How the Covid-19 Crisis shaped the advertising industry’s response to the Climate Crisis through The Great Reset initiative led by Purpose Disruptors.

How was Purpose Disruptors awarded second place in Campaign Magazine’s Top Trailblazers in 2020? Why did Dara Lynch, COO of D&AD call our Great Reset campaign “the most impactful thing to come out of the industry this year”?

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The short version

In 2020, the most difficult of years, 700 people from the advertising and comms industry came together to create The Great Reset, a creative industry movement launched to embed the positive environmental behaviours adopted during lockdown. Led by the Purpose Disruptors, people and agencies from the community collaborated to create a white paper, a launch film and a digital hub. Over 7 months, momentum built as hundreds of people attended zoom gatherings and 200 influential people pledged support. A creative competition was launched that attracted 160 entries to an open brief in partnership with D&AD New Blood Academy. 7 winners created work which formed a 7 week national campaign in donated media space (outdoor, press, radio and digital) worth £500,000 reaching an audience of 18 million people.

The story of how it happened.


It’s the 9th March 2020 and we (Purpose Disruptors) are running a workshop at WPP global head office in Sea Containers, London – a follow up to the Climate Crisis Summit we ran a few weeks before for 200 people. We are all a bit twitchy. The pandemic which until this week felt far away is spreading and some people in the UK aren’t going to offices any more. Some even drop out of the workshop. But it seems fine and there are some brilliant people there, so we carry on. The following Friday, 20th March, we’re in full lockdown in the UK. No schools, no pubs, no restaurants, no travelling to work. We are all told to stay at home. As it turns out, this was our last physical meeting of the year. We didn’t know that at the time.


A month later, at the end of April, as we all step out at 8pm on Thursdays to ‘clap for carers’, community and togetherness are strong themes in our lives. So, in the midst of home schooling and home working, which is now the difficult reality for many of us, we pivot from pub nights, climate summit events and workshops and run our first digital community event – a zoom workshop. We have no idea what we are doing or whether it will work – it is all new. To our amazement 50 people show up. They are from competing agencies and they are mostly strangers. It is odd to meet in this way instead of down the pub, but good to be getting together again. We share stories of our experiences, hang out in zoom rooms and run workshop type exercises (back when they were novel). Together with our change and complexity expert Dr Orit Gal, we identify green shoots of change that we can see happening at this moment on a personal, business and societal level, given the new lockdown world we were all living in. The output of this forms the backbone of an article I wrote with Orit at the time titled ‘will this be how real change happens?’.

These green shoots of change reveal a window of opportunity, This is the genesis of The Great Reset.

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By May the effects of lockdown are really kicking in. For context, lockdown has meant no flying, Virgin ended operations at Gatwick, withdrew their Boeing 747 fleet and shed 3,000 jobs as a result. There are few cars on the road and cycling has doubled. The scientists are predicting a fall of 7% in emissions in 2020 as a result of lockdown. By some cosmic coincidence this predicted fall in emissions is almost exactly the same as the UN states we need to reduce emissions by – 7.6% a year, every year for the next decade – in order to avoid the worst effects of climate change. In the suffering that is sweeping the world, this is a small glimmer of light for the long term.

Until now we have been pushing the industry to reduce its carbon emissions and its impact on society. But the industry and the world has now changed – emissions have reduced. So, we change – our goal is not to encourage reduction, but to maintain the reduction we are experiencing.

We attempt to plan for the year ahead, everything is uncertain and we have no idea how it is going to play out. We are making it up (this becomes our modus operandi for the rest of the year!). We write a funding proposal for the work we might do over the coming months given the changes that have happened. In it we pose the question ‘could this become the great advertising reset?’ It is a provocative question, which gives me goosebumps at the time but it is just a question. Jonathan, my fellow co-founder writes a provocative article ‘The Great Reset, it can be if we want it to be’.

We are excited, but are others? Does anyone else in the industry want to help make something happen? We reach out to the community, we need help engaging creative minds. We want to turn our green shoots into something more solid, that might become ‘a thing’, we aren’t sure what.

People step forward over the coming months, hundreds of them. The first is Tim Whirledge, a brilliant strategist at McCann Manchester and PD contributor, he works his magic and our green shoots become a sharp creative brief. Two weeks later, we hold our second zoom gathering and 70 creatives from competing agencies turn up! We run a workshop and together they come up with over 100 ideas, it is incredible.

On a sunny Friday afternoon, from our gardens and makeshift offices we zoom with Tony Davidson and Iain Tait ECD’s at Wieden & Kennedy, who came to our first ever Climate Crisis Summit. We go through the creative ideas and rather than select one (which is what we were thinking) they suggest we find a way to replicate what we did on zoom with 70 creatives but with the whole industry, a rallying cry to everyone to get involved.

