Cool for Cats

It’s a beautiful spring morning here in Melbourne. It’s also the Red Cross Disaster Preparedness Week. This is our third national campaign to promote disaster preparedness amongst Australians. Each year we try to engage with people with different themes, rather than a blunt “You must be prepared message.” Anyone else hated being told to clean up their room by their parents? The different themes we hope hook people into a broader preparedness message, both ours and through us the important messages of the hazard specialists (fire and SES).

The first theme we ran was on neighbours and the importance of social capital and relationships. Last year’s we planned to run it on what is irreplaceable and important to you. However the week was scheduled later into October because of the uncertainty about the federal election, and lined up exactly with the Blue Mountains Bushfires. What’s that about the unpredictability of disasters. We took the pragmatic decision not to run the campaign, for two reasons; we didn’t want to “compete” with the very important messaging that RFS was running about the fires, and we felt that talking about irreplaceables when people had lost their homes was very insensitive and potentially rubbing people’s noses in it. Anyway, it was interesting most of the media interviews with home owners focussed on what people had lost, so in some respect we were getting the focus that we needed.

This year’s campaign is taking up the irreplaceables theme again, and we did a national survey of 1000 people and asked a few simple questions. The surveys themselves I don’t think have a huge value in helping us plan, however they are really important in getting a hook into media. So when your survey comes back and says that over 90% of people haven’ made a plan and more than 80% of people haven’t put together a kit, despite over 85% of people agreeing that it is important or extremely important, then the media are very interested.

The survey also suggests that people are more likely to grab their phone/wallet/laptop/ipad than things of sentimental value. This is fascinating, and doesn’t line up with what people tell us anecdotally after the emergency, that it is those precious things that can’t be replaced that they most miss. Perhaps it is because people don’t make the connection about the importance of loss, and relate mainly to things they know. Who hasn’t lost wallet/purse/phone, or had a laptop/tablet crap itself. We all know the hassle of replacing these things. But few people have had the experience of losing what’s important to them, so it is abstract.

We are trying to engage and conversations with people about what is important to them. Get them starting to think about those precious items that can’t be replaced (and you know mine). Hopefully through this process they then link back into our broader messages of Be Informed, Make a Plan, Get a Kit and Know Your Neighbours, and then from there into the hazard specific messaging, once they have identified their local risks.

Last year we had these memes developed for the social media part of the campaign, hooking into the idea that disaster preparedness doesn’t have to be stuffy and boring. It is a fine line to run, but humour is an effective way of engaging people, particularly in the social media space where users tend to be younger, and more metro based; two hard to engage groups.

The challenge of running a national campaign is timing, as each state government agency will run their own campaigns, depending upon when the highest risk period is. We don’t want to compete with other campaigns, instead try to complement by laying the ground work in people’s minds for more hazard specific campaigns. September is great, as the southern states are starting to emerge from their winter slumber, and the northern states are starting to head into “troppo” the tropical heat and humidity.

We know that our messages potentially reach over a million people (audience and readership numbers) because of who we are, the Red Cross (it helps having the second or third most recognisable symbol in the world as your emblem). We haven’t yet been able to measure the effectiveness of the campaign. This is on our agenda. As is a 5 year campaign strategy, which lays out themes an activities over the next five years.


2 thoughts on “Cool for Cats

    1. So true Tony, we do ask our state guys to check when various campaigns are, so that we try to avoid them, or be placed to support them, but I’m really clear that we aren’t here to compete. It was fascinating in a TV interview I did on tuesday, the producers wanted me to talk about how to escape a bushfire or flood or cyclone, and I had to keep batting it back and saying the experts are best placed to answer these questions!


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