OSA100: Reflecting a Century of Innovation

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Fiber optics, holograms, telescopes, lasers, MRIs, high-speed cameras, LASIK, drones and virtual reality are all possible because of advances in the science of light – more commonly known as the field of optics and photonics. These innovations are ubiquitous in modern society, yet were nascent or not yet imagined in 1916 when The Optical Society (OSA) was founded as the scientific home for optical engineering.

Turning 100 was an opportunity to raise the visibility of the society (now more than 20,000 members worldwide) and promote its role in industry. Given that science societies typically make news through research published in scholarly journals or presented at scientific conferences, the PR focus was on trade media and social media channels utilized by its members. OSA also wanted to use the centennial to strengthen its brand presence and created an exhibit of 100 iconic inventions and inventors tied to the society’s history. Here is a summary of the PR/branding activities and accomplishments, along with some lessons learned.

The key elements and results included:

1)    The OSA 100 exhibit of iconic inventions and inventors was showcased globally at 30 trade shows attracting more than 27,000 visitors. At eight conferences it was accompanied by a “Light the Future” visionary keynote and reception – bringing an additional 4,700 participants. The 10’ x 20’ exhibit is currently on loan to the Rochester (NY) Museum and Science Center. A portable version of the exhibit was on display at 16 universities in 9 countries.

2)    Media featured three partnerships for advertising, news release distribution and a monthly Q&A with OSA members in a trade journal, as well as 18 news releases and proactive pitching, resulting in 1,734 stories, 26 interviews and 25 bylines/blogs with a reach of nearly 4 million.

3)    Social media featured daily facts and graphics about optics and photonics. We held Twitter chats and Reddit AMAs with members – a first for OSA. We collected more than 100 “I am #OSAProud” photos, promoted two contests, shared 148 videos of members – by far the most popular OSA100 content on Facebook – and distributed a toolkit called CAKE for student chapters with nearly 400 downloads. Twitter followers increased by 29%, Facebook by 14% and YouTube by 35%.

4)    The centennial website featured the 100 icons from the exhibit; OSA centennial publications including the “Century of Optics” book; the CAKE toolkit with presentation templates, event guidelines and social media suggestions; Centennial Authentic Moment member videos and a timeline. The website had more than 71,000 visitors with nearly 3,000 publication downloads.

5)    Centennial attracted 17 corporate sponsors providing more than $400,000 in contributions and in-kind media services.

Plan Your Work. Work Your Plan.

How did we achieve those successes? The PR team worked closely with the centennial project director and the OSA volunteer committee to develop the narratives and content used on social media and in media outreach. It began with months of planning including:

1)    Research. You need to know your audience, which we accomplished through focus groups and surveys of leadership, staff and members. We also needed to know the context for 2016. There were numerous centennials last year – National Parks, Boeing, Thermador and BMW to name a few.

2)    Plan Your Work. You need a strategic plan with measureable objectives, but you also need to be flexible and make changes as needed. For example, we didn’t intend to send temporary exhibits to universities. However, once OSA members saw the main exhibit, they wanted to help promote to their local communities. Also, the videos impact on social media and with members was so successful that we continue to record these testimonials.

3)    Work Your Plan. Timelines and deadlines help keep your PR plan on track. We had numerous events throughout the year that allowed us to create a steady stream of content for news releases, social media content and media outreach. We also expected that media pitching would follow the traditional “pitch and place” model.  However, we quickly learned that editors were hungry for content and happy to publish bylines. Once again being flexible, we wrote much more content than originally envisioned. The upside was that it helped us keep the centennial narrative fresh with new angles.

4)    Measure and Evaluate. Quantitative measurements counted what we did. Evaluating and analyzing those numbers throughout the year helped us make adjustments. Unplanned successes are good news. However, not everything will be successful. For example, we planned a video contest “Video the Future” with substantial cash and prize incentives. We had an aggressive offline and social media effort – personally contacting our most active Twitter followers. Not a single submission. We learned that video is popular to consume, but it is not so easy to incentivize members to produce video.

The Optical Society’s centennial year was among the most rewarding challenges of my career. The validations from countless member testimonials were the greatest reward – and confirmation that research and planning are essential for successful implementation and strategic measurement.

Note: This blog was originally published on LinkedIn January 24, 2017


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