MANGOJAM STUDIO FZ LLC Dubai, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
IMPACT BBDO Beirut, LEBANON
Why is this work relevant for PR?
As Lebanon was going through a historically critical financial crisis, with necessities getting scarcer every day, an absurd shortage of ink and paper needed to print ballots threatened a decisive parliamentary election.
An-Nahar, the leading newspaper driven to defend the country’s fragile democracy, decided not to print on February 2nd. Instead, the unused paper and ink were sent towards the printing of ballots, driving instant virality on social media and broadcast channels.
Even competing newspapers rallied to the cause, publishing about the iconic empty newsstands safeguarding the election and maximizing earned media.
Lebanon, pushed past the brink of collapse, is suffering from historically high inflation that has thrown 75% of its population under the poverty line. Necessities such as food, petrol, medicine and even ink and paper are scarcer every day. Lebanon’s predicament is primarily attributed to a political class that has dominated parliamentary elections since the 1990s. A nation in pain hangs on to the frail hope that the upcoming election will bring critical stability and pave the way towards real change.
In an outrageous and blatant attempt to obstruct the election, officials have complained that shortages of paper and ink needed to print ballots could cancel the upcoming elections. An-Nahar had a historical role in protecting the sanctity of free speech and Lebanon’s fragile democracy. As the newspaper strived to stay true to its essence, it was imperative to prevent the sabotaging of a decisive and long-awaited election.
Describe the creative idea (20% of vote)
How could we allow for a ridiculously trivial excuse, the shortage of paper and ink, to deprive an entire nation of its democratic rights? And so, An-Nahar decided to go silent for the first time in its 88 years of existence. On February 2nd, the daily newspaper did not go to print. Instead, the paper and ink that were to be used for that day's edition were instead used towards a greater cause - the printing of voting ballots. Trucks delivered that days’ entire supply of paper and ink to the government’s printing associate.
With this move, An-Nahar would send the Lebanese government a powerful message, showing the world that none of their reasons would validate any attempt to take away a decisive election from the people of Lebanon.
Describe the PR strategy (30% of vote)
Lebanon has long prided itself on being one of the few democracies in the Arab world. However, it is home to a fragile and manipulable one that has needed protection over the years. As the country anticipated the 2022 election, we saw the cornerstone of our democracy being threatened right before our eyes.
An-Nahar had always outspokenly stood up for the rights of the Lebanese people and paid the ultimate sacrifice for the sanctity of free speech. It would not, at any cost, quietly condone the sabotaging of rightful elections.
How could we save democracy when all we own is the power of ink and paper? This time, we saw an opportunity for our supplies themselves, rather than our words, to brighten our democracy’s grim prospects. We would go paperless so the people can remain voiceful. On February 2nd, we were not saving ink and paper, we were saving democracy.
Describe the PR execution (20% of vote)
On February 1st, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief announced the next day’s special Election Issue, inviting people to be on the lookout for it.
But the special issue of An-Nahar was never printed. On February 2nd, there was no physical newspaper to purchase. Instead, people walked to the newsstands to find empty racks displaying a single message: The ink and paper intended for today’s edition has been sent towards the printing of voting ballots for the 2022 election. A QR code directed people to the newspaper's online version, which explained the cause behind the issue that never went to print.
The newspaper also stirred up conversation online, with powerful social content.
An-Nahar called upon publishers, press companies and printing factories to rally around the cause to exert undeniable pressure on the government. Competing publications also printed the An-Nahar ad, calling for the safeguarding of our elections.
List the results (30% of vote)
The non-existent edition went viral with people supporting the movement on social media and taking part in their own way to safeguard the election. In a symbolic show of support for an entire nation’s cause, people made donations of paper, books, and magazines to the government. Lebanese magazines and press companies also joined the movement by donating printing provisions.
The campaign was heavily covered locally by political shows, top broadcast channels and competing newspapers. Even election candidates joined in, offering support for the movement.
The online edition that day became the highest-read in AnNahar's history.
Enough paper and ink has been donated from this movement to print ballots for the entire voting population of Lebanon. As of now, the Lebanese elections are scheduled to go ahead as planned. And the government has stopped mentioning the shortage of paper and ink to print ballots.