We conduct a survey to check what the general public thinks our responsibility is as an industry and to check our assumptions. It turns out a staggering 77% believe it is the industry’s responsibility to encourage people to behave more sustainably like during lockdown. The vast majority of the population are in agreement with our strategy.

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With our assumptions validated, we draw up a 3 phase plan with members of the community.


June arrives, the weather hits 31 degrees in the UK. We are still all living, schooling and working at home, it is intense. There is much work to do, we have decided we want to launch as we come out of lockdown on 4th July – it seems unrealistic, we worry we might have been overambitious. We know it is a ridiculous goal but it feels right! Fortunately the people in our community are ambitious and up for the challenge.

We need help, creative firepower and speed is required if we are going to pull it off. The wonderful Ben Essen, CSO at Iris steps up, along with Grant Hunter, ECD at Iris and soon they have a team of about 20 people on it! It feels exciting and frightening and hopeful in equal measures. I have never written so much copy, so quickly, we write briefs for a launch film, copy for the digital hub and press releases, Iris become an extension of Purpose Disruptors, they are instrumental in launching The Great Reset. They create a brilliant launch film with the rallying cry ‘question what you influence’ and a digital hub.

Simultaneously, following the green shoots work a small group of us, led by my co-founder Jonathan Wise are deep diving into systems change with Dr Orit Gal. We decide we need a thought piece to share the theory behind why The Great Reset is needed and what it might mean for the industry. Two brilliant strategists, who are active members of the PD community but have never met are part of this small group. The talented Laura Costello from Thinkhouse and the fantastic Ally Kingston at Gravity Road. Together they evolve the thought piece into an incredible white paper. outlining three things we need to reset as an industry:

1. Reset how we work – to become agents of change

2. Reset what we create – towards sustainable lifestyles and behaviours.

3. Reset our impact – measuring our full carbon impact and awarding work that helps to reduce it.

Some key people from our community step forward as volunteers at this time, Ivana Lucic from Revolt helps build the community, Aleksandra Pawlowska from Bookmark writes the social strategy together with Immy Feenan. The posts are designed by Valerie De Ruyter and Moad Esrhyer, and Viki Harvey builds our LinkedIn profile. Their support is central to the movement gaining momentum.

The white paper provides the theory, the launch film an emotional rallying cry and the digital hub a place for the movement to live. Hundreds of volunteers, together with the team at Iris make it all happen.

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Incredibly on 4th July as we come out of lockdown and shops, pubs and restaurants open we are ready to launch to the industry!! Ellie Goulding talks about the The Great Reset movement on her Facebook page saying This has been a terrible period, but we must keep hold of positive environmental shifts and make those the new normal. We must build a real green future. Delighted to help launch this film The Great Reset made by the UK’s amazing creative industry”. With help from Rachel Gerharty, PR Director at Iris we are featured in Campaign, Creative Brief, Little Black Book, The Drum, Marcomm News, The Stable, Shots and we even managed to influence the theme of the summer Campaign magazine . Phase 1 is complete. This is now a thing!

It is a strange time, we are allowed out, which feels like a new found freedom but we must wear masks on public transport and swerve each other in the street as we try to stay two metres apart. In the heat of the summer everyone is getting restless, the parks in London are busy and PE with Joe Wicks, which has kept many of us sane, is coming to an end. Boris reassures us with his plans for ‘a significant return to normality by Christmas’. It feels hopeful, maybe.

Jonathan, my brilliant fellow co-founder has an idea for phase 2 - our engagement phase. As our origins are meeting in a pub, asking provocative questions and having conversations with people, we should do this, but not in an actual pub (there is a rule of 6 and this isn’t allowed). We should meet with many people and have lots of conversations, he suggests. In a moment of madness we all agree to run ten virtual Gatherings back to back across two weeks in July, it is exhausting and illuminating, in equal measures. Hundreds of people come and the circle starts to widen.

In the background, we have a secret weapon. Her name is Elin Cathcart and she runs the show as a dedicated volunteer and the fourth wheel to Jonathan, Rob and myself – in fact the wheels would all come off without her. She manages all of the processes and systems behind the scenes. Remarkably, together with Andrei Andreescu, Yang Wong, Phil Scaman and Sam Eggleton at Iris she designs and builds a digital pledging system for people to show their support and commitment to the movement – 200 people pledge their support.

Hundreds of people come to Gatherings and 200 people pledge their support for The Great Reset showing industry wide commitment and engagement.


August comes and it is time for phase 3, to create the movement. We know the best way to engage people in our industry is through creative work, we set our ambitions high, we want to run a competition to create a national campaign. We think we have a responsibility to respond to the 77% of people who say it’s on us to help maintain the positive environmental behaviors that have led to the predicted 7% drop in emissions. Our challenge, no creative brief, no judging partner and no money to pay for media space. As it turns out, thanks to our community, no problem.

