Time Warner Cable approached Edelman to build broad awareness of its efforts to inspire students nationwide to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In a media market already saturated with STEM news and initiatives, Edelman had to design a communications program that would cut through the noise at the national level and drive meaningful stories at the local level, told in the distinctive voice that only children at the center of the issue can provide. The results were inspired...

The U.S. trails far behind our global economic competitors in science and math education, ranking 25th in math and 17th in science worldwide. The bottom line is that other nations are out-educating us.

Time Warner Cable (TWC) recently reassessed its corporate social responsibility efforts. To boost its identity and strengthen relationships at the community level, TWC identified STEM education as an issue aligned with its core business and of critical importance within each of its local markets. TWC launched Connect a Million Minds in November 2009—a five-year, $100 million cash and in-kind initiative to inspire students to pursue learning opportunities and careers in STEM.

When TWC was ready to take Connect a Million Minds to the next level, the company approached Edelman with a challenge: Secure media attention for a global online town hall it was hosting as part of its commitment to get students excited about STEM. With a moving target event date, an ever-evolving roster of participants, and a media market over-saturated with stories of STEM initiatives, Edelman had to design a communications program that would complement—and also thrive independently of—the event itself.

Despite much national conversation about how our schools are failing to adequately prepare students to compete in a global marketplace, there has been little attention paid to how students feel about these subjects, relative to their peers in other countries that outperform them. The heart of our strategy was to give these students a voice.

With a deep understanding of TWC’s unique ability to provide its markets with the entertainment they want and the information they depend on, Edelman crafted a program that fostered a powerful bond between TWC and its communities by placing kids at the center of the issue, and providing them with a powerful voice with which to reach the parents, teachers and local leaders who have the power to institute necessary change.

Edelman’s strategy was two-fold: 1) Engage journalists—not only to write stories themselves, but to partner with local students to cover the issue from their perspective—virtually guaranteeing media coverage in each market for the event; 2) Engage students in a meaningful partnership with journalists, and encourage them to tap into their social networks to help spread the word throughout the community about the event—and STEM writ large.

Edelman initiated a series of discussions with TWC staff in 16 local markets to gain a better understanding of each market, which local media personalities garnered the most attention, and then hand-picked a student in each market to ensure the right voices for what became known as the Connect a Million Minds Correspondents program.

The Correspondents program paired a student with a local journalist in each of the 16 markets. By locking in students with reporters, we were assured at least one story per market which highlighted the students’ experiences and interest in STEM, and put a focus on the global online town hall.

While the Correspondents program took shape, we also worked with TWC to bring the online town hall into sharper focus: “Math, Science and the Future of Our Nation” would be moderated by Vice President Al Gore, and aimed to virtually connect students from around the world with STEM luminaries—including U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan; inventor Dean Kamen; one of the visionaries behind Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox 360, Kudo Tsunoda; astronaut Sally Ride; and the stars of Discovery Channel’s MythBusters—to engage in a rich discussion of what it will take to drive student excitement for STEM.

On November 17th students, teachers, parents and interested parties from all over the world participated in the town hall at www.connectamillionminds.com, where – using a new online broadcasting platform from Vokle – they submitted live video questions and comments in real time. Immediately following the town hall, simultaneous events were held in the 16 Correspondents program markets, where students and local STEM leaders gathered to view and interact with the online town hall, and engage in follow up discussions focused on local STEM solutions.

Our charge was to secure coverage in the top outlets of each of the 16 markets featuring the Connect a Million Minds Correspondents. We were secondarily tasked with giving the day “legs” beyond the event itself. We exceeded our objectives by delivering:
• A set of powerful and passionate kid-driven stories in all 16 markets.
• Social networking outreach and activity, guided by the Correspondents, which fostered a broadened understanding of STEM beyond the event.
• A deeper connection between Time Warner Cable and its local communities (and markets) focused on solving a critical education issue.

To date, Edelman has delivered 81 media stories—ranging from New York Daily News to The Akron Beacon Journal—which, most importantly, focused heavily on the local schools and students who participated in the global discussion, and the students vocalizing the need for an increase in STEM education.

"Jobs are based in sciences now, and those jobs are waiting for us. You're on Facebook, right? Well, dorks got you Facebook." – Kelly Hooper, 12th grade student at Metro Early College High School in Columbus, OH

“… in most schools today the majority of students do not seem to be focused on learning; and if anyone doesn’t see anything wrong with that, then America needs a reality check.” – Mekhi Young, 8th grade student at Charles R. Drew Science Magnet School in Buffalo, NY

"In China, students are much more ambitious. But in America, we are taught that we don't have to work as hard. The current standards are too low; you have to raise the bar.” – Hayden Stevens, 12th grade student at Metro Early College High School in Columbus, OH

"I thought it would be great to be able to discuss the United States' fall back on math and science. We seem to be coasting… Other countries are looking to get ahead of us, but we are staying where we are." – Stephen Koh, 10th grade student at NEST+m in New York, NY

“The entire Connect a Million Minds initiative is about our generation not being prepared for the jobs requiring STEM. I think more people should become interested in STEM because it will affect us so much in the future!” – Rebecca Evans, 8th grade student at Exploris Middle School in Raleigh, NC

We learned that kids are highly concerned about the U.S. falling behind in STEM and are looking for ways to solve this problem. Not surprisingly, we also learned that they are deeply passionate about game consoles, social networking sites and smart phones—in other words, they are passionate about science and technology.

One 10th grade participant from NYC made the point best: “A lot of kids my age are interested in becoming video game designers when they grow up…but what they don’t understand is the math and science that go into making a video game.”

The breadth of media coverage placed Time Warner Cable at the center of their local markets, delivering poignant faces and perspective on STEM. As a result of Edelman’s Connect a Million Minds Correspondents program and aggressive local media outreach, Time Warner Cable’s efforts have received attention throughout the markets they care about most.