When the world shuts down, innovate. And innovate fast!

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From conceiving a project idea to a global launch – in a month, amid a pandemic. Nothing’s impossible when you know how to make it work!

Life doesn’t stop with the pandemic. Brands and businesses still need to survive. Yes, the world as we knew it had changed tremendously – that only meant that there were new needs that had to be met, and we have no choice but to adapt at breakneck speed.

It was no exception for us at COMMUNICATE, nor our sister consultant company, PEMANDU Associates. As a consultancy, the natural impulse would be to find data-driven solutions for any problem at hand. In the case of the pandemic, as the world broke into a panicked frenzy of shutdowns, the most glaring need at the time became apparent – data was abundant, but there wasn’t yet a comprehensive repository on COVID-19, and more importantly a robust measure that could help countries make sense of how well they’re doing and how they could do better in combating the pandemic.

Our colleagues at PEMANDU Associates took action to quickly develop what would be the Global COVID-19 Index (GCI). The first iteration came within a week, and already showed high promise of how it can potentially help countries around the world access comprehensive verified data and make informed decisions on how to curb infections. Our Chairman, Dato’ Sri Idris Jala immediately set an appointment with YB Khairy Jamaluddin, Malaysia’s Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI) to present the GCI. There was no luxury of time, COVID-19 was storming the world with devastating speed. The GCI needed to be launched on the global stage, fast. That was COMMUNICATE’s remit. While the GCI itself was being developed, the work in building the public platform and global launch needed to happen simultaneously to minimise the gestation period. The pressure was on.

Working Against Time

With the launch initially expected within the coming the week, the entire COMMUNICATE team burnt the weekend developing a full communications proposal to launch and promote the GCI globally. This included designing a distinct and future-forward visual identity for the GCI, conceptualising the launch and peripheral events, developing mock promotional tools such as EDMs, newsletters, and app integration, traditional and digital media planning, as well as a high level roll-out plan. The plan was given the go-ahead by the Ministry.

As the work progressed on both the index and the launch, it became clear that the GCI needed a little more time to do justice to the magnitude of what it was trying to achieve. The index’s model and algorithm was going through significant changes in multiple iterations based on consultation and feedback from renowned epidemiologists and public health specialists representing esteemed international institutions such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Harvard School of Public Health. The goal was to build upon and refine its functionality for the public. At the same time, a website was being developed to host the GCI as a public platform, which also needed to reflect these changes while ensuring that user experience is optimised.

Gunning for a Global Vision

With the global significance of the GCI, a run-of-the-mill webinar launch, whilst feasible given the initial timeframe, would simply not do.

“The GCI would be Malaysia’s contribution in the global fight against COVID-19. The launch should reflect the sophistication of the GCI and the calibre of our featured speakers at the event, befitting the image of our Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation as it makes its mark on the world stage,” shared Alex Iskandar Liew, MD of COMMUNICATE.

“That’s the cornerstone of any good event, especially for a launch of a global scale – leaving an indelible impression on the audience. To do that, we must be bold enough to try new things, and what better time than now when people are looking for a new normal,” said Yana Rizal, our project lead for the GCI.

The direction is set. The question is, how? A global launch event would typically entail a physically elaborate setup, but with the world on lockdown this would be logistically impossible. So how can we make this event still equally impressive? Secondly, how can we reach a global audience to participate in this event?

Creating a Unique Launch Experience, Virtually

In keeping with the “technology and big data” theme underlying the GCI, the COMMUNICATE team proposed a custom virtual launch setup. We designed a specialised virtual stage for the GCI which was rendered on a green screen at the studio, for the main speakers. We seamlessly integrated this live studio session with international panellists joining in through video conferencing, pre-recorded interview playbacks as well as a live Q&A session with our global audience. The launch comprised a keynote speech by YB Khairy Jamaluddin, a presentation on the GCI, a microsite demonstration, and a panel session.

To create a dynamic and engaging viewing experience, we utilised a multi-camera production setup to simulate the feel of a live television broadcast. Teaser videos were played as fillers prior to the event start and during intermission. The entire virtual setup was conceptualised and executed within 1.5 weeks.

Firing on all Cylinders

Of course, conceptualising the event was only just the beginning. Behind every event is a flurry of activities preceding it that largely go unnoticed in the public eye. But a virtual event should be much simpler, no?

“Nothing materialises out of thin air. A virtual event would still require the same level of planning, coordination and work among different parties – local and international speakers, participants, the media, event partners, vendors… The only difference is the platform. In fact, it may even be more delicate as technical glitches could ruin everything. You have little room for mistakes,” shared Yana.

To that, Alex added, “Any event planner worth their salt would tell you that you leave nothing to chance. It’s all down to meticulous planning and relentless problem-solving, right to the minutiae.”

And indeed, it was a gruelling task managing between the various components of event programming and logistics, content development and promotion to ensure that the GCI reaches its intended audience in less than a month.

Engaging with Substance

The nature of the GCI as a resource platform lends itself to many different ways in which it can be understood and used. The key to successfully branding the GCI is to develop consistent messaging that would align what the GCI is, the intentions behind it, and what it can do – which would then flow into all content that we developed around the GCI. These would include the GCI microsite writeups and guidelines, the launch keynote speech and presentations, suggested questions and talking points for the panel session and recorded interviews, FAQ on the GCI, the press kit and all promotional materials on the GCI. This is to reinforce a clear understanding of the GCI among the public.

