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Success Stories

 

Seeing in the Dark

 

In May 2007, Timothy Ferris asked Devillier Communications Inc. (Devillier) to undertake a national publicity and outreach campaign on behalf of his special, Seeing in the Dark which would be broadcast on PBS in September 2007. Underwritten by the National Science Foundation, the state-of- the- art, high definition (HDTV) film features memorable deep-space images by some of the world’s most respected astrophotographers and a digital surround-sound mix by threetime Academy Award® winner Walter Murch. Viewers are introduced to amateur astronomers ranging from casual stargazers to those who have made important scientific discoveries.

Devillier had conducted national media relations campaigns for scores of PBS specials and had a track record of successfully enlisting the support of educational and scientific organizations in national outreach efforts. Devillier had less than six months to conduct the Seeing in the Dark campaign.

GOALS

The outreach effort was designed to:

  • Help generate the largest possible audience for Seeing in the Dark
  • Underscore the importance of astronomy and the study of the heavens
  • Celebrate the contribution of amateur astronomers (historical figures and contemporary individuals) and inspire
    the next generation of stargazers

TARGETED AUDIENCES

The campaign targeted everyone intrigued by the heavens and our place in the universe. “The Seeing in the Dark outreach program was based on the conviction that all citizens have an equal right to make science a part of their lives. It was designed to reach out to young and old, well off and poor, learned and untutored. It targeted not just the scientifically inclined, but the economically disadvantaged, many of whom have never used a telescope; urban dwellers who have never seen a dark night sky; young women who feel intimidated by the predominately male atmosphere in most science classes; racial and ethnic minorities who regard science as a white male preserve; and people living in regions remote from the centers of science.”…Timothy Ferris.

STRATEGIC INITIATIVES

Devillier worked in close collaboration with Ferris, called “the best science writer of his generation” by The Washington Post, his world-class, award-winning production team, the individuals featured in the film and PBS member stations. In addition, the Agency quickly sought the support of several prestigious astronomical, educational and scientific organizations including the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the Astronomical League, the National Association of Science Teachers and
NASA.

Critical campaign elements were the companion website, the unique Seeing in the Dark Internet Telescope and a plethora of Seeing in the Dark “star parties’ and screening events. (See below.)

PRESS EFFORT

The national press and outreach campaign was designed to be informative and inspirational -- underscoring the goal of introducing viewers to the rewards of hands-on astronomy. Devillier brought the film to the attention of a wide array of national consumer, astronomical, educational, production and scientific media (print, broadcast and online) including television reviewers/columnists/feature writers and science reporters. To facilitate this effort, Devillier produced a special Seeing in the Dark DVD featuring an interview with Ferris as well as press materials and a preview of the film.

The national press campaign kicked off with an appearance by Ferris at the bi-annual Television Critics Association press tour in Los Angeles in July. Throughout August and September, Devillier aggressively scheduled interviews for Ferris and the featured ‘stargazers.’ Just prior to the premiere, Ferris participated in a three-hour radio tour, which resulted in nearly 19 million gross impressions. Interviews with Ferris were aired 9,755 times on 2,523 stations and network affiliates. North American Network said it was one of the five most popular interview tours it had conducted during the past decade.

THE RESPONSE

Seeing in the Dark received universal praise:

Now turn your eyes skyward for Seeing in the Dark, a rhapsodic sight-and-sound odyssey into the night sky… It interweaves themes of music, the stars, and the stark contrast between the brief span of human lifetimes and the vastness of the cosmos, where a backyard stargazer equipped with nothing more than binoculars can see light older than the human species.”
-- Frazier Moore, Associated Press

What moves Mr. Ferris in Seeing in the Dark – what moves us – isn’t the cold, clammy intellectualism of scientific inquiry, but the aesthetics, the beauty and glory of it all.”
-- Ginia Bellafante, The New York Times

This charming love letter to the backyard astronomer in all of us, broadcast in HDTV, is well-known science writer Timothy Ferris’s way of inviting us all to the party.”
- Gloria Goodale, Christian Science Monitor

Ferris insisted from the beginning that his film be shot in a high resolution format. And while most people are aware that there are fascinating star clusters, nebulae and galaxies floating about
up there, the high-definition astrophotography looks like something out of “Star Wars.” Who remembered that our real universe could look that way, too?

