RSPCA – Creating new found respect for a household name (2010 Awards)
Award: APG Grand Prix (best in show – sponsored by Google) and Gold – Campaign for Public Service & Charity (sponsored by Inspire Foundation) – The APG Creative Planning Awards, 2008
Agency: The Campaign Palace
Author: David Hartmann
“Insight can only come from understanding, and understanding only from proximity”.
This case study is evidence of the value that comes from getting up close and personal and choosing to experience things first hand rather than reading about them; talking about them or running research groups about them. At the start we saw the RSPCA in the same light as everyone else – a well known animal charity with smiling inspectors helping cute animals. Everything was always positively positive in the land of the RSPCA. There seemed to be no real reason to be concerned. However, the powerful brand truth we uncovered first hand had the potential to shake people out of this sense of lethargy; open their eyes to what this organisation had to tackle every single day and expose them to the reality that the RSPCA are as integral to human welfare as they are to animal welfare.
Where we started: Smiling, happy RSPCA
We started our journey with the RSPCA seeing them in the same light as your average Australian. They were a well established household charity name, with a warm, family-friendly exterior. They had their own slick TV show ‘Animal Rescue’. They had smiling inspectors whom they tasked with helping kittens caught in drains and puppies with broken legs. And they provided shelters that acted as a half way home for abandoned animals. They were in short a ‘nice’ organisation, doing ‘nice’ work and financially were probably doing just fine too. Everything was happy and hunky-dory in the land of the RSPCA.
The Task: Both Open & Overwhelming
Before we began the strategic journey we were given one very sobering fact: the RSPCA NSW were currently $10 million in debt. The newly appointed CEO, Steve Coleman, briefed us with a simple task – ‘Help us find a way out of this. Not just a short term lift in donations; but something more significant and sustainable’.
It was clear that this rose-tinted picture we had of a stable, happy institution was far more complicated than it seemed on the surface. It started to look as though the task was not only about saving animals, but about saving an organisation.
Getting up close and personal
To get a sense of what that solution may be, we first needed to have a deeper understanding of the organisation. We had done our initial homework – interviewed senior management; read all the articles; gone through their annual report; explored the different approaches and relevant examples of overseas media work. But none of it lead us anywhere particularly new.
So we threw ourselves into the thick of it. We spent quality time with the shelter staff and – what proved to be most enlightening of all – time with an inspector by the name of Slade. Sitting as a passenger in the RSPCA van, we observed Slade go about his usual week’s work. At the end of it, everything we thought we knew was turned upside down. This was an organisation with an untold story.
Uncovering a whole new organisation
A diary we made with Slade captured as much of it as possible. Little did we realize at the time, the diary was to become a more vivid briefing tool than any creative brief could hope to be. Out of it came three key observations:
i). The harsh reality of the task at hand:
Despite the infectiously positive exterior the RSPCA presented, below the surface there is a dark and dangerous side to the job they are tasked with. Dealing, not only with an endless list of unimaginable acts of cruelty, but also the individuals responsible. That week a woman tried to stab Slade in the back and another inspector had her batton taken off her and was brutally attacked. One inspector had already been killed in the job. No one at the RSPCA found it an easy job. Few seemed to say it was an ‘enjoyable job’. But they all still stuck in there because, as they said, “if we don’t, then who will?”
ii). Human welfare not just animal welfare:
As we discovered, animal welfare and human welfare are intrinsically linked. As a result, the RSPCA takes on a surprising role in helping not just animal life, but human life. For example, it runs programmes to help women in abusive relationships who choose not to leave, for fear of what will happen to their pets. It also runs an education programme in hundreds of schools across the country to stop the well-documented cycle of cruelty to animals leading to cruelty to humans.
iii). Going well and truly beyond the call:
The organisation’s responsibilities reach so much further than one would ever imagine or expect. During the week we spent with Slade, he assisted the police in a large drug raid, subduing the vicious guard dogs before the police could enter the premises (just one of many roles they play in assisting the police).
The revelation had become blindingly clear. This is an organisation which undersells itself.
The long-promoted image of cute kittens and smiling inspectors only lulled the public into a false sense of assurance. And that led to complacency. The real truth is that the RSPCA undertakes a range of hazardous, often unpalatable tasks and furthermore shoulders a burden of responsibility in our society that is largely unknown. Drug raids; violent individuals; domestic violence; child abuse – who would have ever thought the RSPCA would also take all that on? As one Policeman confessed to me – “Without the RSCPA in this country there would be an enormous hole that no one could fill”.