“It can be challenging to distil something as vast and complex as the GCI into simple words that people can easily understand. Good copywriting combined with effective UI/UX design not only ensures that the data is relevant but facilitates an intuitive user experience,” shared Leon Jala, our VP of Creative Strategy.

Content alone, however, is not enough. The GCI must be endorsed by individuals of stature in the field of public health in order to boost its credibility globally. Thus, the team undertook research to identify high-profile speakers who could be part of the launch event. The challenge was to gain their buy-in and coordinate their availability given such short notice. Once the details have been confirmed, each speaker was briefed thoroughly and provided with an information pack to prepare them ahead of the event. For speakers who showed keen support but were unable to join the event, we pre-recorded interviews with them to be edited into the panel session. We developed content specifically tailored around each speaker’s area of specialty, to ensure a smooth flow between speakers at the event.

Putting the GCI in the Global Eye

With the launch taking shape, the next crucial step is ensuring that the GCI reaches its intended audience. In this case, it would be governments, the private sector and the public at large across the globe. It’s an ambitious goal, with hardly weeks to achieve something that would usually take months of planning and promotion in advance.

Nevertheless, we took up the challenge knowing that we will have to leverage on every arsenal of resources that we had on hand. And to do so effectively, we had to be strategic and holistic in our efforts to promote the GCI, given no allocated budget for media spending.

The aim here is twofold: First, to secure no less than 1,000 guests at the launch, as was the target set by our Chairman, Dato’ Sri Idris Jala. Second, to ensure that the GCI reaches as wide a global audience as possible, extending beyond the launch event itself.

Our team went all out with 3 main methods to achieve this strategically:

  1. Tracked Outreach Programme – to directly secure participation for the launch
  2. Social Media – to reach a wider global audience
  3. Traditional Media – to promote and sustain the GCI in the public eye beyond the launch

The tracked outreach programme was executed in collaboration with PEMANDU Associates. It was a collective effort at directly promoting the GCI launch to our entire public and private sector network to gain participation for the event. COMMUNICATE was the central coordinator among several PEMANDU Associates teams, all mobilised to achieve a specific number of registrations within the milestones leading up to the event. We developed a comprehensive SOP for the direct promotion effort, supplemented by content and promotional materials such as emails, telephone talking points, Whatsapp messages, and social media posts for every step of the way from initiation to confirmation. The exercise involved the collation of our entire collective database and a daily tracking mechanism which was reported directly to our Chairman. Once the confirmations were secured, we developed a survey to engage these participants on their views of the COVID-19 situation worldwide, in order to build anticipation ahead of the launch.

The main event platform, however, had limited capacity. We wanted the GCI to reach a wider global public. Social media offers this potential, which could profile the GCI significantly with the right content and approach. We developed a social media strategy to introduce the GCI to the public and leverage on the profiles of our esteemed speakers to endorse GCI as an important resource on COVID-19. This was executed as thought provoking teasers and direct quotes from high profile figures, to entice public curiosity on the launch. All social media posts, including the GCI launch livestream, were cross-posted on 5 affiliated social media pages for greater mileage.

With all the effort behind the GCI, we also wanted to make sure that the GCI would have legs beyond the launch. We needed to capture the media’s attention to cover the launch and continue to keep the GCI in mind for their COVID-19 reporting. To do this holistically, we collated our media network together MOSTI’s, and went further by researching the right correspondents to get in touch with for news relating to COVID-19. We then developed materials to pitch for coverage from the media, tailoring the content for some of the most established international media houses. This was systematically executed to initiate media engagement all the way to follow-ups and confirmation of attendance. For some of the more prominent journalists, we even went the unconventional route of reaching out via Twitter. To facilitate media reporting and ensure accuracy, we provided them with a comprehensive press kit, which included the press release, a GCI factsheet and also official GCI visuals immediately after the launch.

Counting Down to Showtime

The launch day itself was no less frantic but exhilarating too, as it often is with events. Preparations on-site began early, with the event team busy finalising the granular details of the event flow right down to the minute, and the creative team putting in the finishing touches to the content that would be presented at the event. The team ran through several rounds of rehearsals, perfecting the coordination between the MC cue sheets, speaker appearances, camera transitions, set movement and other technical details. All to ensure that the event runs smoothly with minimal risk of disruption. The entire launch was recorded to produce an event highlights video which would serve as an additional promotional tool for the GCI after the launch.

Eyes on the Goal

While the event flowed perfectly according plan, its real success hinged on whether the launch had reached its objectives. In other words, it boils down to the real figures that we achieved against the targets we set out for. After all, as a creative consultancy, we are all about tangible results.

For the launch, we managed to secure 1,433 registrations, exceeding the 1,000 targeted pax by 43%. The livestreamed broadcast attracted over 20,000 views on the event day itself, with sustained interest accumulating to 30,000 views to date. Of the 50 local and international media houses we invited to the event, the GCI has received 24 news coverage and mentions to date.

Miracles = Working Smart + Creative Problem Solving

In these particularly precarious times, we may find ourselves in situations where we have no choice but to pull the impossible. Great challenges simply mean that we have to tap into our resourcefulness and creativity, not just to achieve our goals but to give life to new imagination. That, combined with grit and teamwork, may surprise us with what we can achieve beyond our targets.