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How do you engage people from a marketing point of view in a conversation around death? With a death cafe of course!

In this episode, we are chatting with Simon Graham who sits on the Australian Marketing Institute NSW committee with me. And we explore the topic of community engagement.

Simon has more than 20 years of experience in the Marketing, Sales and Community Engagement. He headed up the marketing department for the Dooley’s Group of Clubs for twelve years.

Simon has also worked as Marketing Manager of North Coast Cemeteries. One day my curiosity as a marketer got the better of me and I started asking him how the hell he marketed cemeteries and funerals.

As it happens, just as it had in his role with Dooley’s Club, a good portion of his marketing success came down to community engagement….

Simon is such a smart marketer and a really lovely guy. I highly recommend this episode to any small business looking to truly engage with your community in a way that it leads to a win for you as a brand and for them as a customer.

We’d love to hear your thoughts about this episode. Come in and join the conversation in the How To Do Marketing Facebook Group.

If you would like to connect with Simon, you can find him on LinkedIn at: Simon B Graham


Episode Transcript:

Jane:

Simon, can you please provide your definition of community engagement? What is it and how do you think this activity can be beneficial for small business?

Simon:

Oh for me, the definition of community engagement is doing something that genuinely adds value to the community that you or your business a part of. So there’s a number of different components of that. And community engagement can mean different things to different people. In the council environment, when they talk about community engagement, in some cases they’re talking about developer planning, when a large development is going up, they need to go out and consult with the local community. When I think we’re talking about community engagement, we’re talking about, doing things that are supporting the local community. In terms of sponsorship, donation, fundraising, things that really add value. And what that is about is being able to, I think build your brand and build a little bit of public relations support. It’s really doing something for the community and in an environment where, you know, businesses will be supported by a community if the community sees the business providing support to that community. So to me, that’s what community engagement is about. It’s genuinely doing something that’s useful. And for the right reasons.

Jane:

Yeah. And as you so absolutely correctly said there, in terms of, if a community, and whether that be a regional local community, a business community, if they can actually see a demonstration that your business or your organisation is a part of that community in terms of they actually contribute to that community they will be far more likely to actually contribute back to your business or your organisation. Whether that be providing you with loyalty or providing you with sales or providing you with great word of mouth or whatever that is. So excellent. Thank you. Yeah, and you’re absolutely right. There’s a couple of different versions of community engagement, very common with property development, council, et cetera. But this interview we’re more referring to the community engagement that brands and businesses can have with their communities.

Simon:

Yeah. Look, I think for me it’s about, are you X person that is known for selling this product or this service or are you this person who’s known because you do this thing for the community. People remember that. That’s the stuff that kind of is a bit of a point of difference. That is the stuff that you also caught at the front of your website, your social the photos. That’s the stuff that people are genuinely interested in families. So then a promotion that says, come in on Friday cause we’re selling extra 50% discount or whatever. You’ve got a genuine story about something that’s happening in the community that’s what you’ll find there’s a higher level of engagement and support and resonance.

Jane:

Oh, 100% absolutely. And in my experience, particularly in regional areas, what I see is a lot of businesses who are contributing to the community and while it’s incredibly generous, sometimes their contributions seem to be a little bit sporadic or random in the execution. Can you talk us through the strategic and planning consideration that organisations should work through before they start implementing any community engagement tactics? And please feel free, I mean obviously you’ve worked in for clubs as well as within the funeral industry. So please feel free to use examples there of how you planned for your community engagement efforts.

Simon:

Well, I think the two points you made or you mentioned two things that are really key is actually have a plan and have a strategy and it doesn’t have to be really complicated and the plan should be a plan on a page. And really the strategy might be that in the next year we’ll contribute $1,000 towards community engagement activity or we will sponsor one significant event or we will support one fundraising activity. And the plan really is just talking about what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, how are you going to do it, when, who, and how much it’s going to cost. It doesn’t have to be particularly difficult because then with plan you’ve actually got some criteria around what you want to support and why you want to do it. And there are so many things that you can do in terms of community engagement with its volunteering, fundraising, events, support sponsorship.

