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Why New German Media Makers gave weather systems the names of immigrants

Weather systems were given names such as Ahmet, Goran, Dragica, Hakim, Chana, Dimitrios, and Bartosz, to provoke a reaction.

Ketchum Publico (with Go & try) won the Grand Prix, ‘Most effective use of earned media’ and ‘Small budget’ categories at The Drum Awards for PR 2021. Here, the team behind the winning entry reveal the secrets of this successful project...

The challenge

New German Media Makers (NdM) is a nonprofit association representing media professionals with immigrant backgrounds. It believes that while Germany has grown more diverse, its media hasn’t. Though the organization has working journalists producing blogs, books, and essays on media diversity, the message was largely going into an echo chamber. NdM needed help reaching the mainstream population to call for real change: a 30% quota for media enterprises to employ people of immigrant background, black or of colour.

The strategy

Despite being a third of the population, immigrants rarely see their names and faces in German media. One typical oversight takes place daily on the news. In Germany, anyone can inexpensively purchase and name a weather system. It’s popular to do to celebrate a friend or occasion, resulting in weather maps with traditional German names like Lisa, Alexander or Margarethe. We recognized an unsuspecting place to make big news.

To make headline news for New German Media Makers and call for increased diversity in the media, we hijacked something people talk about every day: the weather.

We purchased the names of the first 13 weather highs and lows of 2021 for just €3,500. Instead of giving them traditional German names, we populated the weather map with immigrant names – like Ahmet, Goran, Dragica, Hakim, Chana, Dimitrios, Bartosz, Cemal, Erhan, Flaviu, Irek, Jussuf and Bozena.

Then we waited for the first storm, knowing that journalists and meteorologists would have no choice but to consider the subject of diversity. Would some members of our German audience resent the sudden appearance of immigrant-sounding names in their news and weather reports? Of course, they would.

#WeatherCorrection placed NdM’s message where it was least expected – on every weather report and news anchor desk across the region – triggering an outpouring of positive and negative social discourse without ever addressing or defaming our white majority audience.

Timing was crucial, from purchasing the weather names before the public did, to claiming a monopoly on them from the outset of 2021. We’d deal with social media blowback in real-time and garner support from key opinion leaders, policymakers, and diversity allies – anticipating a strong response from rightwing Twitter accounts and political groups.

Earned media would be our sole channel to drive the campaign, secure headline news and educate on the importance of ethnic representation in the media and the need for a new diversity hiring quota that reflected the changing demographics.

The campaign

Our campaign launched the moment that the first low-pressure system Ahmet developed in January. The next day we announced NdM as sponsor of the initiative, its objective, and the 12 additional names that would be part of the 2021 #WeatherCorrection. In preparation, we had multi-national press releases ready for distribution, unpaid social influencers and diversity advocates poised to respond, a campaign website, and dedicated social channels for sharing real-time content. We even coached media on the correct pronunciation of Ahmet.

As #WeatherCorrection trended on Twitter, the campaign engaged politicians, opinion columnists, authors, DE&I activists, meteorologists, and journalists internationally. When members of the far-right AFD party responded with hate speech and false claims, coverage spiked, spurring heated defenses of #WeatherCorrection. We used the spotlight to educate and make the case for diversity hiring quotas. To extend the campaign, we published a daily weather chart and lined up interviews and op/eds.

The results

The PR campaign was covered on virtually every weather report and by every media outlet throughout Germany, Austria, and Switzerland – reaching 2 billion+ with over 600 stories in weeks. Our website attracted over 350,000 visitors.

The story quickly drew international attention from the biggest meteorologists, TV networks and news anchors, radio stations, newspapers, columnists, magazines, DE&I activists and bloggers. As conversation surged on German Twitter, the Guardian, Financial Times, BBC and global outlets communicated NdM’s call for a diversity quota in the media – a subject that hadn’t been broached before.

Since, NdM has arranged over 25 meetings to advance new hiring quotas with leading news media companies and publishing houses – including Stern, GEO, MDR, taz and Thomson Reuters – and presented its new handbook on achieving diversity goals. In addition, NdM mentoring program for media employees has drawn hundreds of applicants.

This project was a winner at The Drum Awards for PR 2021. To find out which Drum Awards are currently open for entry, click here.

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