Flow Communications

When former US President Barack Obama delivered this year’s Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture on 17 July, Flow Communications was there to give the Nelson Mandela Foundation a wide range of communications support.

In honour of the centenary of Madiba’s birth, the lecture’s theme was “Renewing the Mandela Legacy and Promoting Active Citizenship in a Changing World”.

As dawn broke on one of this winter’s coldest days, Flow’s team of 15, from writers and social media experts to PR professionals and programmers, as well as our managing director, Tiffany Turkington, and CEO, Tara Turkington, were already on the go.

“We are incredibly honoured and privileged to work alongside the Nelson Mandela Foundation as its communications partner,” says Tiffany.

“The 16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture was the culmination of many months of work and a great example of Flow performing at our best. It is when we deliver across public relations, social media, content, on-the-ground logistics, managing media and taking over the digital landscape that we work our best magic. It’s a perfect example of when our people, our skills and experience, and our passion all shine through.”

While Flow’s public relations team was hard at work making sure the almost 700 journalists from more than 100 media houses across the world had their accreditation and knew where they had to be, our content and social media teams were setting up at the stadium’s media centre.

The Flow Communications team at the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, with the fabulous bird's-eye view of the lecture podium. (Image: Flow Communications)

“It was definitely the biggest lecture we’ve done with them,” says Flow’s content chief, Edwina van der Burg. Flow has partnered with the foundation on more than 10 of its annual lectures. “It was exhilarating, it was exhausting, it was epic.”

Foundation chairperson Njabulo Ndebele said the 16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture was the organisation’s largest in terms of audience numbers – 15 000 people attended – and the first to be held in a stadium.

Since 1999 when Mandela stepped down from political office and established the foundation, the organisation has worked to continue what Mandela viewed as his life’s work – improving and transforming South African society.

The annual lecture is the pinnacle of the foundation’s efforts to ensure Mandela’s progressive and ethical ideals continue to be a part of South Africa’s national discourse.

Flow has guided the foundation’s digital strategy for a decade, building and maintaining its website, creating compelling digital content and even establishing its social media platforms.

The 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture is perhaps the strongest evidence of the foundation’s ability to keep Madiba’s brand prominent globally. It attracted some of the world’s most prominent thought leaders to add to a global conversation on how to improve lives around the world, and was watched by millions around the world. Conversations around it reached more than a billion accounts on social media, and continued throughout the week of the lecture.

The largest Twitter accounts to tweet about the lecture were those of major news organisations – BBC World News (23-million followers), Al Jazeera English (4.8-million followers) and News24 (2.7-million followers).

By the time journalists began to arrive at around 7.30am, the lecture was trending on Twitter. Foundation chief executive Sello Hatang officially opened the event around 2pm. As he started to speak, Flow posted a first vox populi story on the day.

“What was amazing for me is that people travelled so far to attend the lecture. They came from Botswana and Ghana and everywhere,” says Melanie Feris, head of Flow’s social media team. “It’s a testimony to the legacy both of Madiba, and of Obama.”

A few minutes into Obama’s speech every one of the top 10 South African Twitter trends, and two global ones, related to the lecture.

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A screenshot of the global trends table showing that the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture was in two of the top 10 global trend slots on the day.

“It was great to see so many people getting involved in the conversation around the lecture,” says Flow’s Roy Barford, who was in charge of online community management on the day.

“From what I could see there was mainly a positive reaction to what Obama said … It was also really great to see South Africans feeling good about seeing their president on stage. Last time Obama was here, the president – not Cyril Ramaphosa – was booed.”

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Former US President Barack Obama delivering the 2018 Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture. (Image: Nelson Mandela Foundation)

Obama’s speech was a clarion call for the world to keep its course towards the light of democracy, social progress, truth, compassion, justice, inclusivity and freedom.

“Madiba’s light shone so brightly, even from that narrow Robben Island cell, that in the late Seventies he could inspire a young college student on the other side of the world to re-examine my own priorities – to reconsider the small role that I might play in bending the arc towards justice,” Obama said.

Flow was thrilled when former US President Barack Obama's Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture made headlines across South Africa. (Image: Flow Communications)

“The brightest light in this whole event, for me, was seeing our work on the front page of every newspaper the next day,” says Flow’s public relations head, Caroline Smith.

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