First comes the judging partner, who better than the D&AD who have been great supporters of ours right from the beginning. In fact we held a Climate Crisis Summit at the D&AD back in February, Dara Lynch says “this is the most impactful thing to come out of the industry” and swiftly introduces us to her team who are going to help. Not just that but together we come up with the idea that the people with the most future ahead of them should be the judges as the work we do as an industry impacts them the most. We work with Hilary Chittenden to partner with the D&AD New Blood Academy and democratise the process by having 50 judges. Some of the best emerging talent in the industry judging the responses to the brief, this feels powerful. The submission process is designed and run from our end by the wonderful Sonal Taank, another PD contributor.

Now we need a punchy creative brief, one that will excite creatives and ensure they want to get involved. We hear a rumour that Will Lion, CSO at BBH might be up for it. We call him, he is in – this is a result! Who doesn’t want to work on a brief written by Will? He not only writes the brief, but kindly invites me to interview and video him talking it through. He explains how people have become ‘accidental climate heroes’ during lockdown and now we need to celebrate this and help them keep it up with the propositions ‘nice one everyone’ and ‘keep it up everyone’. He says. “this is the most important brief you will ever work on” and BBH and PD social channels light up with the most engagement ever for both of us.

The media is more tricky, revenues are down as people have been in lockdown. Now they are emerging from this, brands are spending more money and media partners understandably want to capitalise on this moment. Rob McFaul, my fellow co-founder takes on the task. With his other hat on he also works at Mindshare and so is well placed to secure media. Securing free space and partnerships at this time is stressful however and incredibly hard but with help from the team at Mindshare he pulls it off! Some generous media partners step forward, they recognise they have influence and want to use their platform to help embed a more sustainable way of living. They know they have the platforms to reach and inspire a nation – they want to do their bit. He manages somehow to secure an incredible selection of media across outdoor with Clear Channel, press including Mail Metro, and the Guardian, radio through Global and digital support from Good Loop, WeTransfer, The Independent, Stylist and Channel 4. Huge thanks to all the brilliant media owner people: Eva Dvorakova, Louise Stubbings, Nick Russell, Jo McCrostie, Claire Gleeson-Landry, Amy Williams, Charley Tunnicliffe, Linda Mertens, Dan Gee, Andy Morley, Dan Locke, Sophie Robinson, Jarvis, Smith, Tom Patterson and our media agency friends Jem Lloyd-Williams, Becky Power, Dan Boosey, Ben Bleet, Liam Hannan and Helen Barber

With D&AD New Blood Academy as a judging partner, a creative brief from BBH and media secured across outdoor, press, radio and digital by Mindshare we are ready to launch a creative competition people can be part of.


The summer holidays kick in, not that anyone can actually go anywhere! Reports show that the UK economy shrank 20% between April and June, the largest slump on record, the situation is described as ‘unprecedented’. At the same time Tesco announces 16,000 new jobs to support the “exceptional growth” of its online business during lockdown. We are all encouraged to ‘Eat out to help out’ with 50% off discounts at restaurants. It becomes clear, food is essential. Flying, driving and buying stuff is not.

We wonder, are people still going to engage in the Climate Crisis when we are in the grips of the Covid Crisis? Can people deal with simultaneous crises? It is a difficult time for our industry, the UK and the world at large. Many people are having an extremely stressful time, they are being furloughed and 20% redundancies are taking place across the industry. It feels uneasy but necessary to be working on Climate at this time.

We launch the creative competition with two digital gatherings to share the creative brief and thought starters. We take a little summer break with our families and hope for the best. We come back to work after the August bank holiday and click on the submissions link, less than 30 entries. Oh no, this is disappointing. We chat about what to do, then realise we are clicking on the wrong link. We refresh – 160 entries! This is remarkable! So much great work, so many clever ideas, we are elated.

We receive 160 entries for our creative competition, this shows the commitment people in our industry feel to helping in the climate emergency.


As schools reopen in September, universities start back and people come off furlough, it feels like maybe, there might be some air of normality in the air, people are on a new high and we have 160 entries to look at. The D&AD New Blood Academy is in full swing and we slipstream into their programme. It is exciting working closely with the best emerging talent in the industry and they feel the same way. We share the work with them over zoom and with guidance from a panel of experienced judges over the next few days 50 of them whittle it down to 20 brilliant shortlisted pieces of work and 8 final winners, which is all showcased on We call the winners one by one to let them know, they are all so excited these phone calls alone make it all worthwhile. These people are amazing, they have all stepped up to volunteer their skills at this difficult time, they are our industry’s very own climate heroes.

