How LEGO’s Global Innovation STEM Award Program Cut Through the Media Clutter

The 2014 FIRST LEGO League Global Innovation Award program provides an example of how non-profit organizations can get on the media map and increase awareness with stakeholders. The annual event is based on a partnership between FIRST, a not-for-profit organization that inspires 6-18-year-old students to explore STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers, and LEGO Education. FIRST’s LEGO League (FLL) challenges students to solve real-world problems by thinking of ideas and inventions that can help people lead better lives.


The 2014 FLL Global Innovation Award aimed to raise awareness about FLL through earned/owned media and promote the program’s partnerships and sponsorships. The PR strategies included:

  • Showcasing students’ creative problem-solving skills
  • Using expert spokespeople to articulate and differentiate the unique learning process FLL offers
  • Leveraging social media channels (FIRST and sponsors) to extend key messages

FIRST collaborated with Cone Communications to develop and execute a PR campaign for the FLL Global Innovation Award competition. The 2014 FLL tasked students to develop solutions for weather disasters that could threaten the safety of their communities. The students’ ideas aimed at helping people prepare for, stay safe during or rebuild after a natural disaster.


The public relations campaign targeted STEM-focused media publications, STEM bloggers and social media channels owned by FIRST and its partners.

Cone reviewed each finalist team’s research and inventions before the competition, and tailored media pitches to highlight its problem-solving process. Cone also reached out to hometown media outlets before the program to educate them about it and inform them of the local finalist; this way, hometown media were ready for the final announcement and coverage details ahead of time.

The PR team also secured media interviews with FIRST spokespeople, who discussed the unique, hands-on learning experience FLL provides to students. They also emphasized the opportunity for students to explore the patent process necessary to bring their inventions to market.

The team created messages for FIRST and its sponsors to distribute on their social channels before and during the award ceremony. Immediately following the ceremony, sponsors and FIRST posted messages and photos about the winning team and two runner-up teams.

In addition, Cone facilitated video interviews with sponsors about their support of FIRST, including LEGO and XPRIZE. The interviews included positive sentiments about FLL and were edited into short videos and uploaded to YouTube. The team also promoted the videos on FIRST social channels and sponsors’ social channels.

In executing these efforts, the PR team learned the following lessons:

  • Meet with each sponsor to discuss what will be the best return on its investment. For some, it is gaining favorable publicity; for others, it’s using stories and photos of the winners on social media channels and in their annual CSR (corporate social responsibility) reports.
  • Set realistic expectations for media results. The inventions may yield media coverage in students’ hometown media outlets; however, national outlets, such as The TODAY Show or USA Today, need compelling human-interest stories and dramatic results to consider coverage.


The campaign secured 19 media placements for a total of 3.8 million traditional media impressions, and more than 600,000 Facebook and Twitter impressions. Stories about the competition ran in EdTech, T.H.E. Journal, Odyssey Magazine and Society for Science. STEM education influencer Joanne Jacobs posted a blog about the campaign, as well.

For regional media coverage, Cone secured feature stories in each of the winning-team’s hometown markets, including The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, WBZ/CBS-Boston, WFXT/FOX-Boston, New England Cable News and KCRG-ABC/Iowa.

The PR team was able to track campaign results using Radian6 and mGauge. Radian6 captured social media activity on Twitter and Facebook among consumers and STEM influencers.

From May 27-June 5 the tool recorded a spike in the usage of the hashtags #FLL, #firstlegoleague and #omgrobots.This demonstrated that followers were engaged with official campaign hashtags and terms, and were engaged in online conversation about FIRST.

Radian6 also captured coverage about the campaign generated by blogs and mainstream news. The team placed all Radian6 results into mGauge, a Cone Communications media tool, to calculate all media coverage and impressions; 100 percent of the coverage and sentiments were positive.

In addition to these media results, since its 2010 inception the program has earned sponsorship support from major organizations, such as Booz Allen Hamilton, John Deere and XPRIZE.

(Maureen O’Connell, director at Cone Communications, wrote this article.)

CONTACT: Maureen O’Connell,

This article originally appeared in the June 29, 2015 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.