Over 2020 and 2021, DIAS marked its 80th anniversary – with a programme of events and activities aligned to each of the Institute’s three disciplines. As part of this programme, Alice developed the idea for – and project-managed – ‘Reach for the Stars’, an astrophotography competition aimed at:
- Tapping into the growing popularity of astronomy and photography amongst the Irish public;
- Showcasing DIAS’s rich legacy and expertise in astronomy; and
- Increasing the Institute’s public profile by reaching new audiences beyond the academic community.
The competition invites people – professional photographers, keen astronomers and amateurs alike – to submit images of astronomical interest taken in Ireland. In its inaugural year, a key communications objective was to ensure prolonged media coverage over an eight-month period (to coincide with significant dates for DIAS’s 80th anniversary programme), so we developed a PR strategy and timeline that began with a launch in December 2020 and ended with a final exhibition and winners’ announcement during summer 2021.
We successfully approached The Irish Times to be DIAS’s media partner for the competition. As a result, Brenda Fitzsimons, Picture Editor of The Irish Times, joined the ‘Reach for the Stars’ judging panel, alongside John Flannery, Vice-President of the Irish Astronomical Society; Professor Peter Gallagher, Head of Astrophysics at DIAS; and our own MD, Martina Quinn.
The results we achieved for ‘Reach for the Stars’ in 2020 / 2021 included:
- Over 200 competition entries received.
- Coverage achieved in media outlets in 30 counties across Ireland, North and South.
- An audience reach of 5.7 million for all media coverage. All coverage secured was positive in sentiment and reflected agreed campaign messages. Over 90% included quotes from DIAS spokespersons.
- 170 items of coverage secured in total, of which 17 were in Northern Irish media outlets, an important metric for DIAS, as it is aiming to position itself as a leading research institute on an all-Island basis.
- Front-page coverage in the print version of The Irish Times on Saturday, 29th May 2021. The main front-page image was the competition’s winning entry, while almost a full page of the Weekend Review was devoted to images and editorial about the competition.
- An online gallery on IrishTimes.com, which has a monthly audience reach of 1,283,000 Irish adults.
- Agreement of An Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar TD, to participate in a photocall to announce the competition’s public vote.
- A major spike in visitors to DIAS’s website during key moments for the competition. The most-visited of all DIAS web-pages in 2021 was the competition’s online public vote page.
As a result of the success of the competition in its first year, DIAS decided to establish it as an annual initiative. The Irish Times committed to remaining as competition partner for ‘Reach for the Stars’. You can find out more about the current status of the competition here.