“We don’t need to be in an office space to make a difference”

Richard Denney, Executive Creative Director at St Luke’s, lifts the lid on why the agency reversed the NHS logo to urge the public to Stay Home Now.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director


“Stop going out; it is going to kill people.” An LBC phone-in with ICU consultant ‘Dr Jack’ was a raw, powerful, unfiltered moment, laying out the human cost of not staying at home for overwhelmed NHS workers. It was a powerful message, yet one that does not seem to be getting through to people who are still leaving their homes for non-essential reasons. “We were hearing about more people going out, not social distancing; it really felt like the Stay Home Now message needed some creative reinforcement,” explains Richard Denney, Executive Creative Director at St Luke’s.

Yet rather than be frustrated by the fact this life-saving message isn’t getting through, Denney used it as creative fuel. “As creatives we have the ability to reduce a message to something simple, focused and moving,” he explains, adding that the many people aren't engaged with official announcements from the Government. A fact that he believes, makes it essential to surround the population with a variety of tones and approaches in order to find something that gets through to everyone. “This is the biggest behaviour change campaign ever. Creativity is a critical tool at a time like this,” he explains.

This is the biggest behaviour change campaign ever. Creativity is a critical tool at a time like this.

Richard Denney

Creativity in crisis

The NHS has called for 250,000 people to form a voluntary army to help support the 1.5 million at-risk patients who need to stay safe at home. “These kinds of momentous actions require people to be motivated and inspired. Creativity can be used as a weapon for good to help the Government achieve some tough goals. We as an industry can join that force in creating simple, iconic communications to help them get the support they need,” explains Denney. 

Neil Henderson, CEO at St Lukes, had followed up the agency’s regular Friday night meet up, conducted via Zoom, with a link to the very poignant interview with Dr Jack on LBC.

Full of inspiration and emotion and wanting to act, Denney sat down later that evening and contemplated the experiences of the doctors and staff on the frontline of the NHS. “Seeing burn marks on their faces from their masks after a 12-hour shift, pleading for us all to stay at home. I thought the NHS is Stay at Home in reverse; [I] looked at the logo and thought bingo. We have something.”

From there he emailed Al Young, Chief Creative Officer who replied with the line: “Don’t send our NHS backwards.” The work was posted the same night. 

It was a seamless creative process which underlines the fact that creative teams, while physically disparate can be more connected than ever by a shared goal, drive and passion. A creative culture that is much more than a line on a website or a slide in an agency brand presentation. 

As Denney explains, “As an agency, what we have seen is a pretty much seamless move onto virtual working. But really that is a testament to the culture of the agency. Communication is aided by technology of course, but it is people’s willingness to be engaged and pull together as a team that makes stuff happen however difficult the circumstances.”

It is an approach that has seen the agency launch a new initiative called “Always St Luke on the bright side of life”, inspired by the agency’s choir rendition of ‘Always look on the bright side of life’, which is all about people doing positive learning during the lockdown. “This is the kind of thing that inspires everyone to stick together and rise to the challenges with a positive mindset,” he adds. 

It is people’s willingness to be engaged and pull together as a team that makes stuff happen however difficult the circumstances.

Richard Denney

Open source creativity

It is clear, like many of the best creative campaigns, that this one is personal for Denney, whose mother is a recently retired NHS palliative care nurse. He explains, “She has been properly hurt in the past nursing the sick. Catching patients from falling, being in contact with very sick people and as a nurse she wouldn’t have it any other way.” 

While Denney’s mother has the knocks and bruises that accompany years of caring, she is not well enough to go back into help in this crisis. A fact which makes this spark of creativity all the more poignant. “I suppose creating SHN for me was doing it for her on her behalf as well as all the doctors, nurses and carers and staff out there right now,” he adds. 

Denney believes the ethos of open-sourced and shared creativity can have a positive knock on effect. He points to the example of mechanical engineers at ISSINOVA in Italy who have just created a 3D printed oxygen valve which can be attached to Decathlon’s snorkelling mask to help sick patients breathe. He adds, “That is creative problem solving at it’s very finest and to think how many lives it will save is just mind blowing.”

It is a human example of the power of empathy and creativity for good; something that is increasingly important in galvanising agencies internally and externally in these unprecedented times. He explains, “I think seeing how agencies and brands react is important for us right now as well as the future. Yes, it shows the world how creative we can be, but more importantly it shows how human we are. We don’t need to be in an office space to make a difference. We can be agile, quick and smart, and sharing our thoughts and ideas openly with everyone is inspiring in itself.”

Stepping up and spreading the word

In an intensely challenging media environment, last week saw a number of out of home media owners run stay home campaigns pro bono. While Paddy Power also pivoted its advertising to reflect this life-saving message. So, how can the industry spread Denney’s campaign message further?

It’s great seeing everyone offer what they can in their own special way. No one thing is better than the other. We all chip in,” says Denney. “So, even just sharing the message rather than just liking it is taking part and doing your bit. After all we’re all in this together.”