‘It was the most complex effort I’ve witnessed in my career’: Inside One World: Together at Home's star-studded special

Global Citizen quickly pulled the event together.

Campaign: One World: Together at Home
Company: Global Citizen
Agency partners: Sunshine Sachs (US PR), Weber Shandwick (international PR) 
Duration: March - April 2020

Stars such as Billie Eilish, Lizzo, The Rolling Stones and Taylor Swift performed last month at One World: Together at Home, a COVID-19 benefit concert.

Each year, Global Citizen, a nonprofit aimed at ending extreme poverty, holds a music festival. But as the pandemic intensified, it became clear that its plans for this year’s event would have to change.

In mid-March, Global Citizen’s CEO Hugh Evans got a call from the World Health Organization asking if the organization could help spread the message about the importance of staying home. 

This kicked off discussions about turning the musical festival into a live-streamed concert, with musical acts performing from their homes across the world. From the start, the aim was to honor community health workers. 

Global Citizen launched an online version of the concert, with Coldplay frontman Chris Martin serving as the musical anchor. The digital series, which featured up to eight performances each day, ran from March 16 to April 18.

In late March, Global Citizen approached ABC, CBS and NBC about airing a live musical special in primetime on April 18.

“They all said yes,” said Danielle Maged, Global Citizen’s chief growth officer. 

From there, the nonprofit’s 150 employees went into overdrive to plan the event. In a span of 10 days, they partnered with 60 global broadcast networks, as well as digital streaming services including Apple, Facebook and YouTube. Universal Music Group also pitched in, helping with international distribution. And with the networks on board, late-night hosts Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, and Stephen Colbert joined as co-hosts. 

Early on, Lady Gaga came on as an organizer, as did her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, who is a WHO ambassador. “She helped curate the entire effort,” Maged said.

Given the nature of the concert, plus Gaga’s influence and connections, “inbound interest [from performers] was strong,” she said. So strong that in addition to the two-hour broadcast version of the concert, Global Citizen decided to add an extended six-hour digital show to accommodate all the artists.  

The lead-up to the special was a mad dash of “long nights, 20-hour days, and daily Webex meetings,” Maged said. In addition to finalizing musical guests, Global Citizen partnered with corporate sponsors for funding. The organization decided against doing a telethon given the economic impact of the crisis, instead raising money from companies such as Coca-Cola, P&G, and Johnson & Johnson, as well as foundations including the Ford Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Rockefeller Foundation.

“It was the most complex effort I’ve witnessed in my career,” Maged said.

The eight-hour live event featured 72 musical guests from around the world. It raised $127.9 million in funds, with $55.1 million going to the WHO’s Solidarity Response Fund and $72.9 million going to local response efforts and charities. 

The concert was broadcast on more than 60 networks in 175 countries, in addition to being live-streamed on nine digital platforms. Altogether, it reached a global audience of more than 300 million viewers. 

The special received an avalanche of TV, digital and print-earned coverage, including spots on Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, The Tonight Show, the Today show and the Late Show, as well as write-ups in The Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, the Guardian, People, Vanity Fair and NPR.

One World: Together at Home also set two Guinness World Records: most money raised for charity by a remote music festival and most musical artists to perform at a remote music festival. 

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