UTS Library

Woolworths Backing our Farmers


Woolworths Pty Ltd

PR Company: 

Sefton Associates

Award Category: 

Award Type: 

Call Number: 

2009 C11 - 12



Executive Summary: 

Woolworths annual rural fundraising activity - Backing Our Farmers - has generated more than $17 million for drought affected communities since 2007.  On the day, Woolworths donates the entire profits from all stores to the Country Women’s Association (CWA) who administer the funds to drought affected families and communities.


As well as generating much needed funds, the fundraiser has helped build Woolworths reputation for supporting regional communities – not only does Woolworths purchase 95 per cent of fresh fruit and vegetables and 100 per cent of fresh meat from Australian producers, it also supports drought affected communities through this significant fundraiser. 


To more thoroughly engage rural and regional audiences, Woolworths contracted Tamworth based specialist communication consultancy, Sefton & Associates, to develop and implement the national communication strategy for Backing Our Farmers 09.


The focus was engaging rural audiences, specifically farming communities and agricultural organisations and demonstrating Woolworths’ genuine commitment to Australian farmers.


Sefton & Associates’ communication priorities included generating publicity in rural and regional media and moving the focus of the message to the CWA and the availability of grants, rather than the commercial message encouraging people to shop at Woolworths on the day.


The six week campaign delivered results beyond expectations, including the fundraising goal being exceeded by more than $1 million.


The media results achieved by the regionally based Sefton & Associates also exceeded previous campaigns and made significant in-roads with rural commentators and key influencers.

Situation Analysis: 

The third annual Backing Our Farmers day was held on 20 February 2009.


After successfully conducting two previous Backing Our Farmers campaigns to raise money for drought affected rural families, Woolworths saw an opportunity to further engage farmers and rural communities.


Metropolitan audiences had previously enthusiastically participated, however, a level of cynicism amongst agricultural organisations and farmers was evident with many viewing the day as a self-serving exercise.


Problems had been experienced in 2008 with some public criticism from organisations such as the South Australian Farmers’ Federation, The Greens and the Victorian Farmers’ Federation.


In addition, the third campaign was held soon after an ACCC inquiry into grocery retailing which resulted in significant media attention on grocery prices, profits and the market share of Coles and Woolworths.


In light of these circumstances, it was especially important that rural stakeholders could see the benefit of the Program and that farming communities understood how they could access grants.

It was also important to strengthen the relationship with the CWA. In 2009 the communication program was designed to build the profile of the CWA and gain a higher level of support for their role.


Sefton & Associates undertook desktop research and used these findings to develop the strategy.



  • reviewed previous campaigns and issues that had arisen particularly in 2008.
  • used existing agribusiness relationships to conduct informal research with stakeholders to gauge their perceptions of Woolworths and the fundraiser.
  • contacted CWA representatives regarding their previous experiences.
  • met with Woolworths team to review communication materials and understand current issues in the grocery retailing industry.
  • reviewed and analysed all the media coverage that had been generated about the day over the past two years.

Target Policies: 

While the overall marketing program for Backing Our Farmers 09 targeted both metropolitan and regional shoppers, the communication strategy had more specific target publics.


  • Individuals / families eligible to receive grants

Grants were available to individuals and families in Exceptional Circumstance (EC) declared areas who rely on farming as their primary source of income.


  • State Farming Organisations (SFOs)

Some SFOs had been openly critical or non-supportive of the program in the past. SFOs were an important target public due to their influence and commentary in regional communities.


  • Industry Bodies – Food Production and Processing

Industry bodies represent many of the farmers producing meat and fresh produce sold to Woolworths and other Australian retailers. Their support is important to demonstrate the positive relationship suppliers have with Woolworths.


  • Regional Community Groups

For the first time, regional community groups were eligible to apply for grants so it was important to broaden the awareness of grant availability.

Communication Strategy: 

The communication strategy comprised four key elements:


  • Local publicity program – focused on rural and regional media across Australia.
  • Stakeholder engagement – using Sefton & Associates’ regional and rural stakeholder list comprising more than 700 organisations (which have individual members).
  • National publicity campaign – Sefton & Associates pitched story ideas, sourced and briefed credible spokespeople and used national media to focus on the CWA’s involvement.
  • Issues management – plan developed to address issues and ensure quick responses to negative comments.


Due to the timing of the brief, the campaign was executed over a six week period and implemented with strict adherence to deadlines.


This timeframe excluded long-lead media and, as the focus of the campaign was rural and regional audiences, suburban media was not targeted. However, as rural and regional communities access national television programs, newspapers and magazines, a selection of high profile national media was targeted.

Local Publicity Program


The media list covered rural and regional towns that have a Woolworths or Safeway store including 447 newspapers and 539 radio and television stations.  Materials were personalised and localised for each town.

