In March 2013, the Hawai‘i astronomy community was caught off-guard by forceful protests against the construction of a new telescope proposed for Maunakea: the best site for astronomy world-wide. The controversial project—the Thirty Meter Telescope or TMT— immediately became the target of global attention and the thirteen existing telescopes were caught in the crossfire. For the first time in the 50-year history of Hawaiʻi astronomy, these thirteen telescopes banded together and hired Bennet Group to begin working hand-in-hand with them to create a unified voice for the newly formed collective and handle all crisis communications and issues management on behalf of the observatories.
Bennet Group quickly took action to establish a cohesive brand identity and integrate it into all joint communications moving forward. Simultaneously, Bennet Group instituted a radical shift from the observatories’ typical approach of focusing solely on academic communications to widening their scope of outreach to include communications tailored for the community.
Internally, Bennet Group helped the observatories to proactively identify ways for the astronomy employees to be more effective advocates for their institutions and industry, increasing efficacy of communications to help employees feel informed and empowered. In parallel, Bennet Group brokered close working relationships with key players in the situation including lead communications officials from the University of Hawai‘i, the office of the Governor, the Hawai‘I State Attorney General, the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center, Maunakea Support Services, community groups, key influencers and thought leaders and more. As a result, we received extensive positive earned media coverage and effectively changed the dynamic in the public discourse about the value of Maunakea astronomy to Hawai‘i and to the world. Our work directly resulted in 80 pieces of unique, thoughtful coverage featuring a quote from or reference to our primary spokesperson Doug Simons, director of the Canada-France-Hawai‘i Telescope, which reached more than 53,500,000 individuals. Additionally, we saw a marked increase in positive mainstream coverage, a prominent astronomy voice where previously absent, and the general sentiment of support of astronomy in Hawai‘i remains steady. Maunakea remains the #1 most productive site for astronomical discovery world-wide, and we have helped garner a much higher level of awareness of broader implications of TMT’s possible failure.