Fauci’s star power shines at National Geographic virtual event

“Talent is key with these virtual events,” said Eva Ross, an SVP at DKC.

Campaign: Stopping Pandemics
Company: National Geographic
Agency partners: DKC (media relations, PR), HangarFour (guest schedules, event details, tech preparations)
Duration: August 13, 2020

To commemorate its August issue on pandemics, National Geographic held a virtual event featuring Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

National Geographic made DKC its AOR early this year. Just a few months later, COVID-19 shut down much of daily life in the U.S.

“We had to readjust what we were looking for in the year ahead,” said Eva Ross, an SVP at DKC.

In-person events, such as a planned celebration for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, had to be scrapped. 

But DKC still wanted to highlight initiatives as they happened, including the August issue of National Geographic magazine, which featured a cover story on pandemics. 

The plan was “to create a virtual event where we could bring one of our important issues to life,” Ross said. 

To pull off the virtual event, DKC brought on HangarFour, its creative agency, to handle logistics, tech and execution. 

From the beginning, the idea was to highlight the contents of the August issue by having the author of the cover story participate in a conversion with experts.

The team immediately reached out to Fauci. The thinking was “let’s dream big,” said Dusty Bennett, EVP of creative at HangarFour.

Fauci responded almost immediately, agreeing to the interview. From there, the team secured additional participants, including Washington, DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser.  

HangarFour built a separate site for the event, which included event details and registration information. The URL was promoted on National Geographic’s social media and email channels. 

The entire event was planned in just over three weeks, which didn’t leave a whole lot of time to reach out to the media. For an in-person event, this would have been a problem. But because attendance simply required a link, the timing wasn’t an issue. DKC reached out to the media about a week before. As an incentive, it gave journalists who sent RSVPs on time the opportunity to submit questions to Fauci in advance. 

The interviews were taped two days before the event itself. On August 11, the day of the recording, news broke that Russia was moving ahead with a population-wide vaccination program before a phase III trial had been completed. 

“We took advantage of the news and asked Dr. Fauci about it,” Ross said. The same day, the team released a sound clip from the interview to generate interest for the entire interview.

The Stopping Pandemics event racked up 59,000 email sign-ups and 57,000 registered attendees, i.e. the number of people who visited the site during the event. The event has been viewed more than 300,000 times. 

The campaign generated a huge earned media response, leading to more than 150 online stories, including coverage in The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNBC, CBS, CNN and BBC News, and over 3,200 national and regional television segments. 

“Being able to secure Dr. Fauci for this specific topic took this to another level,” Ross said. “National Geographic has a strong reputation for putting out scientific news, but talent is key with these virtual events.” 

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