Category A12. Not-for-profit / Charity / Government
Idea Creation ÅKESTAM HOLST Stockholm, SWEDEN
Production ÅKESTAM HOLST Stockholm, SWEDEN
Additional Company FROM STOCKHOLM WITH LOVE Stockholm, SWEDEN
Name Company Position
Magnus Jakobsson Åkestam Holst NoA Executive Creative Director
Simon Lublin Åkestam Holst NoA Copywriter
Martin Noreby Åkestam Holst NoA Art Director
Hugo Wallmo Åkestam Holst NoA Art Director
Evelina Rönnung Åkestam Holst NoA Art Director
Ida Persson Åkestam Holst NoA PR Strategist
Sara Clewemar Åkestam Holst NoA Account Director
Albin Muji Åkestam Holst NoA Account Manager
Karl Wikström Åkestam Holst NoA Planner
Kenna Magnusson Åkestam Holst NoA Creative Designer

Why is this work relevant for PR?

To raise awareness for the constant threat against freedom of speech, Reporters Without Borders combined authentic stories of journalistic oppression with an innovative Google Maps hack. The result? Billboards Beyond Borders - huge billboards placed at the heart of oppressive regimes, featuring important journalistic voices silenced by censorship and threats. By cleverly repurposing existing billboards on Google maps, we created a PR story that spread like wildfire in earned media across the world. In an increasingly oppressive physical world, we used the last frontier of freedom – the internet- to once again put the fight against censorship on the map.


The situation for journalists is getting worse all over the world. Last year, 65 reporters were killed and 326 were jailed. Oppressive governments create a dangerous environment for journalists and suppress freedom of information. Without journalism, the world becomes a more dangerous place, and the people outside the affected countries are deprived information about what is going on inside oppressive regimes. The brief was to draw attention to the urgent situation for reporters around the world, and show the general public how important a world with freedom of information is. One of our objectives was also to show that the situation for journalists is getting worse in most parts of the world, not only the usual suspects that everyone already knows about. Furthermore we were asked to make Reporters Without Borders the natural go-to source when it comes the questions of freedom of information.

Describe the creative idea

We gathered quotes from journalists that had been silenced, threatened or even murdered, and republished them on billboards in the countries they originated from. But since the quotes would never be allowed in the real streets of the countries, we used a loophole. By downloading 360 spheres - map images - from Google Street View, altering them in Photoshop and them uploading them again, we put the messages (along with the author and their punishment) on the streets of corrupt countries. Freedom messages that everybody could see, impossible for corrupt governments to delete. Anyone could visit the hotspots in Google Street View. We spread the campaign with a promotional video, and a website where we informed about the declining press freedom around the world. The billboards looked like real billboards at first glance, but when looking closer you got directed to our campaign website where you could learn more.

Describe the strategy

A key part of our PR strategy was that we knew that the campaign risked being taken down, either by Google, or by one of the oppressive regimes we targeted. So we set the campaign up so that we won either way. Either the campaign stayed up, as a monument to the freedom of speech still possible in digital channels. Or the campaign was taken down, thus deepening the discussion around censorship and the influence of tech giants on freedom of speech. The target group strategy was layered - focusing on regimes and residents in the countries where we placed the billboards, on journalists and international media committed to free speech to amplify the campaign, and in a sense, Google themselves. We hoped that the idea would provoke reactions, both locally and globally, that would put spotlight on the importance of protecting free speech in a digital world without borders.

Describe the execution

We gathered authentic quotes from journalists who had been punished for speaking up. We found the best billboard locations in each country, downloaded the map images from Google, altered the billboards in Photoshop and re-uploaded them. The billboards were planted in major cities like New York and Moscow. In the launch phase, we targeted news media, tech and influencers committed to the free speech debate. We also counted on the interest in Google and the impact of the idea reaching beyond borders to local media, even in the countries where Google is heavily censored. The second part of the PR strategy was to use the reaction of Google or the targeted countries to take the discussion to a new level - either by putting focus on the role of tech giants in promoting or silencing free speech, or the reaction to the campaign in markets like Russia or the US.

List the results

The campaign rapidly made a positive media footprint on the local markets. Big news outlets in Malta, the US and Russia reported on the campaign, that really took off when it reached Twitter influencers such as the massive Russian influencer/author Rustem Adagamov, and the political movement opposing Donald Trump, propelling the campaign to a new level of engagement and shares. And then what we were anticipating happened - Google took down the campaign for violating Google Maps policy. Using the takedown, we managed to create a second wave of coverage. American CNBC made a big feature covering the take down, as well the irony of Google removing a censorship campaign, which once again made us come through with the main message behind the initiative - the continued importance of fighting for freedom of speech everywhere. The layered target group strategy, that included regimes and residents in the targeted countries; journalists, influencers and international media; and Google themselves, paid off big. Within the first 24 hours the campaign reached the population by making big footprint in local media, and the campaign gained new momentum when CNBC reported on Google’s takedown of the campaign. Billboards Beyond Borders achieved an earned media reach of 100 000 000 people globally in 72 hours. We had put the fight for freedom of speech on the map, using nothing more than the right message in the right place.