Leading-up to, throughout, and following the 2007 federal election, the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) sought to fundamentally change Australian drought policy via new ‘drought preparedness’ (Preparedness) measures for climate change adaptation and mitigation.
A generational shift in thinking and policy revolution, NFF drove a new vision for how Australia deals with drought, gaining acceptance of, and support for, drought-proofing agriculture – influencing political agendas and moving the policy imperative from drought relief to Preparedness.
Major sensitivities included:
- still in the worst drought on record, Exceptional Circumstances (EC) drought relief could not be jeopardised. Retaining EC for farmers was vital, while pressing for reform.
- NFF’s hard-won recognition for modern farming’s economic and environmental credentials could be undone by the perception of ‘another hand-out’.
Market research, political and third-party engagement, and public positioning were pivotal to NFF securing (Labor) Government, minor party, environmental group, media and public acceptance and endorsement.
Overcoming challenges, NFF’s campaign averted relief-dependent perceptions by offering proactive climate change intervention – delivering $130 million for Preparedness under the 2008 Federal Budget.
Preparedness – investing in new farm research, technologies, infrastructure and systems to better drought-proof agriculture – had been an NFF policy since 2006. However, it failed to gain traction among farmers or policy-makers.
Farmers, sceptical of Preparedness while in drought, feared any new programme would slash existing EC provisions. Politicians and bureaucrats were loath to fund new programmes, seeing it as a ‘double-dip’. Public opinion would likely concur.
NFF’s 2003 market research exposed perceptions of farmers as “reliant on hand-outs”. While 2006-07 research showed NFF communications had won recognition that “farmers are progressing, becoming more efficient” and “there is an economic danger in not supporting Australia’s farmers”, any ‘grab-for-cash’ perception may re-ignite old negatives. [Appendix B1]
Ahead of the 2007 federal election, NFF injected Preparedness into the electorally-potent climate change issue – leading-up to, during, and following the poll – seizing upon the confluence of timing (election) and public interest (climate change) to leverage these into supporting forward-looking, proactive climate change solutions for agriculture’s future. This counteracted hand-out stereotypes.
Securing bi-partisan support for the ‘here-and-now’ drought through EC [Appendices A1b and A4], NFF ramped-up its call to “work with farmers to better drought-proof Australia and – over time – reduce the need for EC”. [Appendices A1a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h and A10]
To be accepted and funded, NFF must carry the ‘court of public opinion’ – including influential third-parties – through a Public Affairs campaign to explain, build awareness of, and support for, Preparedness, while taking ‘grass roots’ farmers along.
The strategy formed synergies between NFF’s core functions: media, political, membership, and stakeholder engagement – forming alliances, delivering credible messages around independent data and selling the need/opportunity for Preparedness.
Research was vital – identifying issues, triggers and messages to resonate with audiences – demonstrating farmers’ economic and environmental contribution, while negating stereotypical attitudes.
Several rounds of market research were drawn upon, informing and evaluating perceptions (CrosbylTextor in August 2003, November 2006 and February 2007), and guiding directions and messages, identifying information gaps and measuring attitudes (Millward Brown, benchmark and tracking research for NFF’s advertising campaign, October-November 2007).
Stakeholder perceptual audits (ANOP Research Services, July 2006) ascertained media and federal politician attitudes. NFF member consultation (2006-08) identified and monitored communication needs, shaping consistent messages.
Substantive research established factual foundations for NFF messages – that farmers:
- account for $103 billion-a-year in production (12% of GDP);
- support 1.6 million Australian jobs;
- generate 20% of Australia’s exports ($30 billion-a-year),
- actively engage natural resource management practises on 92% of farms;
- plant over 20 million trees-a-year for conservation purposes;
- reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 40% since 1990; and
- supply most of Australia’s food.
Such facts, sourced from independent, authoritative bodies (the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and the Australian Greenhouse Office), were crucial – giving NFF’s messages credibility.
- Media: engage metropolitan, major regional and specialist media to cut through the noise of the election campaign, developing a proactive and positive profile for Preparedness, and averting negative stereotypes with resonating messages.
