Three days to get the world clubbing from home: behind Defected Virtual Festival

'House' music: DJ Melé performed at virtual festival
'House' music: DJ Melé performed at virtual festival

David Frossman-Miller, head of media at W, gives the lowdown on the comms operation behind the 12-hour live event.

What was the campaign, in a nutshell?

Defected Virtual Festival was its rapid response to the world going into lockdown. What started off as a one-off, 12-hour event at Ministry of Sound became a weekly happening over 10 weeks, attracting 18.5 million global viewers and raised funds for the Covid-19 Response Fund.

How did the idea come into being?

Defected Records is the UK’s leading indie dance label and we were preparing to launch its first Ibiza Festival, a weekend of curated opening parties in May for 10,000 people. By mid-March, it became clear that both the festival and the Ibiza season was going to be dramatically impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Defected’s brand is about joy and unity. With a number of European countries, including Italy and Spain, already weeks into lockdown and the UK looking set to follow in a matter of days, Defected wanted to send a positive statement to the world – that the party would go on.

What ideas were rejected?

Defected notified us on Tuesday 17 March that Defected Virtual Festival was going to go live on Friday 20 March. That gave the joint comms team of Defected, their agencies and W just three days to pivot from crisis mode to getting the world clubbing at home.

Briefly describe the campaign planning and process.

There were no more than 10 people in Ministry at any one time and the DJ area fully cleaned and sterilised between each set to remind viewers at home of the need to maintain safe practices – even during a rave.

Our collective job was to develop messaging, build excitement, deliver links to the stream via media hosting and news in national and music press at a time when the alarming spread of the coronavirus was dominating news coverage.

The first event programme delivered 12 world-class DJs, each playing a one-hour set, and with more than 1.2 million unique viewers – it was such a success that Defected went on to stage four more at bi-weekly intervals, alternating with sister label Glitterbox. Only this time, with the UK officially in lockdown and people advised to stay at home, DJs would now perform sets live from their homes.

More significantly, the realities of coronavirus were hitting home as nations struggled to respond to the number of cases. The global reach of the Virtual Festival could be used for the power of good. Defected made a donation to the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund and placed a button on the stream enabling viewers to make a direct donation. For added impact, Google became a partner and pledged to match every sum donated.

What were the biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

Coronavirus presented its own challenges. Defected and W’s offices had closed on Tuesday 17 March, with team members scattered around London and other parts of the UK; the same applied to many media offices.

We embarked on a sell-in to media using WhatsApp to distribute links to the live stream, which was carried by media titles in the UK and globally. Meanwhile, interviews with Defected’s chief business officer James Kirkham were secured with media platforms reaching outside their "usual" audience such as The Daily Telegraph, supplementing coverage achieved with the likes of BBC 6 Music, Forbes and Sky News.

How did you measure the results?

What started off as a potential problem for the label turned into a PR success that delighted millions of ravers in lockdown around the world.

There were 167 pieces of global coverage achieved in total, with outlets such as BBC News, Channel 4 News, Sky News, Time Out Worldwide, Mixmag and Evening Standard, and in markets including the US, France, Italy, Mexico and New Zealand. All this contributed to:

  • 18.5 million unique views from 91 countries
  • One billion organic reach
  • 100-plus million impressions
  • Average watch time of 33 minutes, which is incredible for a piece of online content

When many places were falling silent, Defected Virtual Festival brought people together from all around the world.

However, the landmark achievement is that viewers' donations to the Covid-19 appeal – when doubled by Google – raised £1.2m to help medical relief around the world.

A version of this story first appeared on PRWeek

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