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From $0 to $3 Million in 6 Months

Client: 

Lifeline Community Care Queensland

PR Company: 

Lifeline Community Care Queensland

Award Category: 

Award Type: 

Call Number: 

2009 C2 - 3

Year: 

2009

Executive Summary: 

With little review of financial counselling resources completed in the last 10 years and with Queensland a growing state in terms of population, it became apparent that – with service demand continuing to increase

– Lifeline Community Care Queensland (Lifeline) had to take the lead to secure funding for the sector in Queensland. It was clear that a concerted and professional public relations campaign was needed to focus attention on the financial counselling sector and its desperate need for funds.

As a result, Lifeline made the decision to create and lead a public awareness campaign to explain the facts about service demand and, ultimately, use this opportunity to secure substantial funding for generalist financial counselling services from the Queensland Government.

While securing funds was Lifeline’s primarily goal, objectives included securing public media coverage, informing State MPs, securing a meeting with the Minister for Communities and setting up a Financial Counselling telephone line.

Much to our delight, in December 2008 – just six months into our 12 month campaign – we were advised that the Mini-Budget would announce that Lifeline would receive $3 million over 2 years to fund generalist financial counselling services in Queensland.

Situation Analysis: 

In 2005, Lifeline Community Care Queensland (Lifeline) began to see an increasing number of Queenslanders seeking financial counselling support being turned away from its service. It was clear that the sector was underfunded and, in the subsequent three years, this service demand continued to increase.

Throughout this period, Lifeline Brisbane’s General Manager of Client Services, Julie Aganoff, and a Lifeline Financial Counsellor based at Toowoomba, Jillian Fletcher, began working together to secure additional funding. Unfortunately, despite creating two additional, self-funded income streams – a Diploma of Financial Counselling and a corporate partnership with Ergon Engery – the team was unable to secure a meeting with the Department of Communities Minister to discuss more substantial financial counselling funding.

In December 2007, Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan called for community input into the 2008-2009

Commonwealth Budget. In response, Lifeline put together a considered, creative, attention-seeking submission with a mock newspaper wrap (Appendix A-1) that was submitted to the Treasurer and a number of other stakeholders in January 2008. While the Commonwealth Budget did announce additional funding for financial counselling services across Australia, it did not meet the demand for financial counselling within Queensland.

With little review of financial counselling resources completed in the last 10 years and with Queensland a growing state in terms of population, it became apparent that – with service demand continuing to increase

– Lifeline had to take the lead to secure funding for the sector in Queensland. It was clear that a concerted and professional public relations campaign was needed to focus attention on the financial counselling sector and its desperate need for funds.

As a result, Lifeline made a decision to create and lead a public awareness campaign to explain the facts about service demand and, ultimately, use this opportunity to secure substantial funding for generalist financial counselling services from the Queensland Government in the Queensland State Budget 2009-10.

Research: 

 Given objectives four and five, it was essential for Lifeline Community Care Queensland (Lifeline) to provide accurate, robust and qualified reporting to its target publics.

Key research findings showed that:

• A new class of financial counselling client was emerging, those on a wage or salary between $30,000 and $45,000 per year.

• 10% of Queenslanders lived in poverty and up to another 20% were at risk of significant financial hardship.

• 1.2 million or 1 in 3 Queenslanders could benefit from independent, free, professional financial counselling services. Of those, only 1 in 88 people would secure one appointment in a year.

• Financial counselling provided long lasting benefits; the greatest shown to those borrowers who had the least ability to handle credit prior to counselling.

• Credit card debt had exploded to over $40 billion – a first in Australian history.

• Repossessions of homes in Queensland had doubled across the state in 12 months.

• General financial counsellors across all agencies saw an average of 60 clients per day in  Queensland. This meant Lifeline was providing 2/3 of financial counselling services across the state.

Most importantly, the research highlighted that Queensland was the only state or territory in Australia whose government provided no funding for generalist financial counselling services. Table 1, below, showed the state comparisons reflecting funding levels for generalist financial counselling in comparable states.

table

This research not only helped produce the report, but it provided foundational material that informed the campaign strategy and helped plan the campaign tactics.

