Tech Museum Takes Creativity to the ‘MAX’ on Minimum Budget


One of the San Jose Tech Museum of Innovation's missions is to boost kids' interest in careers in technology and science. So when it discovered earlier this summer that the number of kids and teens among its 650,000 visitors a year was dropping off, the problem was serious enough to take to the board of directors. The board pondered the matter and came up with a creative plan to draw a new group of young visitors: The Tech would hold a video gaming tournament, dubbed the Maxgames, that would allow finalists to duke it out in the museum's high-tech, domed IMAX theater on all the most popular gaming platforms (Xbox, GameCube and PS2). The museum promptly worked the event into its calendar - a little too promptly, in fact. The in-house PR team was swamped with other projects, and Joe Fabris, a member of the board of directors and the driving force behind the Maxgames, got the OK to outsource the project. When Fabris contacted FutureWorks PR in Silicon Valley, the event was just three weeks away. "They had never done anything like this," says Jim Graham, FutureWorks senior strategist. Fabris, a personal friend of Graham's, contacted him on July 24 about the possibility of constructing a campaign that would reach young gamers with the museum's message. Fabris and Graham consulted, and by July 30, FutureWorks was launching a powerful grassroots campaign - pro bono -- to reach hundreds of gamers with just 15 days to go. PR to the MAX Gamers are notoriously difficult to reach. Primarily comprised of young males, the demographic doesn't rely on normal media outlets. Graham contacted every gamer he knew for a grassroots poll on how they do get their information and discovered that they rely on a variety of gaming magazines, Web sites, and email lists and discussion groups. "The other thing is word of mouth," says Graham, who immediately began spreading the word. Although he and his teammate, Steven Phenix, had missed the deadline for most of the longer lead gaming magazines, several of the publications had Web sites that are updated daily with new information for their Web savvy readers. Sites like TeamXbox.com and Lanparty.com are wildly popular among the gaming community. Graham began approaching online editors and Webmasters with a frank pitch and a press release. Knowing that the editors covering the space and, more importantly, the kids following the gaming world, could spot a promotion a mile away, he shot straight with reporters at the sites. "I basically said, 'This is a press release. What can I do to get the word out on this?'" With solid hits online on sites like TeamXbox and Lanparty, Graham turned once again to every gamer he knew. "I said, 'Get this out to your email lists, and tell your friends to tell their friends.'" His message was simple: There's a hot event coming up at The Tech, and interested gamers should visit the museum's Web site for more information. FutureWorks was tracking the museum's Web traffic, and within two or three days of launching the guerilla campaign, the Maxgames page was second only to the museum's homepage. Meanwhile, Phenix, a senior account manager for FutureWorks, was busy pitching slightly more mainstream outlets to reach older gamers (18 and above) among the high-tech community. He booked Fabris for local radio interviews and landed the news in the print and online versions of San Jose Mercury News, Silicon Valley Business Journal, CNET Radio, TechTV and "Good Morning, Silicon Valley" (http://www.siliconvalley.com/mld/siliconvalley/business/columnists/gmsv/). Scoring with Gamers Graham's knowledge of the gaming community came in handy once again on game day. He had persuaded The Tech to have a mechanism for walk-up registrations (not part of the original plan), and at least a third of participants were walk-ups. More than 350 gamers arrived at The Tech and began the tournament with elimination rounds played on large TV screens. While they weren't gaming, they had the run of the museum, and in a grassroots poll of attendees, most said they couldn't wait to come back for another tournament - or to tell their friends. The top four players (along with a crowd of excited observers) headed for the IMAX theater for the final challenge. "I don't think anyone who won was over 16," Graham says. The biggest winner that night was The Tech, which was so thrilled with the outcome that it is planning another event to draw a similar group of kids and teens in early October. Campaign Stats Timeframe: Fabris originally contacted Graham on July 24; by July 30, the campaign was up and running. The Maxgames tournament was held Aug. 15. Budget: The timeframe may have been tight, but the budget was - literally - nonexistent. FutureWorks conducted the campaign on a pro bono basis for the museum. FutureWorks Stats Headquarters: San Jose, Calif. Clients: 3Ware, Authenex, Sensitron, Centric Software, Stomp Digital, Line56 and other high-tech players. Team Members on Maxgames Campaign: Jim Graham, senior strategist; Steven Phenix, senior account manager. URL: http://www.future-works.com (Contacts: Graham, 408/428-0895 ext. 120, jim@future-works.com; Phenix, 408/428-0895 ext. 103, steven@future-works.com)

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