Globally, honeybees are responsible for producing one-third of the food we eat, through pollination—a service worth hundreds of millions of dollars to agriculture annually. But across the globe, honeybee populations are crashing and the causes are not understood. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia’s national science agency, initiated a research program—the “Swarm Sensing” project—in Hobart, Tasmania, to help understand bee movements, their relationship with the environment and why they are dying en masse. This involved the use of tiny sensors, attached like “backpacks” to the back of bees.
However, CSIRO quickly realized the issue was larger than one organization (or one country) and began looking for ways to expand the research program to ultimately save the humble honeybee. This ultimately led to the establishment of the Global Initiative for Honeybee Health (GIHH).
In January 2014, the communication team recognized the news potential and global impact of the “Bees with Backpacks” project and, working with scientific leaders, developed a communication plan to assist in achieving scientific and business goals and objectives.
The “Bees with Backpacks” media and communication campaign took a local scientific research project and turned it into a global research initiative to help understand the global decline of honeybee populations and protect food security.
As part of this process, the communication team conducted research that indicated the science project represented the largest swarm sensing attempt ever undertaken in the world, with some 5,000 tiny sensors to be attached to the backs of bees during the 2014 Australian summer. The communication team also knew, from past experience, that January was a “quiet” month for media outlets and reporters were generally on the lookout for good news stories. Further research, using Meltwater and Mediaportal online analytics, revealed that bees were trending in the news globally, confirming January as the ideal timing for a coordinated campaign.
Our strategy for the “Swarm Sensing” campaign was straightforward: We would focus on two key stakeholders—the media and general public—to maximize the number of people exposed to our story. We conducted online research to identify journalists who had the influence to reach the masses, as well as industry publications that could publish our story. We also undertook qualitative research, through interviews with key scientific leaders, to identify how our other key stakeholders wished to be communicated with and what their level of knowledge of our research was.
A winning entry
This campaign won a 2016 IABC Gold Quill Award of Excellence in the Media Relations category. For more than 40 years, IABC’s Gold Quill Awards program has evaluated the work of communication professionals around the globe, recognizing the best of the best in the profession.
Our key audiences were identified by the value they could deliver through increased awareness of our research and the plight of the honeybee. Through our research, we realized our stakeholders were diverse and included (in addition to general public and media) government, funding bodies, industry, researchers, farmers, investors, collaborators and end users of the research.
For the Global Initiative for Honeybee Health (GIHH) campaign, the communication team identified several natural audiences that we believed would be interested in CSIRO’s global research endeavors owing to our experience and connections from the success of the “Swarm Sensing” campaign. However, as the objective was to do more than just preach to the converted, the communication team set out to identify potential audiences that the story should be pushed to in order to achieve scientific and business goals.
We conducted research to identify a list of potential collaborators to directly engage with leading up to and at the time of the GIHH announcement. We conducted interviews with key scientific leaders and industry representatives and attended scientific workshops to help identify the needs and interests of our target audiences.
Goals and objectives
We developed comprehensive communication plans to achieve sustained Australian media coverage, increase awareness of the platform technology and its future capabilities, and generate new leads for research, business development and funding opportunities.
The communication goals and objectives for our “Swarm Sensing” campaign aligned with four key deliverables:
- Ensure sustained Australian and international media coverage across multiple media (global awareness).
- Promote the CSIRO brand across multiple media (awareness and brand development), raise awareness of the sensor technology (awareness of technology, precursor to behavior change).
- Generate inquiries (business development and funding opportunities).
Our goals and objectives for the Global Institute of Honeybee Health campaign included:
- Promote the establishment, aims and global reach of the GIHH in order to attract further investment and research partners to ensure the continued success and growth of the alliance.
- Attract partners interested in developing or commercializing the micro-sensor technologies specific to bee health, agriculture or other industries raising awareness of bee health issues and their impact on global agriculture and food security to promote the need for a global initiative to address this issue.
Ultimately, we aimed to promote CSIRO as a research leader and position our scientists as catalysts for global action on honeybee decline. Our success was to be measured through awareness of the issue, brand recognition and generation of leads for research partners, business development and funding opportunities.
From the beginning, we worked with the relevant scientific leads and business development managers to ensure our strategies aligned strongly with the needs of the business.
One of the critical elements of both campaigns was developing tailored messaging, which conveyed the seriousness of the issue of bee health decline, the importance of collaboration to address this issue, and the unique approach the GIHH offered potential partners and investors.
In both campaigns, we developed highly visual content that was easy to share, and targeted traditional and social media channels to boost awareness. We delivered our campaign as a story, not a message, using quirky angles and imagery. We generated hype and interest by placing an embargo on the news and personally calling and pitching the story to key media contacts.
Our story carried a clear call to action inviting key audiences to engage, leading to collaboration and investment for the science team. To further encourage b , specific collateral and messaging was produced for direct engagement with our target audiences including beekeeping groups, farmers and policy makers.
Where possible we did our own research, took photos, filmed footage, and interviewed relevant researchers for videos and b-roll for television and online. We took advantage of free or cheap communication platforms—for example all of our audio visual material was made available via a Dropbox account for sharing ease and we personally pitched the story to key media contacts. All of which helped to ensure a successful media campaign.
Following the success of our “Swarm Sensing” campaign, multinational technology company Intel Corp. contacted CSIRO and has since joined the GIHH. In the lead up to both campaigns, we consulted widely with our partners and verbally presented our plans to the relevant leadership teams for endorsement. In addition, we worked closely with Intel and co-hosted an online press conference focused on technology media contacts.
The “Swarm Sensing” communication campaign exceeded all media coverage and impact targets. Coverage was monitored using iSentia and Mediaportal for traditional media and Meltwater for online. This helped measure awareness, as outlined in the goals. Behavior change was measured through recording the number and type of enquiries.
The story was reported in 30 countries with more than 1,100 media items, including Time magazine (a readership of more than 25 million), Al Jazeera TV and BBC TV. The online audience size in the first week alone exceeded 500 million. This exposure led to more than 40 collaboration enquiries from researchers, beekeepers and funding partners in 15 countries across six continents. CSIRO-filmed content was aired on every Australian TV network as well as two U.S. TV networks. Brazilian television covered the story and Forbes tweeted about it to its 2.6 million followers.
Most notably, as a direct result of this extraordinary media interest (both national and international) and subsequent sustained enquiries from industry and researcher organizations (including Stanford University, Hitachi, Intel and many others), CSIRO established the Global Initiative for Honeybee Health (GIHH).
While achieving media coverage was one of our objectives for the subsequent GIHH campaign, the additional focus was attracting further investment and research partners to ensure the continued success and growth of the initiative. The table below summarizes some of our key outcomes.
|General public||Media relations, supported by CSIRO owned media||Coverage was primarily Australia-based with a cumulative audience of 2 million.|
General public, government and farming/ beekeeping industry
Images, video and animation to explain the technology in lay terms.
Video content received more than 10,000 views
Project stakeholders, research partners, sponsors
Launch event and technology showcase (plus a dedicated research micro site with news and specs for those who could not attend).
Positive feedback from attendees and commitment of funds and in-kind support. The micro site received 800 hits from nearly 50 countries in the first week.
Prospective research partners
Electronic direct mail (EDM) sent to prospective research groups worldwide with strong call to action to join the GIHH
The email had a 70 percent open rate. This resulted in some 20-plus inquiries from national and international research organizations.
With a limited budget, communication efforts helped turn a scientific research program with a local footprint into a global research initiative working to save the honeybee. We are continuing to provide the GIHH team with communication advice and support.