Target Policies: 

1. Queensland Government, primarily the Department of Communities, but also the Premier’s Department, Mines and Energy Department and Justice Department. Naturally, as potential funders, it was important we secured support from the Department of Communities and Premier Anna Bligh. However, we felt that securing cross-departmental support of other ministerial stakeholders was essential, particularly from those departments which saw the effects of community financial distress.

2. Queensland Members of Parliament. We had potential financial counselling sites located in metropolitan, rural and regional areas. Therefore, we believed targeting local MPs would ensure they would help advocate for funding in their local areas. Additionally, we were aware that people experiencing financial distress would often seek advice from their local MP office.

3. The media. While we had a great relationship with media when it came to financial counselling stories, our participation was always reactive. Proactively targeting media was key to this campaign’s success.

4. Community members experiencing financial distress. It was really important, instead of simply crying poor and giving the impression that we had failed the community, that we positioned ourselves as positive problem solvers. Launching a Financial Counselling telephone line to the public was imperative to providing hope and interim support to vulnerable people.

5. Corporate sector. As government appreciates corporate/community/government partnerships, it was essential that, despite having a corporate partner for this program (Ergon Energy), we still actively attempted to show we were seeking further partnerships.

Communication Strategy: 

A 12 month public relations campaign was planned with research commencing in July 2008 and an evaluation to take place in June 2009, the month of the State Budget.

The communication strategy was three-fold, involving:

1. Public statements that Lifeline was turning away clients.

2. The public release of a report into the state of financial counselling in Queensland.

3. A call for Queensland Government to urgently fund generalist financial counselling services.

A strategic decision was made to ask for the world ($4 million per year!) with the full knowledge that we would not get the world, but would instead at least draw attention to the seriousness of the situation and achieve a substantial funding commitment.

As Lifeline runs major Queensland Government programs (e.g. $60.1 million in 08-09), we had to ensure this campaign would not alienate our funders or politically agitate the opposition. Bi-partisan support was essential. Additionally, we had traditionally only sought funds through official channels; we had never been bold enough to publicly call for funds. This public lobbying of funds was new territory for Lifeline. However, given our position as community sector leaders in Queensland and our history of cooperation, we felt comfortable that – if we provided carefully tailored messages – the Queensland Government would listen, understand and act.

Implementation: 

Tactic One: Prepared media comment/key message.

From the beginning of the campaign, it was agreed that whenever Jillian – our most sought after spokesperson – was asked for media comment, we would offer industry perspectives and tips as usual, but also highlight that Lifeline was turning away 140 financial counselling clients per day.

Tactic Two: A report into the state of financial counselling in Queensland. 

The release of a report (Appendix A-2) was a carefully considered document that informed its audience about what generalist financial counselling was; explained Lifeline’s role as a leader in financial counselling; outlined emerging issues; offered ideas on the future potential of service delivery; and provided opportunities for government, the corporate sector and community.

Tactic Three: Report and letter released to Ministers and MPs. 

It was important to ensure our executive director communicated directly with his Queensland Ministers and our regional/divisional general managers communicated directly with their local MPs. As a result, a decision was made to provide letter templates to all divisional general managers, requesting they sign and send the letters and reports at a local level. Our executive director would then send reports to key Queensland Government ministers, as per our target publics.

Tactic Four: Report released to media. 

We gave MPs a week to digest their letters and reports before we released the report publicly via media. Similar to Tactic Three, a decision was made to provide state-wide and local comment. In doing so, it was essential we provided all financial counselling spokespeople and general managers with talking points (Appendix A-3) to accompany the media release (Appendix A-4).

Tactic Five: Launch of a financial counselling telephone line. 

Despite funding constraints, Lifeline Brisbane General Manager Julie Aganoff was determined to launch a financial counselling telephone line in the first six months of the campaign. A decision was made to name the telephone line ‘Financial First Aid’, create a dedicated phone number and staff it at set hours. The potential was then to secure funding to increase the capacity of the service.

Tactic Six: Creation of an industry steering committee. 

