Over March 2006-April 2007, the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) undertook a targeted campaign to influence the Australian Government’s 2007 Federal Budget in implementing and funding NFF’s Environmental Stewardship (Stewardship) initiative.
This required revolutionary public policy on two fronts:
1. Committing to farmers as sound environmental managers – historically derided on environmental issues, and
2. Breaking short-term government funding cycles to enter 15-year market-driven contracts with farmers – for a world-first!
Market research; political, bureaucratic and environmental group engagement; membership cohesion and public repositioning of ‘farming and the environment’, were pivotal in generating recognition of farming’s modern environmental record and leveraging this into support and action.
Overcoming ingrained negatives, NFF’s campaign delivered up-to-date information from independent and credible sources to hone messages, alter perceptions of farming’s environmental credentials and establish recognition of its responsible environmental management.
This paved the way for Government confidence in committing to Stewardship, with NFF securing opposition, minor party and environmental group endorsement, as well as media and public acceptance, of farmers as Environmental Stewards well before Budget night.
Stewardship – paying farmers to deliver environmental outcomes – has been an NFF policy priority since 1998, failing, until now, to achieve uptake.In February 2006, NFF engaged a General Manager – Public Affairs to overhaul communications and develop its first-ever Communications Strategy to reposition farming in the mindset of the community and stakeholders.NFF’s 2003 market research exposed perceptions of farmers as “raping the environment” and “cannot be trusted as responsible land managers”.These views, shared among politicians and other stakeholders, revealed that for Stewardship to be accepted and funded, NFF must carry the ‘court of public opinion’ – including influential environmental groups – while galvanising its membership in positively embracing environmental issues.Ironically, with drought ‘top-of-mind’ and increasing media/public focus on climate change and environmental concerns over 2006-07, appropriately managed, NFF could leverage this into support for paying farmers to deliver long-term environmental outcomes on behalf of the broader community.A public affairs campaign – intertwined with NFF’s lobbying activity – was crucial in shifting public and stakeholder perceptions of farming as an environmental negative to a positive, deserving tangible support.
Research was vital in identifying opportunities and refining messages that resonate with audiences to demonstrate the sound environmental management farmers ‘now’ deliver, while uncovering triggers for changing negative perceptions.
Three rounds of market research informed, tracked and evaluated communications (CrosbylTextor in August 2003, November 2006 and February 2007), guiding directions, assessing message traction, identifying gaps and exploring attitudinal change.
Perceptual audits of media and federal politician attitudes were commissioned (ANOP Research Services, July 2006). In addition, public comment by environmental groups was reviewed, identifying areas of agreement and concern.
NFF undertook monthly member consultation throughout 2006-07, identifying and monitoring communication needs and shaping cohesive messages.
NFF undertook substantive research to establish a factual foundation for messages, including:
§ farmers manage 60% of Australia’s landscape,
§ farmers spend $3.3 billion-a-year of their own money on natural resource management,
§ 92% of Australian farms actively prevent and/or manage natural resource management issues,
§ farmers plant over 20 million trees annually for conservation purposes, and
§ farmers have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 40% over the past 15 years.
These facts, sourced from independent, authoritative bodies (the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and the Australian Greenhouse Office, etc.), were crucial – demonstrating NFF messages as credible.
§ Media: Engagement of mainstream metropolitan and major regional media to raise the profile of farming’s environmental credentials. This could ‘wear down’ community and stakeholder stereotypes – informed by authoritative data, overcoming misnomers to communicate messages that resonate.
§ Political: Engagement with the Australian Government – including the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) and the Department of Environment and Water Resources (DEW), opposition and minor parties to gain widespread recognition of farming’s existing role in delivering environmental outcomes. Thereby, advance and foster greater understanding and appreciation of farming’s capacity, willingness and appropriateness for Stewardship.
§ Membership: Engage NFF’s 16 member organisations to ensure delivery of consistent environmental messages.
§ Third-Party Groups: Engagement with ACF, WWF and WS to engender support for, and promotion of, Stewardship.
NFF drew upon existing research and new surveys to develop messages and resources promoting farming’s environmental-sustainability.Assuming a lead role on issues of the day – including the economic and competitive advantages of sustainable farming and its positives for climate change, drought and water reform – NFF demonstrated the benefit of farmers’ environmental works.NFF engaged in early, and ongoing, lobbying of key politicians from all parties, government departments (DAFF/DEW), and environmental groups (ACF et al), enlisting support and ensuring messages were received, reinforced and achieved resonance.Later research, the perceptual audit and consultation kept NFF activity and messages ‘on track’. Supporting this, NFF drove Stewardship through a comprehensive media, political and third-party advocacy strategy (to ‘influence the influencers’) – making new contacts and building cooperative relationships.NFF’s public affairs strategy formed synergies between the organisation’s core functions, including: media, political, membership, and third-party engagement. These intertwined to deliver consistent, credible messages around independent data to establish, and sell, recognition of farmers in going ‘over and beyond their normal duty of care’ in delivering environmental outcomes.
This raised awareness of, and alliances for, Stewardship, while changing community perceptions to entrench modern farming as environmentally-responsible.
Agricultural Resource Kits – denoting state-by-state and national data – were compiled for media, federal MPs and Senators (by electorate/state), and NFF members, employing substantive research to saturate media, political, environmental group and member messages and, in turn, precipitate widespread Stewardship support.
NFF championed farmers on prevailing and emerging issues, demonstrating ‘environmental commitment’ in the mainstream media and among stakeholders. This was pivotal in turning negative perceptions into positive policy.
Over-time, the Kit information became relied upon for benchmark data and, accordingly, focused stakeholder attention on NFF imperatives.
