How a three-time Nobel Prize Laureate transformed its approach to storytelling during COVID-19.
storytelling from the frontline, using just a mobile phone
Empower ICRC collaborators to become storytellers in their own right
Raise the ICRC’s profile across social and digital platforms, and drive awareness globally
Create, edit and share time-sensitive content in just minutes
Increased awareness for the ICRC’s humanitarian and fundraising efforts
Mobile journalism helps field workers to share candid stories from the frontline
Head of Content, ICRC
With three Nobel prizes and over 150 years of humanitarian aid to its name, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) continues to find new ways to fulfil its mandate, helping people in war-torn nations to overcome the difficulties they face each day. It is now exploring new ways to broaden its reach and communicate through more impactful storytelling.
Speed is of the essence when tackling humanitarian crises. Whether treating victims of war at its rehabilitation centre in Maiduguri or raising awareness on COVID-19 in Iraq, the ICRC must act quickly and decisively in every aspect of its operations, including its communication and marketing.
“For us, great storytelling isn’t necessarily about super polished production. It’s about capturing the powerful moments inside the stories constantly unfolding in the places we work. And of course that means we need someone there to record it,” explains Kathryn Cook, Head of Content at the ICRC.
With COVID-19 drawing much of the media’s attention and making it more difficult for ICRC to cut through with its messages, Cook and her team explored a new approach to content creation and digital marketing, empowering frontline workers to become the ICRC’s first-hand storytellers with the help of Adobe Spark.
Media Delegate, ICRC
Using the technology, ICRC communicators can capture candid videos and images, edit them in a matter of minutes, and share them across the ICRC’s social handles using just their mobile phone. “Essentially, every colleague can become a mobile storyteller, reducing the time it takes them to edit and share content while telling stories in a more authentic way,” says Cook.
Local ICRC offices previously had to send raw photos and video to a trained editor for touch-ups, or to the global team for branding and consistency, but now they can crop, resize, touch-up and merge files themselves, taking pressure off the global communications operation at ICRC headquarters in Geneva. After a successful pilot programme in the summer and autumn of 2020, Cook now hopes to roll out Adobe Spark in several new countries.
“Travel restrictions and social-distancing measures have made it difficult to get close to local communities and chronicle the challenges they face,” adds Alyona Synenko, a Media Delegate for the ICRC based in Abuja, Nigeria. As an early adopter of Adobe Spark, she appreciates the ability to capture raw moments that reflect the realities on the ground. “We just opened a new rehabilitation centre in Maiduguri where we help victims of war recover from serious wounds. It’s truly inspiring to be there each day, and Spark allows us to bring that feeling to the wider world,” she says.
For Baghdad-based ICRC officer Mike Mustafa Khalaf, the option to film and edit content on his mobile has also made his job safer. “I have a decade of experience in photography and video editing, but there are parts of Iraq where it’s unwise to walk around with professional camera equipment,” he says. “With Spark, I can even edit and post new content from my car so we can get time-sensitive stories out within minutes.”
Mobile journalism (MOJO) is an essential aspect of the ICRC’s communications approach at both the local and international level, and Cook is adamant about building up her team’s competencies. Her aim is for the ICRC to create native content on the same devices people use to consume information in today’s virtual world.
“One of the big time-savers with Spark is that our teams don’t need advanced skills in Photoshop or video editing software to resize content for different social platforms, like Instagram and Facebook. The features ensure they create content that works for every channel, so they can focus on the story,” she says.
“In a world flooded with information, especially online, the ICRC doesn’t just compete with other humanitarian organisations for attention. We’re constantly competing for people’s attention in a very crowded digital space. To reach them, you have to tell stories specifically curated to that platform – the format, the tone, the feel of the visuals. And this is constantly evolving,” she stresses. “The only way to capture our audience’s attention is to reach them on the channels they use and in a visual way that resonates.”
The ICRC’s pilot programme with Adobe Spark has validated this thinking. Cook and her team now hope to roll out the programme more broadly and ignite this creative spark into full-scale transformation.
Reflecting on her five years at the ICRC, Cook recalls her first day as Photo editor, when the organisation didn’t even have an Instagram account. “Today, our teams can create and share beautiful digital content across a range of channels, with no need for specialised training or equipment. It’s been quite a dramatic transformation, and there’s so much more we can do,” she added.