‘We want to flood media channels’: what’s next for the UN’s Covid-19 creative open brief

Submissions have come in from across the world / Alessia Calabrò

After its open brief to creatives generated more than 13,000 PSAs, the UN is now asking brand and media owners to get involved in coronavirus prevention and recovery by distributing the work across the globe.

Dawda Jobarteh, global head of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals Strategy Hub, has never run an open brief before. Asking the sum total of mankind’s creative thinkers to develop eye-catching PSA work – work that could potentially save lives – isn’t on his CV.

But Jobarteh leads the hub that links the work of the UN’s sustainable development activity with the rest of the world. So, when the organization determined it couldn’t produce the masses of localized communication materials needed to halt Covid-19 on its own, he was called upon to find a solution.

The response of Jobarteh and his team is ‘Global Call to Creatives: An Open Brief from the United Nations’. The project, which is open for submissions until 5pm BST tonight (14 April), encourages creatives of all countries and languages to submit original creative work designed prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The UN asked contributors to convey one of six calls to action (be aware of personal hygiene, practice physical distancing, know the symptoms, spread kindness, myth-bust and donate) through a plethora of mediums: anything from illustrations to radio scripts were welcome.

And while Jobarteh directly originally asked his contacts in advertising for help, the brief wasn’t designed solely for Cannes Lion winners in Madison Avenue and London’s Soho. He tapped agencies from “Paris, Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro, Africa, Tokyo”, and even opened the brief out to those with no experience in advertising communications.

“This isn't an award ceremony,” he says. “It's the mobilizing of a community to keep people safe and provide information that is accurate.”

The brief first went live on 25 March. By 30 March, Jobarteh found he had to call on Talenthouse’s creative briefing platform to handle the sheer volume of work being submitted.

“We originally had a Google form, and that very, very quickly became woefully inadequate,” he recalls. “The response has just been overwhelmingly positive. It’s mind-boggling.”

More than 13,000 pieces of work have been submitted through Talenthouse’s portal so far. Once a creator presses ‘submit’, their work is reviewed in line with current World Health Organization guidance, tagged by language, format and message, and published on a UN microsite.

The work can then be downloaded and published by anyone who wants to use it, provided they credit the creator. Content may be taken down as and when the WHO’s guidance changes, so the messaging remains safe and accurate. There are no ‘winners’ in this brief.

Now with an expansive public library of accurate public health messaging at hand, Jobarteh is turning his attention to getting it out into the world. Brands and media owners are his first port of call; the UN wants them to take what they need from the collection, adapt it for their needs and audience and “basically flood all media channels”.

“A lot of content has been pulled ... and there's a lot of inventory that's available because of the postponement of the Olympics and other events,” says Jobarteh. “So, we would love for a media space donation or an integration of this work into what it is that brands are already pushing out.

“We would also like them to incorporate our Covid-safe messaging in the content that they are planning into the future as well. This doesn’t even have be attributed back to us – it's just intended to try and keep people safe and flatten the curve.”

The biggest media owners – those that Talenthouse co-founder Maya Bogle describes as the “Facebooks, TikToks, Snapchats and Googles of the world” – will also be called upon for their digital inventory directly. Meanwhile, Jobarteh is looking to speak to high-profile public figures – such as actors, influencers, athletes and the UN’s own group goodwill ambassadors – to funnel the creative through their own social platforms.

He’s also mulling the possibility of creating another open brief designed for media owners.

“We're going through the process of curating some of those [submissions] to be able to be made available to high impact, high eyeball, high distribution channels,” he explains. “So what we need for media is help reformatting content for things like specific specs and specific markets.

“We've already had some amazing offers of collaboration from some really big names, who want to be as helpful as they can. And we're just figuring out very, very aggressively and very quickly how to do that.”

In its scope and ambition, the UN’s communications project is as impressive as it is meaningful. But among the raft of government PSAs taking over the airways – and amid the deluge of Covid-19 spec work battling for eyeballs on Twitter – will it cut through? And is it necessary?

“I would answer that with: even though people know [the prevention advice], they're not necessarily adhering to it,” says Jobarteh. “I look out the window, I see people hanging out outside. You look at the BBC and it reports there was a 29 degree percentage increase in people visiting parks in the UK last weekend.

“So, the information out there isn't necessarily altering people’s behavior to the degree that's necessary. And ... there's also misinformation out there.

“But the power for brands, media and communicators writ large to help shape behavior is still very, very present.”

If your organization would like to offer the UN media inventory or support please email to strategyhub@un.org

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