The winning work includes a brilliantly simple outdoor idea called ‘The Great Pause’ conceived by Flo Wilson from ITV and Anton Ezer. Humour makes the press winner stand out with the witty ‘Thanks for Nothing’ from award winning duo Rhys Hughes & Barrret Helander and the team at Elvis. We have two radio winners, Kerry Mahoney, intern at TBWA with ‘Message to Mum’ and creative team Richard Spalding & John Hale from Global with the punchy ‘Letters To You’. Our digital winners #shifthappens form a collective called Karoshi, they have got the band back together just for this brief, they include Simon Konfino, Murray Partridge, Cathy Heng and Jade Trott. WeTransfer choose two winners to create wallpaper, they are Design Bridge, led by Helen Hughes with ‘Thanks for Nothing’ (a different idea to the press one, just the same name) and Adrian Talbot from Intro with the visually brilliant ‘Everything’s Going Green’. Last but not least is the winner in the other category, Paul Bentley and the team at Household who design a new carbon neutral tea brand ‘The Little Rest Brew Co’, giving people nudges to keep up their environmentally positive behaviour (this is in development).

This is awesome.

But, we now have 7 campaigns to produce in two weeks which brings panic, focus and a team of volunteers who incredibly pull together to make it happen. The winning work is developed with two ECDs from different agencies, Toby Allen from AMV and Grant Hunter from Iris, together they spend evenings coaching the winners and providing direction and support. Production is all run by the incredible Siobhan Lowrey supported by Deryck Van Steenderen at TBWA.

The range of winners is incredible, from interns and junior designers to awarded creative teams and even a team of ex-industry pros who came together just to work on this brief.

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October comes and we are in a new 3 tier system with a million Covid-19 cases in the UK. The furlough scheme is extended, along with mortgage holidays to help people and businesses cope. We break for half term but there are no kids activities so many people have the joy of trying to work and entertain kids at home! In London we are in tier 2 so I escape to the seaside for three nights and it feels exotic, like Broadstairs is the new Barbados.

On the drive out of town I see our posters, in the wild – the real world! Despite twenty years of working on campaigns there is still nothing quite as exciting as seeing it with your own eyes on the side of the road.

We have done it, this is real evidence of what can be achieved when people collaborate around something they really care about. We are exhausted and proud. ‘The Great Pause’ is on massive billboards and moving 6 sheets in shopping centres, we spot ‘Thanks for Nothing’ in the Daily Mail (of all places), Elin hears ‘Letters to you’ on the radio and my parents hear ‘Message to Mum’ (proud moment, they still don’t understand what I do). Rachel sees ‘Thanks for Nothing (2)’ as she uploads a WeTransfer doc to send and ‘Everything’s Going Green’ is screenshot and sent our way. #shifthappens features on Stylist magazines homepage and this is a full house, all 7 campaigns are live in October.

The work is live.

A 7 week campaign, 7 executions and over 700 people have made it happen!


As we go into the second nationwide lockdown in November our campaign ends, we are hoping to pause, reflect and regroup but more and more people approach us to find out about The Great Reset. They want to know the story behind it.

We talk at industry events in the UK and overseas and at agencies as they hold their own climate weeks. It is held up as an example of the industry collaborating for the climate emergency and we are interviewed by Brittaney Kieffer, Creativity & Culture editor at Campaign Magazine, who has been a great supporter over the last year.

In October we also developed another initiative which is now gaining momentum. Led by Ben Essen, CSO at Iris and Caroline Davidson, Managing Partner at Elvis Ecoffectiveness is a framework for how we can ‘reset our impact’ (as mentioned in the white paper). It provides a way of calculating the uplift in emissions driven by the increase in sales as a result of the creative work, not just the production of it. Launched at the IPA Effworks Global 2020 using the 2018 winning campaign for Audi by BBH as the first case study. It shows how, astoundingly, the carbon emissions from this campaign alone is 5m tonnes of CO2e, everyone wants to know more so they spend November touring the presentation and enlisting more and more agencies.

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It’s 2nd December, the second lockdown has lifted and people go back into tiers and attempt to get their heads around the Christmas bubble. There is a feeling of optimism and also exhaustion, it has been a tough year and everyone is ready to watch Christmas movies and hope for a better 2021. We open Campaign Magazine’s Annual, the review of the year, we are featured, twice. This is a very proud moment.

We are awarded second place in Campaign’s Annual Top Trailblazers list! And, our interview becomes a two page feature on the industry response to the Climate Emergency. This is an incredible achievement for the 700 people who made The Great Reset happen.

So, that was 2020, a challenging year and one where our community came together and created The Great Reset in response to the Climate Emergency.

As we look forward to 2021, there is a need to pick up the pace. As an industry we need to choose which side of history we want to be on. In November, the UK is hosting the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties COP26, it’s going to be a big momentous year and our industry has a huge role to play. We have plans brewing to help. If you want to be part of what we create together next year please sign up at Purpose Disruptors, everyone is welcome.


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