'Our objective was mass reach' - Behind the Campaign, 'Keeping Us Connected During COVID-19' for Openreach

Seóna McGrath, communications director at Smarts, discusses the agency's recent work for digital network business Openreach.

'Our objective was mass reach' - Behind the Campaign, 'Keeping Us Connected During COVID-19' for Openreach

What was the campaign in a nutshell?

While the UK was in lockdown, Openreach engineers were out making sure hospitals, schools, police and fire stations – not to mention our friends and families – all stayed connected to the internet. Openreach’s engineers were designated ‘key workers’ by the government. We needed to make the public aware of the crucial role Openreach engineers were playing during the pandemic, and respond to a surprising series of attacks linked to bogus 5G conspiracy theories.

How did the idea come into being?

As the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, the UK government gave clear guidance that people were to stay home. We needed to reassure people that the Openreach engineers they saw still working in their communities were there for a good reason, working hard providing an essential service. For the benefit of the public and Openreach workers, we needed to get the word out ASAP. We had a two week window in early April to create and implement a creative campaign that had massive reach across the UK.

What ideas were rejected?

This was a proactive campaign made in response to the pandemic. It wasn’t the case that a number of different ideas were put forward or rejected. We had a clear sense of direction from the outset and understood there were certain parameters we had to operate within, eg: not sending our production team out to shoot new footage.

Briefly describe the campaign planning and process

Our aim was to communicate the facts to a wide audience in a concise way, while raising awareness of Openreach’s work and their engineers’ key worker status. We wanted content that would be easy to understand and relevant to everyone.

We created a bank of emotive assets to tell our ‘key worker’ story and a strategic media plan to reach as wide an audience as possible. Content included hero videos, stills, carousel ads, GIFs, and an audio public service message. We also developed a UK-wide paid social media strategy. Spotify and network radio advertising secured widespread reach among our target audience both nationally and regionally.

We also tapped into Openreach’s core asset – the network – and by harnessing national and local broadband usage stats, we were able to give regular and unique updates to media about how the network was coping with a massive surge towards homeworking. This not only helped dismiss early concerns that the UK’s broadband networks couldn’t cope with increased demand, but it also enabled Openreach to take a leadership role and claim some credit for keeping the nation connected.

What were the biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

Probably the time frame involved and the restrictions on creating content during lockdown. We also faced the uphill battle of raising brand awareness in a hectic media landscape that was heavily focused on COVID-19 updates. We bolstered our core team and drew upon specialist skills from Smarts’ wider team of digital and media experts, strategists, designers, and content creators. Everyone pulled together in partnership with our colleagues at Openreach to deliver what was needed.

How did you measure the results?

Our objective was mass reach. Most audiences were spending increased time online and listening to radio, so we identified network radio partners and partnered with Spotify. We generated over 3.9m impressions on Spotify with 1.7k click-throughs to Openreach’s COVID-19 landing page, while the social campaign delivered 61m-plus impressions. We increased organic and earned media volume, with a total reach (since the campaign went live) of 11m-plus and an overwhelmingly positive/neutral sentiment. The campaign also featured as one of Spotify’s best examples of brand communication during the crisis.

What's the biggest lesson you took away from the campaign?

That even with all the stresses and constraints of working in lockdown during a pandemic – if you have a credible and relevant story, it’s possible to create and implement a creative campaign that delivers important and meaningful messages to a huge audience. It definitely helps to have a really committed team, willing partners, and a collaborative and supportive client. Thanks to that combination we were able to get Openreach’s message to the masses when they needed to hear it.


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