How COVID-19 made a global campaign possible with just one weeks’ notice? Matt Storey, partner at The White Storey, reveals all


The other day I saw this message on a blackboard: When this is over, you’re going to come out stronger than ever before. Well, let’s hope so. But, with most at zero income and dire work prospects for the live events industry over the coming months, it’s going to take way more than a well-meaning platitude to keep our heads above water.

That said, a positive mindset and a desire to be productive are probably the things that have kept many from total despair of late – although not everyone has been lucky enough to have those psychological tools at their disposal.

I’ve had a few sticky patches in my life – and each time I saw things improve as soon as I took a proactive step.

It’s something to do with hating being dictated to – whether by people, fate, or even the elements. So, like many, my strategy at the onset of lockdown, was to reduce overhead, hold on to cash and then focus on home improvement – to do one productive thing in the house every day. But then, in the middle of March, the phone rang.

My business partner, Gary White, had been talking to Chuck Crampton, a production manager, and feeling similarly frustrated by their enforced inaction, they’d decided to see if something constructive could be done from the confines of their homes.

This was exactly the time when Annemarie Plas was ramping-up her Clap For Our Carers campaign, so they hit upon the idea of a parallel initiative. The obvious answer: To ask some of the venues where they’d produced events to salute the NHS by lighting up blue on Thursday nights. The idea being that while generating a visible gesture of thanks from our industry to all the healthcare professionals, they’d also be sending out a signal of solidarity to those of our own people who would be hardest hit by the loss of work.

The beauty of the plan was that most event venues have inbuilt technology so the lighting could be activated remotely without having to break the Government’s Stay Home guidelines.

I didn’t need asking twice to get involved, nor did a handful of others. We raided our databases for useful friends and contacts. To our delight, the response was hugely positive and that very first Thursday night, March 25, landmarks, historic buildings, arenas and screens all over the country simultaneously turned blue. A random dip into that first list – of 38 buildings – reveals that Wembley Arch, Principality Stadium, The SSE Hydro, Belfast’s Titanic Signature Building and Piccadilly Circus were all creating a spontaneous flash of blue on facades and screens.

Even the images of the buildings that would later end up on the national news channels were captured by amateurs like me using our phones during the course of our daily cycling exercise.

The network of contacts began to spread. Within three weeks a collective had been established across the Atlantic. Hundreds of landmarks – from Times Square to Niagara Falls illuminated blue, posting messages of support. By the time we hit the nine-week mark, communities across six continents were lighting blue on Thursday nights.

My point here is that all this came about through combined connections. It took two phone calls to reach the Arch Diocese of Rio, responsible for Christ the Redeemer. In daily Zoom conversations people were asking: Does anyone have a contact at the Sydney Opera House or who knows someone in Japan? And, amazingly, somebody always did.

Like a lot of us right now, financially, I’m on the bones of my arse, but lockdown turned out to be a period of cementing friendships, establishing new connections and cultivating the beard of a Kazakhstani shot-putter!

It’s an interesting thought that if a client brief had specified the roll-out of a global campaign over 10 weeks with one week’s notice – for free – we’d have said it couldn’t be done.

Ironically, COVID-19 made that possible.