WELL 2020 has been a challenging year in many respects, for individuals, for businesses and for the wider economy. We’re all aware of how our own habits have changed and many of these look like they are here to stay. With the lives of consumers disrupted by COVID-19 and five years of long-term trends accelerated in the space of just weeks, there have been significant and lasting changes in the way people live, work and shop.

For businesses, the pandemic has been equally challenging.

Many things taken for granted were not possible in 2020, customer face to face meetings, conferences, corporate hospitality events, workshops, product launches, you name it, business had to quickly find new ways to communicate with their customers and audiences. Brands often had to adapt to a completely new way of working by being thrust into the deep end with no option but to learn as they went along.

For so long, leading brands in our industry have been used to hosting physical events and live product launches and yet in 2020 this was just not possible. These businesses have had to become digital-first, far quicker than we could ever have imagined.

Everyone believed that the necessity to move to virtual events and workshops would lead to less engagement and less interest from media and increasingly important influencers. But creating virtual events and workshops as well as hosting online launches, meant that the industry could at least keep on moving and not just steadily, but hopefully at a rapid pace.

But if we thought such events would no longer be able to go ahead, we couldn’t have been more wrong. Jo Malone for example, recently took their yearly Christmas wreath-making masterclass, hosting the entire event online. When people were unable to meet face-to-face, they were able to come together virtually. With packages sent to influencers’ homes prior to the event with all of their wreath-making essentials, the brand was able to continue to raise awareness and host their usual events, although of course a little differently to normal. 

Dulux ‘Colour of the Year’ Launch

In September every year the largest brand in the UK Home Improvement industry, Dulux hosts their Colour of the Year launch. Always a wholly  immersive event, headlined by the Dulux Creative Director Marianne Shillingford, it’s attended by leading journalists, bloggers and influencers across the Home and Home Improvement industry.

However, the challenges of 2020 forced Dulux and their Manchester based PR agency Democracy, to reimagine the launch event for The Colour of the Year for 2021, Brave Ground.

The team at Democracy had worked successfully on the previous two launches for Dulux, each one delivering outstanding results for the brand. In 2019, the launch of Tranquil Dawn was a particular success, with the buzz around the launch contributing to it becoming the second most popular paint tester colour in their entire range.

Jennifer O’Grady, Democracy agency owner and founder, said: “Launch events for journalists and marketeers are of course a PR staple, but taking a significant event like this online, just doesn’t come with a best practice guidebook. There were no top tips or guidelines available to achieve the same buzz and excitement at a virtual launch. Together, with Dulux, we were navigating totally uncharted waters.

“For the team at Democracy, the task of transforming a real world occasion into a digital one without compromising on the experience was both intimidating and exciting.

“Covid 19 was forcing us to reimagine the launch of Colour of the Year – one of the biggest days in the agency calendar and our third colour launch for Dulux.

“But, with the team’s hard work, innovation and sheer determination we delivered an outstanding result for the brand.”

What did Democracy do?

With this huge new challenge, came an opportunity to create a unique experience and leverage the digital opportunities for greater media engagement. Without the limitations of a central London venue, they were able to launch the Dulux Colour of the Year virtually to a larger, single audience at one time, with more than 160 attendees across three launch webcasts.

Interestingly, the virtual launch actually helped to engage more people with the story of how Colour of the Year is selected and at the same time, visually bring to life the colour and complementing palettes. The story behind Brave Ground was told by their expert spokesperson Creative Director of Dulux UK and Ireland Marianne Shillingford. The digital launch meant the entire audience was engaged from the beginning and it meant that they could tailor each of the videos to launch to different audiences simultaneously. Multiple versions of the videos were played to company staff, journalists and influencers, specifiers and customers all screened at the same time. 

The film allowed them the space to tell the story of Brave Ground, why it was chosen by the Global Colour Team and what impact the pandemic had on the story.

The video, shot by long term partners Orillo, connected the audience to the story beautifully.

Using stylishly designed room sets, Marianne talked through each of the colour palettes that support Brave Ground and how they can be used in the home or workspace to create areas that nurture and spaces to relax. 

The audience then virtually broke off into chat rooms for informal group Q&As over Zoom with a handful of long form interviews scheduled throughout the rest of the day. In the Q&As that followed the launch, many journalists confessed to experiencing an emotional reaction to the event.

Additionally, the virtual launch enabled the team to repeat the screening for anyone who wasn’t able to attend, so they could experience the exact same emotive story of Brave Ground, something simply not possible with a physical event.

What Democracy delivered

Leveraging the growing digital consumer audience, Democracy ensured the media list was primed and ready with the top digital and social media writers – alongside the usual homes and interiors heavyweights. Now representing a number of leading Home Improvement brands, Democracy has built excellent relationships with journalists and is at the cutting edge of working with many of the leading micro-influencers who are engaging with the growing Home Improvement audience.

This was fundamental to Democracy beating every single one of the demanding annual KPIs (all based on a benchmark of 2019 results) agreed with Dulux, no easy feat in this new world).

To date the virtual campaign has smashed all previous records for coverage achieved, with close to 500 individual pieces of coverage including 41 national print, online and social pieces of coverage, 46 homes and interiors pieces and 126 influencer pieces reaching five million people across social platforms.

Breaking new ground – A first for the agency. A first for Dulux, and a first for the industry.

Written by Steve Collinge – International speaker, thought leader, retail influencer and commentator, MD Insight Retail Group & Executive Editor Insight DIY.