Case Study: Leveraging a Duke Hoops Tradition, Virtual Campout Contest Gathers Alumni and Data in a Slam-Dunk Effort

Duke University students could post photos of themselves on Facebook showing their rabid allegiance to the Blue Devils’ basketball team.
Photo courtesy of Fuqua School of Business

Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business

Timeframe: May - August 2011

One of the most celebrated annual traditions in college sports is Duke University’s Campout, where Duke’s graduate and professional school students camp out for three days each fall in a campus parking lot in the hopes of winning the right to purchase men’s basketball tickets via a lottery system. Because the school’s basketball venue, Cameron Indoor Stadium, is small and fans are passionate about coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team, tickets are highly valued and almost impossible to come by—especially for the games against archrival UNC.

The basketball Campout is also the only way in which students can attempt to buy season tickets for the year. Throughout that weekend, participating students endure a series of “whistle blows”—which can be conducted at any time of day or night—signaling participants to run to a central tent to have their attendance recorded. If participants miss more than one check-in they are out of contention for the ticket lottery. Needless to say, the Campout separates the “Cameron Crazies” from the also-ran fans.

Enter Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, which was looking to build awareness among its internal constituents—alumni and students—about its presence around the globe. “We realized that the Duke men’s basketball team would be traveling abroad in a couple months, and we wanted to try and take advantage of it,” says Elizabeth Hogan, Fuqua’s assistant dean of marketing. “We thought of a blogging contest for a seat on the plane as well as some other ideas.” Ultimately, the three-person communications team ran with the idea of leveraging the basketball Campout—using that experience in the context of a quiz that constituents could take online—to help Fuqua reach its recruitment goals, while learning about the global initiatives. The winner would go on a hoops sojourn of a lifetime—traveling with Blue Devils to China and the United Arab Emirates.

The campaign’s major objectives were:

• To increase alumni and student participation in the life of the school.

• To teach supportive behaviors around fundraising, lifelong career management, volunteerism, mentorship, business development and leadership.

• To educate alumni, particularly those graduates from the decades before Fuqua’s international expansion, about the school’s strategies and programs.

• To strengthen the network itself by providing a platform in which alumni and students from different programs and generations could interact around a shared passion: Duke men’s basketball.


The contest itself was a virtual Campout, which offered campers online a series of mechanisms to earn “participation points” by taking action on behalf of the school: updating their alumni records and job/internship statuses, sharing faculty research with their networks, volunteering, donating corporate spaces for admission activities and more.

Campers also could earn participation points from quizzes educating them about faculty areas, programs, alumni services and school strategies, and testing how much they remembered about Fuqua history, men’s basketball lore, etc. Campers would be required to complete four tasks in order to qualify for the grand prize lottery, and the more participation points earned, the more chances a camper had to win—and the more benefits Fuqua reaped.

“The contest dynamics were shaped to incentivize the behaviors Fuqua wanted—the point value was a lever to get more people in,” says Andrea Mohamed, director of marketing, Fuqua School of Business.

Designing the quiz application was SolutionSet, Duke’s digital agency since 2008. Tim Ross, president of the firm’s digital services division, says the Campout concept was perfect for creating an effective online contest. “It’s taking a common, unifying shared experience of a community and tapping into it,” he says. That concept has the best chance digital game success, adds Ross.


The biggest challenge: time. The idea was hatched in late spring 2011, and the basketball team would be taking off for China and the UAE on August 14. The Fuqua team needed time to verify the winners’ task completion from data within the school’s internal systems before announcing a winner, and needed the contest to run for several weeks given the amount of content planned. So the campaign could launch no later than June 30, 2011, which required Fuqua to communicate the program to stakeholders ahead of knowing exactly what that program would involve.


As the launch got closer, the Fuqua team initiated the following outreach:

â–¶ In May, the team ran a promotional campaign to students and alumni to be “First in Line” for Campout when it opened on June 30, with a presence at graduation and promotions via social media.

â–¶ Created a targeted series of messages for each business school audience. Five different sets of messages were developed for audiences that each had different experiences with the school.

â–¶ Developed a save-the-date announcement for alumni in late May. The challenge: Alumni were weary of e-mail blasts, so Fuqua had just one sent to the entire group.

â–¶ Ramped up social media outreach. Leveraging the fact that alumni are connected to other alumni on social platforms, Fuqua beefed up its own social presence. The #fuquacampout Twitter hashtag would bring others in the network to learn more about it. Campers could go to Facebook and check in to “Dream a Little Dream,” where they would answer a question about who they would go with on the trip. “This got people who were already playing Campout to go into an external social network to tag their friends and alumni who hadn’t yet been brought in, and it created user-generated content,” says Hogan.

â–¶ Recruited a group of 20 alumni on staff to serve as The Dream Team. These were campers ineligible to earn points who were there to keep things interesting while being guinea pigs for the Campout Committee (see sidebar for more) to help identify and resolve issues in the contest dynamics.

According to Hogan, the lack of time hindered the team from devising more of a class-oriented component to the program. But they were able to alter Campout 2011 on the fly to better organize it via the class system.


As the contest launched on June 30, 2011, incentives for campers to recruit their classmates kicked in, awarding points if they invited 10 classmates via e-mail or Facebook into the action. (The accompanying graphic shows the depth and breadth of Campout’s digital popularity during the summer.)

The results? Let’s just say Coach K couldn’t have drawn up a better PR play.

• More than 11,000 actions had been taken to volunteer for, learn about or otherwise support Fuqua.

• Campout 2011 had campers from every academic program the school has ever offered, including those no longer available.

• Fuqua gathered more than 600 testimonials, 85 HR contacts, 300 alumni record updates, 125 new candidates for Executive Education, 45 alumni magazine profile submissions and hundreds of benefits—including corporate conference rooms being donated for information sessions.

In 2012, the effort was timed with March Madness, with the team adding bracketology questions and more hoops-related questions. And while Duke was eliminated from the 2012 NCAA tourney, the Fuqua communications team continues to experiment with the formula.

Now other school units are thinking along the same lines, looking to leverage traditions of their own. PRN


Andrea Mohamed,; Elizabeth Hogan,; Tim Ross,

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About Scott Van Camp

Scott Van Camp is editor of PR News, an executive-level, reader-supported publication that helps enhance the business impact of PR. Scott has a rich background in both journalism and PR/marketing. He has more than 15 years of experience as a writer/editor at various consumer and trade publications. Scott was with VNU Business Publications for five years, including stints as managing editor at IQ News and Technology Marketing magazines and senior editor at Brandweek. In the PR/marketing sphere, he has served as corporate communications manager at MarketBridge, a marketing and sales consultancy, and as editorial director for the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council. While at the Council, Scott led several high-profile marketing research projects. He has also operated his own communications and media consulting firm, SVC Communications.

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