Despite its strong relationship with the Financial Counselling Association of Queensland, Lifeline identified the importance of engaging a range of other stakeholders that would join the conversation and support the campaign. The decision was made to lead an industry steering committee and invite media, debt collection, community, justice and government representatives as well as financial planners and senior bank managers.

Results: 

Given media reports on October 17 2008 that the Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser had ruled out handing down a Mini-Budget later in the year, Lifeline continued to count on securing a funding commitment in the State Budget. However, in December 2008, in the midst of Queensland tackling the local effects of the global economic crisis, the Queensland Treasurer did announce a Mini-Budget. Much to our delight, we were advised (Appendix A-5) that Lifeline would receive $3 million over two years to fund generalist financial counselling services.

While we, rather despairingly, had the GFC spur interest in our campaign, it is clear that without a considered public relations campaign strategy and tough tactics, we would not have achieved this landmark funding. In addition, it must be noted that not only was the funding announced outside of the annual budget round, it also went directly to Lifeline rather than out to tender. This was a fantastic and unexpected result for the organisation as it meant that, by January, we would have 14 additional full-time equivalent financial counsellors providing services to clients, substantially reducing the number we turn away. The result also meant Lifeline’s financial counselling program was funded and supported in an appropriate way. Sufficient funds for training, introduction of team leaders, dedicated project workers – none of this would have happened without the additional funds. The service, while still unable to meet demand, is much better able to meet increased demand and build capacity within the sector.

Tactics One and Four resulted in substantial coverage in metropolitan and local media, far exceeding our objectives. In fact, Tactic Four achieved a significant milestone. Given we were unable to secure a meeting to discuss financial counselling with the Minister for Communities, the media reporting meant the Minister had to publicly respond (Appendix A-6). Given the Minister’s comments focused on the government funding of specific rather than generalist financial counselling, this prompted us to write a letter directly to further the discussion. It was also encouraging that she publicly and by letter (Appendix A-7) acknowledged that more may need to be done and that vulnerable people were a priority.

The success of Tactics Two and Three lay in the report’s ability to engage and inform local MPs and Ministerial policy advisors. Feedback from some local MPs to local Lifeline general managers highlighted their support for the funding. Invitations were then forthcoming from the Minister for Communities to meet with our UnitingCare Queensland CEO, Anne Cross and Lifeline ED, Trevor Carlyon. Subsequently, Jillian Fletcher and Julie Aganoff were provided the opportunity to outline their vision.

We achieved our campaign goal within six rather than 12 months, leaving the launch and growth of the Financial First Aid line to happen at a steady pace. In June 2009, as a result of Lifeline’s commitment to provide services to Queenslanders regardless of their location, the Commonwealth Government announced the funding of an additional 2.4 full-time equivalent positions on the Financial First Aid line.
Today, the creation of an industry steering committee will now focus on our new goal of securing corporate partners as well as a commitment from the Queensland Government to fund financial counselling services in the next State Budget.

Evaluation: 

Objective One

This campaign exceeded our expectations when we received $3 million of funding for generalist financial counselling in the Queensland Mini-Budget in December, 2008. Instead of the funding going out to tender to the sector, Lifeline was awarded the grant directly.

Objective Two

Some regional Lifeline general managers reported their local MPs were openly supporting the push for funding and many acknowledged they appreciated the update. Upon receiving the funds, a follow-up letter was provided to thank MPs for their support and update them on the roll-out of the service in their local area.

Objective Three

A meeting took place in December, 2008 with Minister for Communities and our UnitingCare Queensland CEO, Anne Cross. Lifeline Community Care Queensland Executive Director Trevor Carlyon had been keeping our CEO up to date with our campaign’s major milestones which ensured Anne was savvy with the key messages and funding expectations.

Objective Four

Exceeded this number, achieving at least 8 metropolitan and 5 regional media items recorded by Media Monitors.

Objective Five

Exceeded this number, achieving at least 1 metropolitan and 10 regional media items recorded by Media Monitors.

Objective Six

The Financial First Aid telephone line was functioning by November 2009 with the first statistical reports produced in December 2009. At this stage the line was wholly staffed by volunteers. As a result of the grant, professional staff also now service the telephone line.