In 2008, Australia was revealed to have the most unaffordable housing in the English speaking world1.
Recognising the need to present tangible solutions to this issue, not-for profit home ownership organisation Habitat for Humanity Australia (HFHA), embarked on a unique project; The Bidwill Blitz Build, to build a home for a family in need in just 12 days.
Eager to maximise this opportunity HFHA engaged retained PR partner Weber Shandwick (WS), to develop and execute a communication strategy that created mass media exposure, increased share of voice and encouraged stakeholders to become advocates for HFHA’s mission to create more affordable housing.
WS’ comprehensive strategy engaged the support of sponsors, stakeholders, government ministers and household celebrities.
The success of the campaign far exceeded client expectations:
- Reaching over 15 million Australians
- Doubling HFHA website hits
- Driving enquiries from potential partner families to rise by nearly 2,500 percent
- NSW Minister for Housing, David Borger, to pledge live on TV that he would sit down with HFHA to discuss future housing solutions
- Ensuring corporate sponsors pledged increased funding and long term support
1 Source: Findings revealed by the 2008 4th Edition Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey
Everyday Australians were losing the battle to achieve their dream of home ownership and testimonials across the media were reinforcing the need for action to help families in need break the rental cycle. HFHA leveraged this opportunity to demonstrate its unique housing model to the masses.
An Australian first for HFHA, the 12 day Bidwill Blitz Build provided a significant new platform to showcase HFHA’s mission to provide low income families with a hand up, not a hand out, to an audience of millions.
The speed of the Build presented an opportunity to demonstrate the valuable work that HFHA undertakes and for WS to execute a communications campaign that would capture the hearts and minds of all Australians and propel HFHA into the headlines.
As HFHA’s communications partner, WS used the Build to generate multiple opportunities to raise maximum awareness of the HFHA model, engage stakeholders, and create a new wave of HFHA advocates.
Having worked with HFHA for three years, WS understood the challenges of getting cut through in this space. As part of the research process, WS closely reviewed past client activity and examined which elements had driven success in the other key markets in which Habitat for Humanity International operates.
The success of programs such as the Jimmy Carter Work Project in the US, which has attracted the support of iconic celebrities such as Brad Pitt – has helped establish HFH as one of the strongest and most trusted brands in the US2.
WS undertook the following research to inform the campaign:
- Audit of current and potential sponsor opportunities
- Identification of celebrity partnerships
- Review of policy and stakeholder commentary to establish where housing solutions stood on the government agenda
- Impact study focused on how the GFC was impacting corporate philanthropy
- Analysis of media and stakeholder appetite for CSR stories
Based on these insights, WS concluded that having celebrities as well as officials to actively participate in the Build, would be a real draw card for the media.
2 Source: America's Greatest Brands, Volume III, America's Greatest Brands, Inc, ISBN 0-9706860-2-1, November 2, 2004
The target publics included:
- Media – as the essential communication channel to reach the widest range of Australians
- Corporate sponsors (potential sponsors and incumbents, LJ Hooker and QBE LMI) - to generate further support and funding for HFHA
- Volunteers - to entice more Australians to sign up to help with future builds
- Housing NSW and Landcom - to generate government support and gain the land and development rights for more HFHA builds
- Potential partner families – to attract interest from potential partner families to support HFHA’s lobbying efforts with Housing NSW
- The Australian public – to strengthen HFHA’s brand awareness
To generate a sustained wave of excitement about the project, WS developed a comprehensive five month strategy that would create momentum across all media, engaging online audiences and delivering word of mouth hype, prior to the launch of the Build, during and after its completion.
As a 12 day event and with no official launch ceremony, achieving media momentum presented a challenge. It was therefore important to package the story strategically, offering the media the most newsworthy elements of the story and targeting the right media at the right time with the right story.
To engage government officials and celebrities it was essential to get them involved in lighter, visually-appealing activities, such as painting, that involved little risk and more importantly provided prime photo and filming opportunities that would appeal to all media.
WS therefore advised against hosting the main media opportunity on day one to maximise sustained interest across the full build period.
Through the delivery of consistent activity, WS was able to build a compelling story that focused on the key milestones of the Build and followed the emotional journey of the Bidwill Blitz Build partner family.