This new profile, advancing messages informed by NFF’s research, saw communication tools within the strategy combine in a concerted public affairs campaign, working in unison to drive public and stakeholder acceptance of, and policy momentum for, Stewardship.
Early in 2006 many journalists, including senior reporters in the Parliamentary Press Gallery, no longer rated NFF, while junior journalists were unaware of NFF’s existence.
This, along with needing to raise awareness of, and promote, farming’s modern contribution, saw Media Resource Kits initiated, citing independent, authoritative facts and figures to demonstrate farming activities.
NFF framed media comment around ‘newsworth’ and seized upon prevailing and emerging issues, informed by market research triggers, to enhance farming’s contemporary relevance. This gave NFF entrée for back-briefing media and fostering productive relationships, resulting in widespread, prominent and ‘on message’ coverage.
Pursuing these relationships, NFF advanced key messages and effectively managed issues to avert negative publicity – clearing-up misconceptions before they generated ‘bad news’.
Over 2006, NFF developed Kits for all federal politicians – raising awareness informally to add value and, later, formally distributing Kits in February 2007. These materials, and the proactive approach in developing relationships through them, were essential in generating political momentum behind Stewardship.
Armed with facts, all politicians could argue farming’s environmental role with confidence. This created political synergy, providing the platform for all political parties to engage in discussion and debate – making resources useful at the political coalface – while advancing NFF-consistent messages.
Further, NFF met with DAFF and DEW on Stewardship 24 times between March and November 2006, as well as specifically meeting with Agriculture Minister McGauran four times, Environment Minister Campbell (three times), and Shadow Ministers Garrett and Albanese (three times each).
Lodging its Budget Submission on Stewardship in November 2006, NFF further refined its political communications to Expenditure Review Committee (ERC) Ministers – who decide Federal Budget priorities, and other key Ministers, Shadow Ministers, and backbenchers. In
all, 22 key politicians were repeatedly engaged between Budget submissions closing (November 2006) to the ERC’s last meeting in February 2007.
Communication between NFF Public Affairs and members was essential. Creating and maintaining a PR Manager network – meeting monthly by teleconference and face-to-face for Workshops (September and November 2006) – provided valuable channels for member input/feedback, while developing a cohesive campaign approach.
NFF was sought by members for advice and guidance, while Member Resource Kits ensured consistent messages.
NFF aligned its interests with environmental groups in pursuit of Stewardship. Before Budget Submissions closed, NFF met with ACF and WWF six times to align policies and messages.
Greater cooperation with environmental groups saw information shared and strategies allied, while presenting a common environmental goal to media, politicians and the community – with farmers a positive feature.
Over March 2006-April 2007, NFF generated 2,658 metropolitan and major regional media hits carrying its positive environmental messages (30% of NFF’s total media), with reporting of NFF data ‘matter-of-fact’. [Appendices A1a,b,c] NFF resources were valued by journalists. [Appendix A2]
Overwhelmingly, coverage was ‘prominent’ (i.e. 79% of print in the first 15 pages) – with 91% of print, 93% of radio and 97% of television ‘on message’. NFF’s high ‘on message’ rating, combined with both high prominence and volume, ensured resonance with audiences. This was backed-up by market research. [Appendix B1]
NFF and ACF’s common objectives for Stewardship [Appendix A3] demonstrated a shared vision, while ACF, WWF and WS issued statements advancing Stewardship and farmers’ environmental credentials. [Appendices A4a,b]
Politicians, including the Deputy Prime Minister [Appendix A5] and Agriculture Minister [Appendices A6a,b] adopted NFF’s messages in public announcements, while Ministers and backbenchers NFF would not usually engage, valued NFF materials. [Appendices A7a,b,c]
Labor politicians supported Stewardship [Appendix A8], while the Australian Greens praised farmers for their sensitivity/preparedness in meeting climate change challenges. [Appendix A9]
NFF advocated messages [Appendix A10a] and members rallied [Appendices A10b,c], presenting unified positions.
NFF’s market research (Melbourne/Toowoomba 2006 and Sydney/Murray Bridge 2007) showed that 2003’s negative public perceptions of farming had dissipated dramatically. Qualitatively, NFF’s environmental messages resonated highly (rating between 8.3 - 6.5) [Appendix B1], eliciting recognition that “things have changed” and “environmentally, farmers do things differently today”.
The 2007 Federal Budget implemented and funded Stewardship ($50,000,000 over the first four years of 15-year contracts), creating a world-first [Appendix A11] and new on-farm revenue.
§ Media: Demonstrably achieved prominent and better-informed coverage of NFF messages, negating negative stereotypes, building community and stakeholder awareness of farming’s responsible environmental-sustainability, while establishing support for Stewardship. (Success – print 91%, radio 93%, television 97%).
§ Political: Opinion-leading politicians, across diverse political persuasions, adopted NFF messages, lifting farmers’ positive environmental profile to bolster NFF imperatives – publicly heralding support for Stewardship. This supported NFF’s publicity advocating Stewardship. Meanwhile, government departments reinforced the market-driven (rather than regulatory) Stewardship solution, creating political-departmental synergy. This built the case, harnessed support and created momentum behind Stewardship. (Success – 100%).
§ Membership: NFF coordinated and maintained a concerted member network, arming and mobilising members with resources and consistent messages on farming’s modern credentials. (Success – 100%).
§ Third-Party Groups: NFF secured strategic alliances with ACF, WWF and WS. These new relationships achieved a shared vision, proliferation of NFF messages, and created an influential coalition of support behind farming as environmentally-responsible and Stewardship as prudent. (Success – 100%).
Individually, each initiative achieved its objective. However, when combined they formed a powerful and highly-influential public affairs campaign, which secured media traction; community, NFF member and third-party support; and manifested in bi-partisan ‘political will’ to deliver and fund Stewardship.