Science Centre Singapore has delighted millions of guests for over 40 years. Last February, it also ran its first campaign in over a decade, focusing on a different theme for each month for February, March, and May. The campaign used stories to appeal to its consumer's sense of nostalgia, as well as encouraged them to make new memories at the Science Centre. While it has actively engaged and educated visitors over the years, 2020 proved to be challenging for the centre as it was forced to temporarily close as a result of the pandemic. However, the team remained undeterred and pivoted quickly to ensure it can tackle the uncertain future.
In fact, it also won the bronze award for Best Event-Led PR Campaign (Bronze) at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE's recent PR Awards. Science Centre Singapore's marketing communications director, Gerald Tee, and communications manager Jyotika Thukral share what their proudest achievement of 2020 was and the communications trends they expect to see carry forward next year.
This interview is done as part of MARKETING-INTERACTIVE’s winners and finalists’ interview series for PR Awards 2021. To find out more about the awards, click here.
What would you say was the biggest accomplishment for the whole PR/communications community in 2020?
Tee: COVID-19 caused disruption in many ways to our way of life. It goes without saying that every business has been impacted by the pandemic. Almost overnight, plans had to be put on hold indefinitely, budgets were slashed and physical events could no longer take place. Some companies even shut down eventually. Indeed, the impact of the crisis on communications has been significant.
As experts in building trust and engaging stakeholders, the call for communication professionals to manage crisis and strengthen brand communications became an immediate priority. When the pandemic escalated and companies went into panic mode, the communications community stepped up efforts by reviewing crisis communication plans, re-jigged internal communications strategy, developed tactics and pivoting ideas that would be most effective in a rapidly changing environment.
Thukral: Instead of getting defeated by the situation, our communications team experimented and explored new platforms and activations to engage their target audience and achieve a breakthrough in the most uncertain and challenging climate ever.
What would you say was your proudest achievement of the year?
Tee: For the first time in more than 40 years, our centre was closed for three months to comply with the government’s circuit breaker measures. This in itself posed an immense challenge for a space highly dependent on people visiting – both locals and tourists.
Digital became the centre’s top priority almost overnight as we pushed the boundaries of digital-driven engagement. We quickly learnt new skills, expanded our expertise and made magic happen while in lockdown, curating blended experiences to engage our guests and continue the learning.
Within weeks, we rolled out a series of Science At Home digital initiatives suitable for the whole family struggling with isolation at home. We harnessed digital tools and resources to breathe a new lease of life into the exhibitions, programmes and activities that people love most about our Centre.
Tee: We also pivoted our plans to cater to the new normal with the launch of UNTAME, our 2020 blockbuster event, that recently took home the Best Event-Led PR Campaign (Bronze) at the PR Awards. This successful foray into transforming the physical to digital is definitely one of our biggest achievements in 2020 and we will continue to explore and create exciting hybrid initiatives moving forward.
What are some communications trends you see carrying on post-pandemic?
Tee: As brands pivot to embrace the new normal, we’ve been seeing a burst of changes taking place and some trends are here to stay.
1. Compelling stories that blend the physical and virtual
The pandemic has blurred the lines between the virtual and physical environment. During social isolation, workouts, concerts, and even weddings were made possible with technology and this digital connection is here to stay. As communicators, we can no longer think about events and initiatives as physical or digital-only events. It’s all about telling compelling stories and creating hybrid experiences to draw the audience into an immersive world of blended physical and virtual experiences.
2. Community and collaborations
Connections are more important than ever before. From international collaborations to help fight the spread of COVID-19, to industry partnerships formed to save local businesses and even communities to share experiences, the need to connect has never been more evident. People seek human touch and authenticity. It’s up to us to create opportunities through social media, partnerships and virtual platforms to help our industry and community thrive.
During this time of crisis, consumers are expecting brands to use their influence and power for good. Beyond selling or promoting the business, communications should be purpose-led to communicate meaningful issues and prioritise responsibility over profitability.
How will the role of communications professionals evolve as we move into a rather uncertain future?
Thukral: The year 2020 has underpinned the need for communicators to focus on building trust. All attempts to engage audiences are now filtered through a pandemic lens and our messaging needs to demonstrate an understanding of that. Hence, empathy is key.
PR and communications professionals have had to adopt the right tonality and tact in this new normal – what does and doesn’t resonate to avoid coming off as being insensitive, tone-deaf or ignorant. Communications needs to go beyond the business and products to focus on assurance. It’s about being attentive to customers’ concerns, transparent about safety measures and getting straight to the point.
In this pandemic, communicators have a critical role to keep the audience informed and not add to the uncertainty by championing clear, effective communication that gives people the information they need at the time they need it, she continued.
What can we expect from your company in 2021?
Tee: Navigating the challenges of the pandemic has been stressful but it has also served as a reminder that innovation, creativity and relevance are key to surviving and thriving in today’s volatile world.
Institutions like ours have long been a place of wonder, where people are free to wander and discover new nuggets of knowledge and a re-awakened sense of curiosity about the world. With safe distancing measures well in place, people can come to our centre to learn, to be entertained and to be inspired in a hygienic and comfortable environment. Guests can be assured that their visit will be as rich in education and entertainment as it has always been, facilitated by our friendly guest ambassadors guiding them through our regularly refreshed exhibits and programmes.
At the same time, we remain committed to playing the role of a curator, a teacher and a friend to our guests even in the comfort of their homes. Through our ongoing series of digital and social media initiatives, we hope that they will be able to experience what they love most about the Centre even as virtual guests.
It remains our goal to always remain relevant by creating opportunities for all guests to discover the marvels of science and ultimately push the frontiers of possibilities. We are committed to creating E.P.I.C (Experiential, Participatory, Image-driven, Connected) experiences to cultivate a new generation of active learners and thinkers.
With our digital platforms, we now have the opportunity to share the magic with people across the globe via platforms that transcend boundaries – people who now more than ever crave stories and activities to keep their minds meaningfully engaged.