Senior Account Director, Andrew Boocock, reflects on the epic nature of delivering a historic global PR & Social Media campaign to tell the story of the world’s first open water sanctuary for beluga whales.
Waking up at 4.45am in the Hotel Vestmannaeyjar on Friday 7th August, the calm Icelandic dawn brought a reassuring sense of inevitability.
After years of planning, logistical hurdles, weather postponements and a global pandemic to overcome, this was the day that two former captive whales, Little Grey and Little White, would finally be reunited with the sea after spending the majority of their lives in captivity.
As I reluctantly swallowed my daily shot of cod liver oil, I had to pinch myself. Not in response to this frankly disgusting breakfast I had routinely adopted, but at the sheer scale of the journey myself and the team had been on with the SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary project.
We were about to help tell the story of a historic moment in marine and animal welfare which had never been done before. Gulp!
From Shanghai to Iceland: a global strategy to build love, excitement and sentiment
Almost three years earlier, I had relocated my family from Edinburgh to London to start a new life in the capital. The SEA LIFE Trust Beluga Whale Sanctuary project represented a massive opportunity to fulfil my ambitions for travelling the world and being part of an agency delivering campaigns with purpose. As a global communications brief, it didn’t get more epic.
This was a multi-faceted story to tell, not least in its scale and complexity. No-one had ever created a campaign strategy for a beluga whale sanctuary before.
We were starting from scratch, but at its core the team set out with a clear vision and objectives:
- Build awareness, love and excitement for the Beluga Whale Sanctuary to take a global audience on a journey of discovery
- Deliver engaging and educative content to grow a community of advocates and show the different stages of Little Grey and Little White’s journey to the world’s first open water sanctuary
- Protect and manage the reputation of the associated brands and the Beluga Whale Sanctuary on a global scale during each stage of the project.
Using a multi-channel approach, our content strategy focused on amplifying major media milestones in the journey of Little Grey and Little White, whilst creating a drum beat of news and regular updates on the whale’s progress to help grow a community of fans on social using video and beautiful imagery.
From the initial project announcement in June 2018 to Little Grey and Little White’s 6,000 miles journey by land, air and sea from an aquarium in Shanghai to a remote Icelandic island called Heimaey last year, we have focused on maximising visibility and engagement at every phase of the campaign.
But amongst all the media coverage, Twitter moments and boots-on-the-ground assignments, there is one principle which has been integral to the campaign’s success: building relationships.
Home to the ocean
I learnt early on in my career that starting conversations, building connections and establishing relationships matters. People work with people, and over the past three years the relationships the team has cultivated and trust this has forged with the client, their stakeholders and international media contacts on an individual level is what has helped to make each moment fly.
The relationship forged with a media partner such as PA Media, for example, has been critical to the lifeblood of the story. Capturing video content and stills assets at different stages has not only helped to manage the flow of comms but also to inspire people’s love for the whales and the project.
Thanks to the beluga care experts, vets, Icelandic volunteers and none other than TV presenter and comedian, John Bishop, who is narrating an ITV documentary series on the project due to be aired this autumn, I’m pleased to say Little Grey and Little White are doing well after moving from their landside care facility to the sea sanctuary care pools.
Before a big story breaks, there are always anxious moments the night before. How will the media react? Will people engage as you had hoped?
When the embargo lifted on Monday 10 August, I believed we had done all we can as a team to give the story its best chance.
Two UK national news front pages, a BBC Breakfast and ITN News at Ten feature later, the press office email has not stopped. We’ve set up interviews and responded to media as far away as Los Angeles in the West, and Seoul in the East.
But it’s the small things that matter which brings me back to my point about relationships.
At the end of a long and busy week I received a WhatsApp from one of the key visionaries behind the project.
‘Have a fab weekend and thanks again for all your support with this project. The biggest piece of this is about inspiring the public by getting the message out…’
Time for another one of those pinch-myself moments.