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Scripps: National Spelling Bee

The Scripps National Spelling Bee, as one of the US’s longest-running national competitions, has a legacy founded in helping students improve their spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts, and develop correct English usage. In 2021, following a year-long pandemic-driven hiatus, the long-standing Scripps National Spelling Bee returned, featuring changes that reflected the world-class competition’s priority of safety and new level of competition. Diffusion had an opportunity to build upon the strong brand identity of the Scripps National Spelling Bee and deepen its connections with spellers and audiences. To generate awareness around the Bee’s commitment to inclusivity and accessibility, the clients tapped Diffusion to drive coverage before, throughout and following the competition’s historic finale.

Insight & Idea

Diffusion developed a PR plan that used a variety of outreach approaches to leverage ongoing media relationships throughout the 2021 competition. Through creative storytelling, an earned celebrity influencer partnership with actress Keke Palmer, and using the recent hire of the Bee’s new executive director, Dr. J. Michael Durnill, as lead spokesperson to communicate the Bee’s renewed mission statement, the PR team shared the Bee’s evolution story with a wide range of regional and national press, focusing on the importance of diversifying access to the Bee for the 11 million children across the world who participate in spellings bees at the school level.

Impact & Action

Diffusion’s multi-pronged media relations approach drove coverage across target media categories, which kicked off with the development of a Scripps National Spelling Bee quiz on Buzzfeed (earned and not paid/sponsored, placed by Diffusion) that helped build both speller and viewer excitement around the 2021 competition. Throughout the multi-round, month-long competition, coverage secured by Diffusion across national entertainment, lifestyle, education, culture, and regional press set the stage for the final round, which concluded in a historic and triumphant win for Zaila Avant-Garde.

Zaila, upon correctly spelling the word, ‘Murraya,’ became the first Black American speller to win the national competition. As soon as Zaila was crowned reigning champion, Diffusion gave a behind-the-scenes story to TIME featuring interviews with both Zaila and Dr. J. Michael Durnil, resulting in a 1700+ word feature piece about the Bee’s evolution and focus on access and equity in 2021 – a key message for the campaign.

Overall, Diffusion’s campaign resulted in extensive pre-event ‘where to watch’ coverage in outlets including The New York Times, Fast Company, and Los Angeles Times, as well as student speller (finalist) spotlights with numerous regional publications like the Cincinnati Inquirer, Houston Chronicle, PIX 11, ABC 13 Houston, WCNC-TV Charlotte, and more.

In addition to a widespread media outreach effort, Diffusion developed an earned partnership with Keke Palmer around the Bee, where Keke not only created a video sharing a word of encouragement for the participating spellers, but she also posted organically on her Instagram channel to celebrate Zaila’s win, proudly crowing Zaila as “the real-life Akeelah” to her 10M+ followers.

The Metrics

Pieces of feature coverage secured
Unique media impressions
Speller profile opportunities secured
PR industry award wins
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