- Political: engage both sides of politics, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) and (post-election) Department of Climate Change (DCC) – advancing Preparedness’ as a climate change solution.
- Membership: engage NFF’s 15 member organisations, ensuring consistent messages.
- Third-Parties: engage ACF, The Greens and Lee Kernaghan to support, and promote, Preparedness.
Championing the need for an Australian Government – of any political persuasion – to adopt its Preparedness vision, NFF made its case public. [Appendices A1a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h and A10]
Proclaiming that farmers recognise EC is a stop-gap measure foiled negative stereotypes. Equally, demonstrating economic and environmental threats, NFF asserted: “we – as a nation – must rethink how we plan for, and deal with, drought in a changing climate”.
NFF drew upon existing research and new surveys to develop messages and resources promoting Preparedness as a forward-looking climate change solution, assuming a lead role on climate change, drought reform and food security.
During the election, NFF undertook a national (metropolitan, regional and internet) advertising campaign [Appendix A10] serving as a ‘lightning rod’ for Preparedness. Benchmark research prior to the campaign revealed NFF was on solid ground, while tracking research showed messages gained momentum and traction. [Appendix B2]
Advertising messages were supplemented – before, during and after airing – by free-media (press, radio, television, internet) and complementary NFF communications.
Research, the perceptual audits and consultation kept NFF activity and messages on-track. NFF’s proactive media, political, membership and third-party advocacy strategy (to ‘influence the influencers’) built cooperative relationships and ensured messages were received, reinforced and resonated.
NFF resources – Media Resource Kits, Political Resource Kits (electorate-by-electorate) and Member Resource Kits – employed the substantive research to achieve multi-faceted engagement, deliver consistent messages and generate informed support.
Agenda-leading engagement, demonstrating farming’s relevance and ability to meet climatic challenges, was pivotal.
While NFF’s free-media and advertising cut through pre-election and election noise and heightened interest, a sustained campaign (post-election) was essential to deliver ‘NFF’s vision of Preparedness’ under the 2008 Federal Budget.
The 2007 and 2008 Kits became relied upon by stakeholders for up-to-date, reliable information. Advancing messages informed by market research, these tools combined under a concerted Public Affairs campaign – working in unison to drive public and stakeholder acceptance of, and momentum for, Preparedness.
NFF seized upon prevailing and emerging issues, informed by research triggers, to establish agriculture’s vital stake in the climate change issue and demonstrate the case for Preparedness – affording entrée for media back-briefing and fostering relationships – resulting in widespread, prominent and on-message coverage.
Pre-emptively launching its ‘2007 Federal Election Policy Platform’ (19 September), NFF positioned itself as a leading voice ahead of the election campaign, solidifying a prominent position and generating ongoing media coverage prior to the election announcement (mid-October). [Appendix B2]
This enabled NFF to effectively clear-up misconceptions to avert negative publicity before they generated ‘bad news’.
NFF’s entering the election fray with advertising (pre-released via YouTube from 18 October) generated significant free-media and whetted media/public appetites when advertising rolled-out (from 21 October) – effectively a double-hit from the launch.
Post-election, NFF continued driving media coverage to ensure its Preparedness vision remained on-track and maintained momentum leading-up to the 2008 Federal Budget.
NFF’s 2007 and 2008 Kits, and proactively developing relationships through them, generated and focused political momentum for Preparedness.
Armed with facts, politicians could argue farming’s economic and environmental contribution, establishing NFF as a valuable resource, and creating synergies – enabling politicians to publicly discuss and debate issues, while perpetuating NFF messages.
Post-election, NFF met with Ministers, Advisors, DAFF and DCC 17 times on Preparedness leading-up to Federal Budget. Lodging its Budget Submission (January 2008), NFF then refined its political communications targeting Expenditure Review Committee (ERC) Ministers – who determine Budget priorities – ahead of ERC’s final meeting in February 2008.
