawemeyer awards given in late 1999. Due to a restricted budget, not all the items recommended were completed in year one; therefore, Weber Shandwick continued to implement the plan for the 2001 awards given in November 2000.


The first Grawemeyer award, Music Composition, was awarded in 1985. Over the next fifteen years, four more awards were added. The award is given at the end of the year for the following year. For instance, the 2000 winners were announced in November 1999. The University of Louisville handled all award activity, from soliciting nominations to media relations surrounding the award winners.  During this period, they informally surveyed members of the media to develop interesting hooks and received feedback from award winners on how they perceived publicity surrounding the awards. From this information they developed their marketing program.  

Following many mediocre years, Weber Shandwick was brought on board in 1999.  We reviewed existing materials, attended several meeting with award chairs to learn about the nomination process and problems, studied other like awards, such as Nobel and Peabody, and determined what methods would be most successful in increasing awareness of the Grawemeyer Awards. From this research came a marketing communications program.


Following several planning meetings with the University of Louisville to review existing research and discuss their experiences and goals for the award, Weber Shandwick developed a detailed marketing communications plan. The plan included a complete re-do of the web site, developing collateral materials which maintained a consistent look and creating a media relations component. From this process, the following objectives were defined:

Increase awareness and reputation of the Grawemeyer Awards and their winners among key audiences, including the media and professionals in the five Grawemeyer fields

Enhance University of Louisville’s reputation through association with the awards

Generate interest among the mainstream media to gain exposure to a broader audience


Strategies used were: 1) better use of the existing Web site as a communications tool for interested nominees and as a resource for the media; 2) designing and creating collateral materials to promote a cohesive look among all the categories; 3) developing and implementing an advertising campaign to announce the addition of the Psychology Award and solicit nominations; 4) targeting trade and national media venues by making the initial awards announcement interesting for media beyond the Louisville market, and; 5) providing an opportunity for award chairs to work as a group rather than conducting the awards individually.


The Grawemeyer Web site was completely re-done, with special attention given to making the site easy to navigate, creating enticing and colorful visual images and creating a look that was used in all collateral materials.  The collateral materials included the nomination brochure and letterhead.   Both designs made use of the attractive and unique Grawemeyer medal.  In 2001, the medal was again used to make gold seals that were affixed to award winning materials – the Education, Religion and Political Science winner’s books and the Music winner’s CD.  A media relations campaign focused primarily on writers and producers who specialize in the Grawemeyer fields (Music, Psychology, etc.) and work for trade publications and the nations top newspapers, as well as the Louisville media community.  In addition, PR Newswire was secured to solicit national and international publications.


The award received extensive national and international media coverage.  Music Composition and Religion were two of the most successful announcements in both 2000 and 2001.  In both years, the award winners were featured in top national and international dailies. The advertising campaign for the Psychology Award was extremely successful, garnering more than 190 nominations, much more than expected for a first time award.  Hits to the Grawemeyer Web site increased significantly during this period and have remained higher than in previous years.  An executive director for the Grawemeyer Awards was selected and put in place to coordinate with the individual award chairs in 2001. The award chairs were overwhelmed with the results in year one and even more impressed in year two. The chairs were thrilled with the quality materials they received, the Web site re-design and the media coverage following the announcement.  All award categories saw an increase in nominations received.

View Style:

Load 3 More
comments powered by Disqus