On April 18, Global Citizen pulled off what seemed like the impossible amid coronavirus: It broadcasted an eight-hour cross-platform musical special in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and Lady Gaga across 60 networks and nine digital platforms worldwide in support of healthcare workers in the fight against COVID-19.

One World: Together at Home” kicked off with a six-hour digital stream followed by a two-hour broadcast special, both starring a mighty lineup of entertainers. Over 270 million people from 175 countries tuned in to the special, which produced $127 million in donations toward WHO’s work around the world. In the days following the special, Universal Music Group and Global Citizen released a 79-song album featuring performances from the event, available across streaming services Amazon Music, Apple Music, Spotify and TIDAL.

We spoke with Global Citizen chief growth officer Danielle Maged to understand how a lean international advocacy organization such as Global Citizen turned a virtual music event into a movement and how brands can pivot from physical to virtual experiences during and after the crisis.

What was the biggest challenge Global Citizen faced in navigating partnerships for the “One World: Together at Home” broadcast event?

There was a digital component and a broadcast component, which formed an eight-hour event in total. When we were thinking about partnerships with this effort, we originally approached it coming off of the digital series “Together at Home” that we had launched about a week prior. At the end of March, we realized we wanted to do something big. We were aware that many people were losing their jobs and we just didn’t want it to be a direct-to-consumer fundraising effort. So we took a step back and we said, okay, how can we be successful in our endeavor? When looking at partners to make that successful on the fundraising side, we needed to have the corporate sector, foundations and philanthropists. These three partners were key stakeholders.

On actually distributing the event, we needed there to be broadcasters. This is where we approached ABC, CBS, NBC, iHeartMedia and Bell Media networks at the end of March over the weekend. All of them pretty much immediately came on board. We also utilized various digital streaming platforms which were also extremely important including Amazon Prime Video, Facebook and YouTube.

Then there’s the music industry and Universal Music Group with which Lady Gaga curated the event. We also had about 12 corporate partners that were a hugely important sector because not only were they donating to the World Health Organization (WHO) and regional response, but they were also helping us on execution. We were so lean as a non-profit that we really needed the amplification from a lot of the partners to help us market across linear and digital. These partners came in over a span of about a week and included Cisco, Citi, the Coca-Cola Company, Analog Devices, GlaxoSmithKline, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble, State Farm, Target, Teneo, Verizon, Vodafone and WW International, Inc. 

Our first press release went out Monday, March 30 announcing the event with WHO. From on-boarding to planning to execution, “One World: Together at Home” happened within a 19-day period. The web of stakeholders and partners was by far the most complex I’ve ever managed in a very long career. As complex as it was, it was pretty seamless. We were all focused on the end result, which was raising the funds, standing in solidarity and telling the stories of the healthcare workers. The reaction was so strong in the planning that originally the digital component was supposed to only be two hours but we ended up expanding it to six.

What platforms did Global Citizen utilize for the marketing and distribution of the special?

On the marketing side, we leveraged YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook related to promoting tune-ins. We did very little paid on the preponderance of organic posting. I have a team internally that runs social and content so we did a lot of organic. What was really instrumental was the support we had on both linear and digital from big partners like Pepsi, Verizon and Procter & Gamble, who did paid media plans on linear against it. They created their own promos. Procter & Gamble, for example, promoted in China. Pepsi was very active in the US and actually ran a spot in the Modern Family finale. Our partners were instrumental in helping us amplify it on TV. On the distribution side, Amazon was extremely supportive; on the day of it was on the homepage of Amazon Prime. The additional platforms also played a really important role in our success——Alibaba, Apple, Facebook, Instagram, LiveXLive, Tencent, Tencent Music Entertainment Group, TIDAL, TuneIn, Twitch, Twitter, Yahoo and YouTube.

What did the day of broadcast look like for your team?

It was a massive effort day-of. We had a war room of sorts for social listening, which we brought in a company to help with. We were keeping a really close eye on what was happening on social via a WhatsApp group. I was corresponding to my team who were still promoting the event. Additionally, we were dealing with the last-minute press and promotion of the program internationally as it was set to air in Europe the next day on the BBC and in China later in the week.

How did this year’s event compare to the 2019 Global Citizen Festival?

It’s like comparing apples and oranges. First off, Global Citizen had never launched an effort this large in scale so quickly—in less than four weeks. Last year’s Global Citizen Festival was a physical event that took place in Central Park, and in South Africa the year before that. There was a six-month lead up to these events and they were very focused on a combination of pop and policy. Whereas there was an urgency to this year’s effort due to the global nature that didn’t exist before.

In short, they’re very different vehicles. We use the same assets in our website, our direct-to-consumer outreach of all of our own audience, our own digital army, social media and the influence of earned media. But the global nature of this year’s event was unparalleled from any past event that the organization has done.

How did this year’s marketing efforts differ from last year’s?

For Global Citizen, social media always plays a really big role. The reality is the organization is a non-profit advocacy platform; it’s not a commercial organization, which is the world that I come from where there are marketing budgets. Just like in the past, we had to think about how to be really lean and effective at the same time. So we used our social channels, our editorial channels and our partners. Unlike in the past, we didn’t have linear promotion running other than on the broadcasting channel itself with MSNBC for Global Citizen Festival. But “One World: Together at Home” was promoted on many networks which was different from the past, made possible by the media buys that our partners were doing. I’d say linear promotion through our partners probably played a more important role this year than in the past.

What advice would you offer to brands/agencies on pivoting from experiential activations to virtual and digital activations during the pandemic and after?

If you’re going to create immersive vehicles that are not based in physical, the brand you partner with has to be a really authentic fit. We were really lucky in that we had a bunch of brands that were a good fit. Virtual engagement is definitely a viable and sustainable tactic that brands can rally around. The reality is we’re not going to be in physical large spaces for a pretty long time so we have to figure out as marketers how to keep our brands top of mind. 

Global Citizen is an incredible partner to brands because we have the authenticity, the experience, the relationships in the music industry and the sports industry, plus our content is really unique. When brands are looking to partner during the pandemic, there is an ability for them to create unique content while doing good at the same time and making sure the tone is right. We focused most of “One World: Together at Home” on tone. All programming vehicles had different tones; some were more locally focused. Ours was really global in nature, as was the tone of some of our brand partners. So as long as brands remain authentic and understand what they’re trying to achieve with the people they’re partnering with and what they’re trying to say to their viewers, there’s a huge opportunity right now to create compelling virtual experiences.