Communication between NFF and members was essential. Creating and maintaining a Public Affairs network – meeting by teleconference – provided valuable avenues for member input/feedback, while ensuring a cohesive campaign approach.
Members sought NFF’s strategic guidance, while Kits ensured NFF-consistent messages.
Cooperation with ACF, The Greens and Lee Kernaghan – each receiving Kits – saw information shared, strategies focused, and consistent messages presented to common stakeholders, with farming and Preparedness positive features.
Between March 2007-April 2008, NFF generated 13,182 metropolitan, major regional and specialist media hits carrying its modern farming messages. [Appendices A1a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h,i] Overwhelmingly, coverage was prominent (79% of print in the first 15-pages) and on-message (83% of print, 91% of radio and 92% of television).
NFF’s engagement and resources were valued by journalists [Appendix A2] and politicians [Appendices A3a,b,c]
Before and during the election, NFF generated media coverage, pressing the need for Preparedness in the face of climate change. [Appendices A1a,b,c,d and A10]
Labor’s then-Shadow Agriculture Spokesman Senator Kerry O’Brien adopted and proliferated NFF messages before the election. [Appendix A4]
NFF, The Greens and ACF jointly criticised the Coalition’s failure to acknowledge Preparedness or climate change. [Appendix A1d]
Benchmark research revealed exceptionally high mean ratings (8.77 to 9.0) for NFF’s Preparedness messages – this was maintained through the advertising campaign. NFF’s campaign (metropolitan and regional television – 600 TARPs per market, and over 3,000 YouTube hits) was an effective ‘lightening rod’ for Preparedness, with significant improvements in acceptance and awareness. [Appendix B2]
While those agreeing with the NFF’s messages remained steady at 66-69%, tracking revealed significant movement in those disagreeing with the messages – from 17% at the beginning of the campaign, down to 6% by the end. [Appendix B2]
Further, during the election campaign (October-November 2007), NFF generated 2,445 free-media hits – 71% carrying Preparedness messages. Of these 1,735 hits, coverage was prominent (67% of print in the first 15-pages), with 72% of print, 86% of radio and 87% of television on-message. NFF’s high on-message rating, combined with prominence and volume, ensured resonance with audiences. This was backed-up by tracking research. [Appendix B2]
Lee Kernaghan proliferated NFF data and messages. [Appendix A5] The Greens reinforced Preparedness messages as part of drought reform. [Appendix A6]
NFF advocated messages [Appendix A7a] and members rallied [Appendix A7b], presenting unified positions – especially important in specialist farm media. [Appendices A1b,e,h]
The 2008 Federal Budget implemented and funded Preparedness ($130 million), over-and-above $760 million for ongoing EC assistance. [Appendix A8] Preparedness, as new farm investment, was accepted – achieving positive media coverage. [Appendix A1i]
Agriculture Minister Tony Burke formally recognised NFF’s role in Parliament. [Appendix A9]
- Media: achieved prominent, well-informed coverage of messages, negating harmful stereotypes, built community and stakeholder awareness of farming’s importance, and generated widespread support for Preparedness. (Success – Year-long: print 83%, radio 91%, and television 92%. Election: print 72%, radio 86%, and television 87%. Advertising: cut through election noise as an effective ‘lightening rod’. YouTube and internet: effective extras, reaching an ‘engaged-in-the-issues’ audience).
- Political: Labor in Opposition, then Government, adopted NFF’s Preparedness agenda and publicly reinforced NFF messages. The Coalition, to its detriment, did not. Government departments embraced Preparedness as a climate solution, harnessing support and creating momentum post-election into the Federal Budget process. (Success – 100%).
- Membership: coordinated and maintained a concerted member network, arming and mobilising members with resources and consistent messages, while allaying farmer concerns. (Success – 100%).
- Third-Parties: secured effective alliances to publicly support NFF’s Preparedness agenda. These relationships achieved a shared vision, proliferation of NFF messages and created an influential coalition of support behind Preparedness. (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, third-party and community support; and manifested in ‘political will’ to deliver and fund Preparedness.