  • Launch media release and fact sheet distributed to commence campaign. See Appendix A1.
  • A fact sheet was developed outlining Woolworths purchasing policies, details of Australian purchased produce and the nature of supplier relationships.
  • Suppliers interviewed and their relationship with Woolworths outlined in a media release for the suppliers’ local and industry media.  Included nine suppliers such as Western Plains beef producer, John Knaggs and Tasmanian potato and cabbage producer, Max Baker and distributed to 237 industry media outlets.  See Appendix A2.
  • Drafted ‘Letters to the Editor’ for CWA presidents to send to their local media. See Appendix A3.
  • Localised media release distributed in rural areas promoting how to apply for grants. See Appendix A4.
  • A ‘remember to shop’ media release distributed one week prior to fundraising day. See Appendix A5.
  • Media invited to visit their local store on Backing Our Farmers day. The television version included logos for broadcast, sample scripts and suggestions for vision. See Appendix A6.
  • A post-event localised release was distributed announcing results. See Appendix A7.

Stakeholder Engagement


Stakeholder groups targeted included state farming organisations, industry bodies, peak councils, local government, women’s groups, agribusinesses, resellers and key regional influencers.


The following information was distributed via email to these organisations for their own information and for use in their member publications and websites:

  • Announcement of date and grants available;
  • Reminder to shop;
  • Announcement of results;
  • Closure of individual grants and reminder for community grants.

A reminder to shop SMS was also sent to the stakeholder list and the broader contact database of Sefton & Associates.


This strategy served two purposes - 1) opened up the channels of communication with key stakeholders by keeping them directly informed and provided with accurate information and 2) reached the wider target publics with added credibility as the information was passed on by an independent third party.

National Publicity Program


Targeting national media that would reach metropolitan and rural / regional audiences, Sefton & Associates developed and pitched story ideas and organised interviews.  Sefton & Associates was primarily concerned with providing genuine case studies to highlight the positive ways in which drought affected families and communities were dealing with years of financial hardship.


Using its regional networks, Sefton & Associates was able to provide many individual and community interview opportunities.


Highlights include a ‘Scones, Jam & Cream’ segment on the Today Show, four makeovers of CWA members with Kerri-Anne Kennerly, CWA articles in national magazines and state specific stories in metropolitan daily newspapers (see Appendix A8).

Issues Management


Fewer issues arose in 2009 than expected and were quickly diffused with direct communication and the provision of accurate information.


The most significant issue faced was individual grants were over-subscribed just three days after the fundraising day.  Sefton & Associates issued information to its stakeholder networks to advise that individual grants were now closed, but community applications were open until 30 April.


The Victorian Bushfires and the concurrent fundraising effort also had the potential to impact on the media attention and funds raised.  Coles supermarket conducted its own community fundraising in response to the Victorian Bushfires, however a decision was made with Woolworths to continue as planned as so much of regional Australia was suffering the ongoing affects of drought.


Backing Our Farmers 09 was a success with the profit from supermarkets on the day totalling $7,067,992 exceeding the previous year’s result by $1.2 million.


The publicity campaign was very successful with 458 print, 193 radio, 22 television and 67 internet positive stories.  94 per cent of this was in rural and regional areas. 


Publicity highlights included:

  • The Today Show delivery of Scones, Jam & Cream (see enclosed DVD);
  • NSW Farmer’s Association write up and blog from President, Jock Lawrie (see Appendix A9);
  • Producers encouraging communities to apply for grants (see Appendix A2);
  • Genuine rural and regional case studies featured in national magazines (see Appendix A10).

The negative issues were minimal and can be attributed to keeping stakeholders informed and provided with accurate, targeted information. Support was obtained from NSW Farmers’ Association and significantly lower levels of opposition received from other SFOs.


The campaign was deemed a success because new audiences were reached, specific objectives were met and the overall response from the public to the campaign was enthusiastic and positive.

  • To raise more than $5.8 million.

More than $7 million dollars was raised in 2009 exceeding fundraising expectations and demonstrating support from customers.

  • Generate more positive media coverage in rural and regional areas than previous years, and use the media to communicate genuine and positive stories about Australian farming families.

In 2009 the overall positive media coverage received for Backing Our Farmers was greater than the overall 2008 results. Importantly 94 per cent of the coverage appeared in rural and regional media – a significant increase on the previous year when 75 per cent was in rural and regional media.


In addition the negative media overage received was significantly less than 2008 – a testament to the approach adopted this year.


Working with suppliers to have them tell their stories and give their support also resonated in agricultural communities with impactful coverage received.

  • Generate awareness amongst eligible communities and families about the grants and how to apply prior and therefore, achieve sufficient grant applications.

More than 3000 individual grants were distributed and the individual grants were fully subscribed within three days of the applications opening.

Almost 370 community grants were distributed and represented 43 per cent of applications received. This demonstrates a high level of awareness of the grants and the application process.


  • To engage openly and directly with agribusiness and agricultural organisations and receive their support for the program.

For the first time communication took place directly with SFOs and industry bodies. Responses received included direct positive email replies and inclusion in numerous email newsletters and websites.

  • Give the CWA more involvement in the program and raise the profile of their role in the grant distribution process.

The CWA was referenced in the majority of the media coverage received and in numerous articles and television features the CWA was the primary focus (see examples at Appendix A11).


Post-event feedback from the CWA indicated the organisation felt positive about the 2009 communication approach (see reference at Appendix A12).