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When A Winter Appeal Gets Burned

19 June 2006 at 1:06 pm
Staff Reporter
Anglicare Victoria has spent the last few weeks apologising and regrouping after an unexpected and disastrous response to its Winter Appeal Campaign called “Final Notice”. So are there any valuable lessons?

Staff Reporter | 19 June 2006 at 1:06 pm


When A Winter Appeal Gets Burned
19 June 2006 at 1:06 pm

Anglicare Victoria has spent the last few weeks apologising and regrouping after an unexpected and disastrous response to its Winter Appeal Campaign called “Final Notice”. So are there any valuable lessons for the Not for Profit sector?

But first here’s the background. On the 1st of June some 20,000 Victorians received a “Final Notice” letter from Anglicare Victoria promoting its winter appeal.

The letters were designed to look like a power bill, listing an account number, the amount due of $246.43 and the payment options.

According to an Anglicare Victoria statement the idea behind the communication was to encourage recipients to think about the situation that many Anglicare clients, suffering from financial hardship, find themselves in at any time during the year.

But angry callers flooded talkback radio and other media outlets in Melbourne and the charity began receiving dozens of emails and phone complaints to its office.

Some people are believed to have paid the exact amount fearing their power would be cut off.

According to Media Monitors, the “Final Notice” campaign was extensively discussed in the Victorian media over 2 days in daily newspapers and radio broadcasts (metropolitan and regional).

Leading Melbourne radio station 3AW and the ABC’s 3LO took many talk back complaints during programs across the day and in scheduled news reports.

Across the state the radio audience tuned into the caller angst over the ‘Final Notice’ campaign was estimated by Media Monitors to be 907,000.

Anglicare Victoria’s CEO, Dr Ray Cleary told radio audiences that the campaign was certainly not intended to offend people, or to “trick” any individuals into giving money under false pretences.

He said while Anglicare felt strongly that the plight of the disadvantaged living in the community needs to be highlighted, the organisation acknowledged that this letter did not achieve this on this occasion.

Anglicare was forced to put up an apology on its website and 20,000 apology letters were sent to the original recipients. Anglicare organisations in other states were forced to distance themselves from the campaign, posting notices on their own websites.

Dr. Cleary also explained during media interviews that Anglicare would check with any person seeking to pay the exact amount of $246.43, to ensure they fully understand the nature of the letter.

Sam Elam is the Director of Media Manoeuvres, one of Australia’s leading media reputation management companies. Initially, Elam says she was surprised to hear Dr. Cleary explain in one interview that Anglicare Victoria had been ‘caught by surprise’ by the reaction to the appeal.

Elam says if the organisation had carried out an effective ‘issues audit’ before the campaign began to highlight any controversial areas that might arise then they may not have sent out the notices.

If however Anglicare did assess that there was a chance that there may be a strong reaction then Elam says their campaign would appear to be naïve.

In any crisis management, organisations should try to be on the front foot of the problem rather than waiting for it to become a full blown media event.

Elam says it appears that Anglicare only responded once the media made inquiries. However, the organisation should have been able to gauge public reaction by the complaint calls to their own office and responded proactively by contacting the media to provide an early explanation or an apology.

She says Dr. Cleary made a sincere and unreserved apology but reputationally the public’s perception is that the campaign did not align well with Anglicare’s core values and philosophy.

Editor’s note: Anglicare Victoria declined to comment on how it managed the crisis when a request was made for this article.

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