This was the revelation we felt would jolt the public out of its lethargy, creating a new base for public support.
A reappraisal of the task: An almighty shift was needed
To start with, we re-framed the task at hand. To build a new-found respect for an organization that had been toiling in the dark. The public had to recognize the lengths this organization go to in helping both the animal and human world. Once this was done, we were confident that it would create widespread support.
This task was made even more important by the discovery that, if it could be shown that the RSPCA fulfilled a vital role in our society, it could benefit from very significant tax cuts through the Public Benevolent Institution Status (PBI). This could enable the organisation to clear seemingly insurmountable debts within a matter of years. Despite its critically important work, the RSPCA has never benefited under the Fund. It seems that even Government has found it hard to shake the perception of the RSPCA as being anything other than a benign animal charity. Government perception also had to be changed, and this change we believed had to begin in the public domain.
Making that shift: The ‘What’ and the ‘How’
To generate the important shift in perception we now had guidance on not just what to say, but also how to say it. Both we felt were of equal importance.
Allow the public to experience what I had experienced during those days that I spent with Slade. Tell the true story. If we could give the truth sufficient impact, it would not only gather new found support from the public, but in time help the RSPCA in its negotiations with government to obtain Public Benevolent Institution Status (PBI). The tactical plan was to speak first to society at large and then to approach government to discuss a reappraisal of their status.
Deep-rooted perceptions can be difficult to shake off. You can’t cross a chasm in two steps. A giant leap was required. As a result, the brief dictated a dramatic break with past perceptions and the need to spell out the challenges that the RSPCA face on a day-to-day basis.
The directive around tone was simple – be honest. Not sensationalised but merely honest as to what they do; honest as to what they go through to do it and honest as to how they feel about it.
The creative recognised that there wasn’t the need to put a fancy spin on the story. The story was there and was compelling enough in itself. It simply needed to be told. Virtually all of the stories and the quotes in the work were pulled from the diary that was supplied to the teams with the brief. Even Slade himself ended up featuring in the advertising.
The work made that dramatic break that the brief dictated. It made the public realise the myriad of ways that all of us in society depend on this organisation. The campaign line concluded the new news with ‘You need the RSPCA. The RSPCA needs you’ and all the work directed the public to a site where they could both learn more in the full story and make a donation.
The work looked, felt and spoke like nothing that had ever done for the RSPCA before. No more puppies, smiling inspectors and bright colours. Instead the creative drew on cues from darker worlds that the public had assumed never touched an organization like the RSPCA. Drug raids; domestic violence; child abuse; even frequent violence to RSPCA staff – all photographed and shot as we had briefed – brutally honest.
The last name you ever expected to see at the end of any of this work was the RSPCA, and it was so much more arresting and engaging for that very reason.
It was a major change for the RSPCA. But in every respect it was a carefully considered change and one which we all knew had to be made.
How was it received?
The campaign attracted mainstream media attention. It sparked exactly the sort of dialogue we hoped for. Radio shows discussed the challenges that the RSPCA had to face – with the public calling in to discuss their own experiences. The RSPCA itself received calls and letters of praise, a number from women who had been in the sort of abusive relationships the campaign spoke of. Many others were simply impressed with the work the RSPCA do.
Donations followed too. In the first 3 weeks of the campaign, the RSPCA received in excess of $550,000 (well beyond what they had ever anticipated). One long term RSPCA member called up to say that he was so touched, he wished to donate $50,000. The message was striking home. Even long standing supporters were seeing the organisation in a new light.
Furthermore the campaign set the scene for the RSPCA to enter into negotiations with government regarding its PBI status. These are currently ongoing.
Summary: How did planning help?
- It ensured that we didn’t merely accept the task at hand, but re-framed it to help steer us towards a more effective and sustainable solution.
- It got us up close and personal and in doing so helped uncover a unique brand truth. A truth that only came from first hand experience.
- It taught us to not always trust our instincts. In this instance we were as much a product of perception as the majority of the public. If we had let our instincts alone take us on the journey we’d no doubt have missed the real story.
- It provided the creative team with not just a fresh strategic directive, but a clear tone and a unique creative fodder to work with.
- It launched a story that has not only generated new support from the public but has injected new pride and drive into the organization itself. New found ambition to get the PBI status they deserve; to educate the public and media on the full role they fulfill in society; and to quickly find their way out of debt.
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