Gold Spike

Case Film

Presentation Image

CategoryD02. Use of Events & Stunts


Name Company Position
Ben Welsh DDB Sydney Chief Creative Officer
Tara Ford DDB Sydney Chief Creative Officer
Matt Chandler DDB Sydney Deputy Executive Creative Director
David Jackson DDB Sydney Creative Partner
Elaine Li DDB Sydney Art Director
Jared Wicker DDB Sydney Copywriter
Ramon Rodriguez DDB Sydney Senior Designer
Renata Barbosa DDB Sydney Head of Integrated Content
Silas Basich DDB Sydney Editor
Andy Stewart DDB Sydney Senior Sound Designer
Tabitha Fairbairn Mango Sydney Managing Director
Ben Handberg Mango Sydney Head of Consumer
Gina Leung Mango Sydney Senior Account Manager
James Dive Scoundrel Artist
Adrian Shapiro Scoundrel Executive Producer
Selina Miles Scoundrel Director BTS
Greg Sets Scoundrel Construction

Why is this work relevant for PR?

The Burnt Christmas Tree was a local activation that was designed to be seen by many more through earned media. The significant volume and quality of media coverage led to increased global awareness of Australia’s devastating bushfires, the work of Red Cross Disaster Relief and Recovery – and helped raised donations for those affected by the fires.


As Christmas 2019 approached, raging bushfires had already destroyed hundreds of rural Australian homes. These communities needed help recovering from the most devastating natural disaster in decades, during what was supposed to be the most joyful time of the year. Meanwhile, those living in smoke-choked Sydney and beyond felt helpless. The Red Cross wanted a powerful way to launch their bushfire appeal that would help those unaffected by the fires truly comprehend their destruction – and provide a simple way to help. All through mostly earned media.

Describe the creative idea (20% of vote)

Sydney’s downtown was packed with festive holiday decorations, but something about them felt hollow. To launch the Australian Red Cross’ bushfire appeal, we built a more fitting kind of Christmas tree. One made entirely of materials from fire-stricken areas – including burnt wood, charred bike wheels and even a scorched fire alarm. Onlookers listened to an audio tour that shared visceral, personal stories behind these powerful decorations. Afterward, they could donate to Red Cross Disaster Relief & Recovery by scanning gifts underneath or talking to a nearby volunteer. This tree not only brought home the devastation of the fire, but also gave Australians a symbol to rally around – inspiring them to donate from close and from far.

Describe the PR strategy (30% of vote)

Every Christmas, Sydney’s downtown is packed with decorations – including giant Christmas trees in every square – making it difficult to comprehend the burnt Christmas many others were having. We wanted the Burnt Christmas Tree to create a striking juxtaposition to these decorations that would shake thousands of Christmas shoppers out of their daily routine, inspiring them to give a different kind of gift this year. We did this by erecting our tree in a bustling city square that had, in previous years, housed a much more festive one. We presented the tree to the city – and, soon, the world – as a symbol to rally around. Something that was dark – but also beautiful and poignant. We conducted a shoot early as the sun rose and smoke hung in the air. Content was then seeded sensitively and carefully to ensure everyone saw it in an empowering light.

Describe the PR execution (20% of vote)

We erected the tree overnight on the 15th of December in Sydney’s bustling Wynyard Square – where it stood for four days. Acknowledging the raw emotions such an installation could provoke, we worked closely to develop a communications strategy that slowly and sensitively built awareness of the Burnt Christmas Tree through social media. On the first day of the installation, we carefully monitored sentiment across social media. Based on a groundswell of positive reactions, we reached out more broadly to share the Burnt Christmas Tree and its purpose. As word spread, we organized interviews with international organizations like Reuters and CNN International – leading more people to our donation page. Interview requests continued to come in until just before Christmas, as countries all over the world rallied around this symbol.

List the results (30% of vote)

The response, in smoke-choked Sydney and beyond, was humbling. The City of Sydney, the Lord Mayor Clover Moore, the Red Cross and thousands more shared the Tree on social media. Dozens of Australian news stations ran the story – all featuring haunting imagery of the tree. And soon, the world took notice. As word spread, the Burnt Christmas Tree became a symbol of support and solidarity. Its story was told more than 320 times in over 30 countries, by publications like The New York Times, CNN and The Washington Post. We managed interviews with Reuters and CNN International – in-depth conversations with our artist about Red Cross’ bushfire relief. Ultimately, the Burnt Christmas Tree reached over 700 million people, launching a Red Cross fundraising campaign that earned over $213 million from concerned world citizens who had previously felt helpless in the face of the bushfires.