#PRAwards 2021 highlight: Behind Science Centre's successful pivot from physical to digital amidst COVID-19

Since its opening more than 40 years ago, Science Centre Singapore has attracted millions of guests to promote interest, learning, and creativity in science and technology through imaginative and enjoyable experiences. From competitions, exhibitions and celebrations, Science Centre organises numerous engaging activities to educate, entertain and engage with over a million guests year on year.

In 2020, however, Science Centre hit a bump in the road as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the organisation to go into temporary closure. The team, along with its PR agency AKA Asia, had to then adapt its initially fully on-site event into a digital-led festival. Science Centre’s pivot led it to bagging the bronze award for the category “Best event-led PR campaign” at MARKETING-INTERACTIVE’s PR Awards 2021.

Challenge

Each year, Science Centre hosts a blockbuster exhibition to create E.P.I.C. (experiential, participatory, image-driven and connected) moments for guests. These highly anticipated exhibitions are immersive and interactive, making them the most visited exhibitions of the year. In 2019, DinoQuest, a dinosaur-themed exhibition, alone attracted over 100,000 guests.

In 2020, Science Centre was preparing for the launch of its first-ever STEM+ Festival, the biggest nationwide carnival. Similar to music and cultural events, the festival format, which was an exciting mix of on-site events and hands-on activities, was set to be a party for curious minds to get inquisitive and harness the power of science to discover the limitless possibilities powered by science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

However, the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything as the world came to a halt. Science Centre underwent a three-month closure in accordance with circuit breaker measures and the on-site festival concept was put on hold indefinitely.

Determined to make the show go on, the team had to pivot its plans to cater to the new normal. The biggest challenge was to bring a festival to life without a physical experience at the centre. What could the team at Science Centre do to go big while staying home? Given the circumstances, Science Centre had to rethink and create a programme to engage, excite and “wow” guests and media from the comfort of their couch.

Strategy

With its traditional physical space no longer viable, the team focused on curating meaningful connections that weren’t contingent on on-site visitorship. This challenged them to push the boundaries of the digital space and virtual world, and connect with its guests beyond the walls of the centre.

Thus, UNTAME was born. UNTAME is a three-part suite of digital-first events: STEAM Festival for Young Learners, STEM Conference 2020, UNTAME: Beyond Boundaries. Harnessing a multi-dimensional approach to spark curiosity and self-learning both on-ground and online, UNTAME is an effort to encourage the young and young at heart to rediscover the wonders of science and its related disciplines in the new normal.

The series was named UNTAME as a call to action for people of all ages to be bold and fearless in their discovery of STEM and its related disciplines. With UNTAME, Science Centre hoped to break down the barriers of this seemingly remote field. This is done by introducing more approachable topics of arts and humanities into the mix, to encourage exploration of STEM through hands-on workshops for kids, conferences for educators, and gamified content for the whole family.

The suite of events also boasted a combination of virtual activities complemented by on-ground experiences. This offers the public the opportunity to discover science wherever they are at, in whichever format they prefer.

Execution

UNTAME spanned three immersive, cross-platform events which ran from October to November, primed to fuel a fun and meaningful discovery of pivotal 21st century STEM disciplines and how they interface with arts and humanities.

The learning journey commenced with the KidsSTOP STEAM Festival for Young Learners, followed by a STEM Conference for educators and industry professionals. These events then culminated with “UNTAME: Beyond Boundaries”, a STEM-based virtual experience.

Each of these events was targeted at a different audience segment, to empower the exploration of STEM across age groups in a novel way. From start to finish, Science Centre designed its communications effort as a show-and-tell platform for media and influencers to see how all the magic of STEM happens.

UNTAME was brought to life in three ways:

1. Starting the UNTAME Conversation

The event was kickstarted with a first-ever virtual preview, offering 30 key media and influencers a glimpse of the festival highlights. Beyond promoting the event through words, Science Centre found that showing the audience what UNTAME looked like through a virtual walkthrough was a strategic channel to amplify its message.

The walkthrough sessions were hosted across Zoom and hubs by Mozilla. Interactive science performances and curated virtual experiences reinforced the message of Science Centre changing the face of guest experience as we know it.

2. Dialling Up the UNTAME Experience

A unique feature of UNTAME was its multi-dimensional approach. Unlike regular events which were either on-site or online, UNTAME offered a combination of both experiences, offering the public an opportunity to discover science wherever they were.

Media and influencers were sent science activity kits challenging young learners to design, strategise and discover endless possibilities to problem-solving scenarios, facilitated by digital tutorials. They also had a chance to participate in over 30 online experiences hosted on hubs by Mozilla virtual platform, which allowed participants to adopt a unique avatar navigating the activity zones, connecting with local and international STEM heroes, and other like-minded learners.

This beyond-boundaries effort ensured that while participants were not physically at the centre, the experience felt complete with a high level of interactivity guaranteed.

3. Humanising UNTAME

Science Centre also made sure its narrative retained a human dimension by bringing on its spokespeople, partners, and local STEM heroes to share their personal stories and experiences. Industry leaders addressed questions such as “What is UNTAME about?” and “Why should we care about STEM now?” This made the content of UNTAME relatable to audiences and relevant in the time of a pandemic.

Results

Through the campaign, maximum excitement around the launch of UNTAME was created. Almost 100% of Science Centre’s key media and influencers joined the virtual preview with 30 attendees including The Straits Times, TODAY, Lianhe Zaobao, Berita Harian, Tamil Murasu and CNA938.

The event also generated over 180 pieces of coverage in broadcast, print, online and social media across dailies, lifestyle and parenting titles to achieve a PR value of SG$6 million. This is the best coverage Science Centre has achieved for a single event.

The media and influencer kit resulted in over 100 organic social mentions across 8 Days, U-Weekly, Alvinology, Singapore Motherhood, Sassy Mama, BYKidO and several notable parenting influencers. The overall coverage reached a combined total impression of 553 million.

Additionally, UNTAME attracted close to 40,000 participants, with sold-out slots for all onsite activities. This is the most highly subscribed digital programme in Science Centre’s history. There was also a three times increase in website traffic over the campaign period. Across social media, Science Centre reached out to one million fans garnering over 3.9 million impressions. The campaign also exceeded KPI targets by nearly 300%.

In a post-event brand study, over 90% of respondents agreed that UNTAME has helped them to better understand the role of STEM in everyday lives. The event also attracted over 70% new users to the centre’s online programme.