-- Joshua Zumbrun, The Washington Post

"About 10 minutes into watching Seeing in the Dark, I thought, “This is the TV show that we wanted to make!” By “we” I mean the editors of Sky & Telescope. We’ve often talked about our desire for a show or series, light on science, focusing on how easy and enjoyable stargazing is…” - Stuart Goldman, Sky & Telescope

In addition to major dailies, the Associated Press, Gannett News Service and United Features Syndicate ran stories that were seen by well over two million readers. Program highlights appeared in TV Guide and in 2,200 newspapers and Sunday supplements thanks to a piece by the Tribune Media Service Service. The press campaign generated well over 50 million readers, listeners and viewers. Seeing in the Dark received a national average rating of 1.2.

ORGANIZATIONAL SUPPORT

Seeing in the Dark received considerable support from national astronomy organizations which featured the film in their publications,
newsletters and on their list servs. For example, Seeing in the Dark appeared in Astronomy Magazine, Sky and Telescope, and the Reflector, a publication of the Astronomical League. The Planetarium alerted
members of the International Planetarium Society to the availability of the DVD for local screenings and every member of the American Astronomical Society received an announcement about the film and website via the AAS listserv.

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific was particularly helpful, promoting Seeing in the Dark to their members, highlighting the film in “The Universe in the Classroom” a newsletter for K-12 teachers and featuring
the film at “Cosmos in the Classroom” ASP’s annual conference for college astronomy instructors.

The National Science Teachers Association ( NSTA) promoted the film, the companion Website and the Internet Telescope in NSTA Express, which has over 200,000 subscribers. And the film and Web site were featured in “Finds & Sites” section of Science & Children, an NSTA publication that is distributed to more than 21,000 elementary school teachers and administrators. Finally, NSTA disseminated a Seeing in the Dark E-blast to an educational electronic network called "NSTA
Building a Presence for Science” which reaches over 35,000 science teachers nationwide.

In addition, Seeing in the Dark announcements were distributed to:

  • College instructors of astronomy in the U.S. and Canada,
  • NASA education and outreach staff
  • Outreach professionals at major observatories and planetariums
  • Web masters for major astronomy sites

PBS STATIONS

Given their essential role, Devillier aggressively courted PBS stations. The agency encouraged programmers to broadcast the film in prime time and provided staff with promotional materials and ideas that could be used by local media, in station program guides, on-air and station Web sites.
Nearly 100% of the PBS system broadcast Seeing in the Dark on the night of the network premiere, there were scores of stories in station guides and a number of stations participated in local ‘star parties’. (see below)

SPECIAL SCREENINGS

Seeing in the Dark “Star Parties” hosted by planetariums, science centers, PBS stations and in other educational venues, occurred all across the country -- from Philadelphia to Chicago, from Atlanta to Cleveland, from San Francisco to Hawaii. Many of these events were conducted in collaboration with the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, (ASP) one of the nation’s leading organizations serving research astronomers, science educators and amateur astronomers. ASP’s “ Night Sky Network” -- a network of 200 local amateur astronomy clubs -- participated in many of these special screenings. ASP unveiled the film at its annual membership meeting in Chicago and featured Timothy Ferris and Astronomer/Educator Barbara Wilson during a special Project ASTRO teleconference with community centers, youth groups, planetariums, science museums, and after-school programs. Many
of the Project ASTRO sites focus on reaching under-served populations including urban housing projects and Native American reservations.

INTERNET TELESCOPE

The Seeing in the Dark Internet Telescope (SIDIT) was one of the most unique educational offerings of the campaign. Students are allowed to register online at no charge, then send an email specifying an object they would like to image. Over 100,000 star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies lie within range of the telescope and its digital imaging chip.

Students using the SIDIT can enjoy the simple pleasure of taking a deep-space photo of their own, as well as conduct preliminary scientific research projects, such as attempting to discover asteroids and searching for supernovae (exploding stars) and the optical component of gamma-ray bursts.

In its first month of operation, SIDIT shot images of distant galaxies and nebulae in response to requests from more than 1,000 students around the world. Requests poured in from Australia, Canada, Mexico, Serbia, Spain, Turkey, and the U.K. – and from 42 U.S. states as well as Puerto Rico. Participants ranged from elementary level to postgraduate, from public, private, charter, parochial and home schools. SIDIT continues to
inspire students to this day.

 
 
 
 
 
Quotes

 

“Astronomy, with its spectacular visual qualities and its relevance to enduring questions about the origin and evolution of the universe, has long been a gateway to science.”

--Timothy Ferris

 
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