Last November, three teams of undergraduate students, representing Northwestern, Rutgers, and the University of Minnesota, gathered at Space Center Houston to launch rockets composed of 100 crushed effervescent tablets, some water, and a 35 mm film canister.
They were competing in the Bayer-Big Ten Alka-Rocket Challenge, with the winning team receiving a cash prize of $25,000, a Guinness World Record, and recognition during the Big Ten Championship Game on the field of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
The University of Minnesota won with a rocket that climbed 430 feet. But Bayer also emerged victorious.
The rocket that Alka Seltzer built
According to Ray Kerins, Bayer’s SVP and head of comms, government relations, and policy, the idea came to him while he was driving to his office: What if the concept of an Alka rocket could be taken further? How high could it go, given an incentive to apply some of the most creative thinking among U.S. students?
Step one was to partner with the Big Ten Conference. The oldest Division I collegiate athletic conference in the U.S., it includes some of the best engineering departments and also leads the country in Ph.D. completion in STEM fields. Six of the top 10 agriculture-producing states in the U.S. include Big Ten universities.
A critical part of the initiative was spreading the word about the unique and fun opportunity for students participating in the program.
“We knew we had a great program. We just wanted guidance on how to make sure we could share it with the most people across the U.S.,” Kerins acknowledges.
Spreading the word
Bayer turned to Cision’s MultiVu and PR Newswire arms, which create compelling content for key media outlets through its popular worldwide newswire. MultiVu includes creative video and social content production services to ensure stories are told in the ways most likely to drive engagement with a particular audience.
The initial press release about the Alka Rocket Challenge – which included a high-quality image showcasing its partnership with the Big Ten, along with an animated video – garnered 220 pickups for a total potential audience of more than 87 million. The final release in the campaign, announcing the University of Minnesota as the winner, generated 243 pickups, as well as over 16,000 views, 2,000 video views, and 3,200 video embeds.
For Kerins, working with Cision offered value that complemented the impressive numbers, including:
Industry insights for demographic targeting. Cision’s MultiVu team recommended the video and image assets used for the campaign, advice Kerins appreciated.
“We wanted to reach the next generation of STEM leaders,” he explains. “A basic release won’t work for that particular generation. It’s not just an age group, but factors based on geography, socioeconomic background, and understanding how they consume your media. Having both social and digital video elements across the boards was the right move.”
Segmentation strategies for specific moments. While the first and second releases during the campaign were intended for outlets that reach millennials, the final release was aimed at the general public, as well as state and federal legislators who are interested in advancing STEM skills across the country. Working with MultiVu ensured all messaging made sense, depending on when it became part of the storytelling journey.
“We all want to live longer and have healthy food. A workforce with strong STEM skills can give you that,” notes Kerins. “This was a bit of a stunt – we acknowledged that from the beginning – but it’s the end results we’re trying to reach.”
Customer service that builds trust. “What I asked for and received from day one is, ‘Do not sell me a service. Show me what I need to do to achieve my goals. Help me measure the impact of the work we’ve done,’” Kerins explains. “We look to Cision to be our partner. We just don’t have the technology or the know-how. We’ve been very pleased with the guidance that has been offered.”
Following what he describes as the “tremendous pickup” of the news release announcing the winner, Kerins says Bayer has been getting outreach from other schools, not just those who are part of the Big Ten.
“They want to know how to get involved this year,” he notes. “The level of excitement we’ve heard from around the country has led us to expand this competition to all four-year accredited colleges throughout the U.S.”