From August to early November 2008, WS conducted the following activity in preparation for the event:
- Facilitated regular meetings and dialogue with principal sponsors LJ Hooker and QBE LMI to ensure alignment of messaging in internal and external communications
- Developed a celebrity engagement plan and set about targeting local celebrities. Months of follow up and perseverance were rewarded in November when the National Rugby League team, the Wests Tigers – who were also the partner family’s favourite team – came on board at no expense to help complete the Build and support the media campaign
- Developed a series of key messages which informed all collateral and media interviews
- Developed targeted media releases, media pitches and media invites which WS distributed at key times to news, lifestyle and broadcast media including key metros, local, trade and Sydney broadcast stations to encourage them to attend the launch
- Pitched in to long-lead lifestyle and broadcast media outlets including, breakfast and current affairs programs with targeted messaging on the family’s emotional journey
- Extended the outreach to trade publications who were invited to follow the more technical key milestones of the Bidwill Blitz Build, with targeted messaging on HFHA’s housing model
- Worked closely with HFHA and Housing NSW to determine probability of involvement of NSW Housing Minister and provided information on HFHA for inclusion in Housing NSW’s media collateral
- Created an issues management strategy with a comprehensive Q&A in preparation for the unlikely event of negative publicity
Immediately prior to the Bidwill Blitz Build launch, WS distributed media collateral and hit the phones hard, proactively targeting all metros, broadcast and local media to generate buzz about the build and offer multiple story platforms.
- To maximise media interest, drive website traffic and create conversations, WS focused communications activity during this period on three key spikes of activity;
- Attendance of NSW Minister for Housing David Borger
- Participation of the Wests Tigers
- Involvement and story of the partner family
- To draw the media’s attention to these activities, WS drove all activity, developing media alerts and conducted proactive telephone pitching to secure targeted coverage opportunities
- WS facilitated multiple media interviews on site with Minister Borger, the Wests Tigers’ and the partner family
- In addition WS facilitated a number of telephone media interviews with HFHA’s spokespeople and NSW radio stations and metros, providing full briefings in advance and follow up de-briefs to ensure interviews were kept on-message
- WS managed all on site logistics for media, government and celebrity activity
- WS team spent a day on site volunteering their own time to help complete the build
Armed with hundreds of photos from the build, WS vigorously followed up with local and trade media to provide photographs taken during the whole project period. This outreach secured further coverage which celebrated the overwhelming success of HFHA’s first Blitz Build.
The communication campaign for the Bidwill Blitz build was an overwhelming success. Achieving the key goal of raising mass awareness of HFHA, the media outreach program, including broadcast, print and online coverage, reached a total audience of over 15 million people.
A total of 26 media clips were achieved.
Broadcast coverage proved to be the biggest success story of the Bidwill Blitz Build, with HFHA reaching an entirely new national audience. Broadcast coverage was secured across Australia’s four main free-to-air channels: Seven, Nine, Ten and ABC.
A Current Affair visited the site over three days to capture the family’s journey and delivered a positive news story which drove traffic to HFHA’s website and increased enquiries from potential partner families.
The Network Ten news team also visited Bidwill twice to cover an exclusive of the moving in process and to interview the family and HFHA’s CEO. The segment featured a follow up with Minister Borger to discuss how the HFHA model could be implemented, putting further pressure on Housing NSW to examine the initiative more closely.
Print media highlights included coverage in the top-tier metros: the Australian Financial Review, Daily Telegraph and Courier Mail.
As a result of the media coverage, website hits increased dramatically demonstrating a rapid increase in brand awareness.
Prior to November 2008, website hits were averaging around 2,700-3,000 hits per month. This reached a peak of over 1,400 on the day the story went to air on A Current Affair, with a monthly average of 7,809 during the Bidwill Blitz Build – more than doubling the monthly average website hits.
1. Objective: Gain blanket broadcast coverage to demonstrate HFHA’s most visually impressive project to date
The biggest success story of the Bidwill Blitz Build, with HFHA reaching an entirely new national audience. Positive broadcast coverage was secured across Australia’s four main free-to-air channels: Seven, Nine, Ten and ABC as well as on Fox Sport
2. Objective: Engage the support of celebrities to participate in the build and help generate media coverage
WS successfully engaged the Wests Tigers to participate in the Build. Not only were they the family’s favourite team, we reached a new audience through coverage on Fox Sports
3. Objective: Strengthen government relations with Housing NSW and Landcom to generate support for implementing the HFHA housing model
Minister Borger pledged on TV to meet with HFHA to discuss how they could work together to deliver a solution to the housing crisis in NSW. This was the first time that the Minister committed to meeting with HFHA; a significant breakthrough in government relations
4. Objective: Demonstrate to corporate sponsors the value of their support through securing their brand significant media coverage
QBE LMI and LJ Hooker branding featured in half of the total coverage achieved. QBE LMI increased their sponsorship of HFHA and LJ Hooker offered long-term sponsorship, following their initial engagement with HFHA to just support the Bidwill Blitz Build
5. Objective: Gain evidence of the critical need for housing solutions by engaging more partner families
In the four months leading up to the Bidwill Blitz Build, on average, HFHA received nine enquiries a month from people looking to become partner families. In December 2008, this peaked to 238 a month – a 2,470 per cent increase
Never before has one of HFHA’s builds come close to the success of the Bidwill Blitz Build. WS’ communication campaign met and surpassed objectives and far exceeded client expectations, resulting with the client themselves awarding the WS team a celebratory plaque in thanks for their support.