As the Covid-19 outbreak spread, Britain entered full lockdown on 23 March. The Prime Minister announced a range of measures which suspended daily life across the country. The next day the JAA team, already working remotely, were presented with a huge challenge.

At 11am on Tuesday 24 March, the RVS informed us that at 5pm that day the government would announce a campaign to recruit 250,000 NHS volunteers in England and Wales. This volunteer army was needed to help vulnerable and elderly people who were self-isolating. The recruitment drive would be coordinated through an RVS-run call centre.

We has just six hours before the government notified the public to implement a paid search campaign to direct people to the NHS website. It was essential to capitalise on the immediate surge of interest after the announcement so we had to work incredibly fast.

And lack of time was not our only problem - the NHS volunteer webpage was too new for the search engines' web crawlers to have detected it. As the site could not be discovered organically no SEO activity was possible. PPC was our only route. So it was imperative we got the campaign up and running before 5pm.


The JAA team sprang into action, despite being dispersed around the country. We pride ourselves on being the fastest media agency in the market:-

·        Our speed and responsiveness has been honed by long experience working with clients like the Disaster Emergencies Committee

·        JAA’s culture of “all-rounders” equips us to move rapidly - our people are trained to plan and buy media across a wide range of channels and disciplines

·        With no specialist silos we are not slowed down by inter-departmental boundaries or sluggish processes.

Our team had the skills, attitude and adaptability to respond swiftly to the RVS brief. To serve PPC ads to potential volunteers we knew we would have to bid on extremely sensitive keywords related to coronavirus and Covid 19. By the letter of Google and Bing’s policies, these keywords were blocked for PPC bidding. But, the strength of our senior relationships with Google and Bing meant we were able to persuade them, after several hours of intense discussions, to give RVS “whitelisting” to serve ads around Covid-19 keywords. By stressing the unique importance of the campaign, we persuaded the search engines to alter their policies so we could get started.

We began booking PPC ads at 4.45pm, fifteen minutes before the government briefing. As Google Trends data showed, searches for the term ‘NHS volunteer’ skyrocketed immediately. It was essential we were there with ads to direct this army of potential volunteers to the sign-up form. Otherwise, with no organic listings the NHS webpage would never have been found.


The response was phenomenal:-

·        By 8pm, our PPC ads had reached 180,000 searchers

·        By the following day, more than 400,000 had volunteered

·        By the end of the week, recruitment to the "NHS Volunteer Responders" had to be halted so the RVS could handle the processing of 750,000 applications.

JAA’s ability to mobilise our team rapidly, to execute a search strategy under intense pressure and to adapt fast to challenging new circumstances – all within barely half a working day - were the keys to an amazingly effective campaign.


Recruiting the NHS Volunteer Army in less than Six Hours

As the Covid-19 outbreak spread, Britain entered full lockdown on 23 March. The next day our client RVS told us at 11am that the Prime Minister would announce the need for a 'volunteer army' to help the vulnerable at 5pm. We had six hours to deliver. Here's how we did it.

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John Ayling & Associates