Solar Decathlon Europe 2010
Public Relations team takes first place internationally
Wind sweeping through the breezeway of UF’s Project RE:FOCUS home was refreshing to visitors in the Madrid heat. To members of UF’s Solar Decathlon Europe team, the breeze tasted of the sweetness of design come to life.
In the airy breezeway of the 800-square-foot, fully solar-powered Florida Cracker-inspired house, students and faculty of the College of Journalism and Communications’ Department of Public Relations celebrated 10 months of guerilla marketing, media relations and strategic branding that culminated in success on an international stage.
The home was UF’s entry in Solar Decathlon Europe 2010, a global competition that selected and challenged universities around the world to design and construct a self-sufficient solar home with viability in today’s economic market. By competing in 10 categories ranging from Solar Energy Systems to Communications and Social Awareness, students pushed the limits of conventional design to address contemporary energy issues with inventive solutions. UF was selected as one of only two American universities to compete on this international stage against 17 other universities.
The College of Journalism and Communications became involved when Department of Public Relations lecturer and Public Relations Student Society of America adviser, Deanna Pelfrey, APR, PRSA Fellow, was approached by the UF Solar Decathlon team for assistance in the Decathlon’s Communications and Social Awareness category.
The competition called for a public relations campaign that would educate local, statewide, national and international audiences about the competition and the sustainability initiatives it supported. By engaging the members of Alpha PRoductions, a student-run public relations firm under UF’s Alpha Chapter of PRSSA, Pelfrey selected and advised a team of students to conceptualize and coordinate a comprehensive international communications plan.
Over a span of seven months, the team implemented a grassroots public relations campaign on UF’s campus, inviting members of the community to “Make a Change, Not a Footprint.” To launch the campaign, they aroused the interest of the community by painting the entire quarter-mile stretch of the 34th Street Wall with tiny brown footprints.
The team also engaged the student population through interactive displays in Turlington Plaza and Plaza of the Americas, featuring state-of-the-art solar equipment used in the home’s construction. Alongside strategic social media use, the grassroots effort was complemented by statewide and national outreach to sustainability-conscious organizations and government officials, and highlighted through substantial national print, digital and broadcast media coverage.
Thanks to the support of Dean John Wright, the College of Journalism and Communications and UF PRSSA Chapter, Pelfrey, along with communication team members Kathryn Watson, PR 2010; Joanna Brighton, PR 2010; and Erika Zayas, PR 2011, traveled to Madrid to compete in June’s final Decathlon. Overseas, the construction team from the College of Design, Construction and Planning was tasked with rebuilding the home in the Decathlon’s “Solar Village” in 10 days, and faced adjudication in all categories. Throughout, the PR team landed international media coverage, including features in USA Today as well as interviews in Spanish on Radio Nacional España and Cadena Ser radio. It also hosted exclusive tours of the solar home for global dignitaries, including Prince Felipe of Asturias and Alan Solomont, U.S Ambassador to Spain.
In the midst of the 10-day competition, Watson was selected to represent UF and the U.S. in Solar Decathlon Europe’s Opening Ceremony, during which she delivered a speech to convey the importance of strong communication in the push for sustainable technology. Only two other competitors were honored in this way, including Universidad de Villadolid of Spain and Tongji University Shanghai of China.
After presenting the Project RE:FOCUS strategic communication campaign to the Decathlon’s international jury, UF’s communication team won first place in Communications and Social Awareness, and – thanks to Gator alums – had a clean sweep of the communications category by taking first place in the Public Choice Award voted on the Web.
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