And regional communities and regional businesses do a huge amount to support their local communities. And that’s really, something that is incredibly important and incredibly valuable. I think one of the most important things to do is do some research. So if you’re actually wanting to get involved in community engagement, understand what are the opportunities or issues out there in the community that you can genuinely add value to, but also where you’re going to get if you like a return on investment. And local councils will produce reports that tell you a lot of information about what issues are in the local community. But also your customers will tell you that as well. And if you want to be doing community engagement, I recommend that it’s around things that your customers are also interested in and that resonates because that’s the crossover at the end of the day.

So, look, it’s about just having a bit of a plan and an idea of what it is that you want to do because otherwise, you will respond to great initiatives that literally walk in the door, but it’s just literally you respond to those initiatives as they come up. The big thing with community engagement from my experience is build a relationship. It’s about building those relationships over a longer term with specific organisations that you may want to partner with because that’s where you really get the value. It’s not the one of cheque writing exercise. It’s actually if you work with the local sports club or a charitable organisation and you do that over a period of time, that really adds value. And that’s where you can build support and also build your brand.

Jane:

Yeah, absolutely. And you have got some cracking examples and of how you’ve successfully incorporated that community engagement into your overall marketing plan because your role has been as you know, overall marketing director. So community engagement is just one of the things that you do in order to achieve your objective. So if we start off when you were working for the clubs for Dooley’s clubs, how did you plan and execute and measure your community engagements for the Dooley’s clubs?

Simon:

Well when I started with Dooley’s community engagement, it was managed as a cheque writing exercise. And that’s in some cases within the club industry, there’s a thing called club grass, which is a percentage of revenue. It gets allocated towards community expenditure. There’s an opportunity with that to actually build on that. And for me, the starting point was to really look within my key marketing strategies, actually putting community engagement as a key strategy. And the reasons for that was, you know, there’s an expectation that as a community club we are contributing and genuinely adding bodies to the community. And we needed to be able to demonstrate that. So it really did come down to building a bit of a plan. We did the cheque writing thing, and it used to be random every year, so we would just write different cheques out to different people.

And what I wanted to do was build up some relationships with key partners so you actually develop community partners as part of your plan and work with organisations over a period of time to understand what it is that they need, but also work with them to genuinely help what they are doing. And originally then when they started, that was just me doing that. It’s part of my role. And then I brought on or was supported by community engagement coordinator because it started to build and we ended up with a program that had nearly 150 organisations that we were supporting in the local community with a budget North of $3 million. And the success of it was just built around the success of the business. As the business got bigger, we were able to contribute more to the community, but we had some amazing relationships that were really, really genuinely valuable in terms of support of Netball New South Wales with where we were a sponsor for the state league and sporting sponsorships are enormously valuable.

If you find ones that are relevant and meaningful to your community and enormously appreciate it, then you get a lot of value. We partnered with the Children’s Hospital at Westmead and focused specifically on oncology cancer. And then we provided funding and support for research, but we also had people who were working in the club who are customers who used to make things to sell at the hospital shop. So, the way in which we did, was we looked at a holistic approach around what can we do, but also how can we involve our customers in the process. And people found that really important. And I guess at the end of the day, what you’re looking for is people who will become ambassadors for your business because they know what you do, they know why you do it. They know you care about the community and they’re prepared to go out there and talk on your behalf about the great stuff that you do. And that’s the best advertising that you can possibly have.

Jane:

They are fantastic examples. So with the nitty gritty, so say for example, you said you were supporting netball New South Wales and you sponsored one of their state competitions. So what did they get out of a sponsorship like that? I mean, obviously it’s money but what else do they get out of that? And then, what do you get out of that? Like, what does the tactical implementation of that look like?

Simon:

Look, I think there’s a number of things that if you are going to become involved in some form of community engagement, you also need to have some kind of agreement or contract if you like with your community partner that literally does spell out what you do and what they do and what your expectations are and how you’re going to measure that. For me it was about, we contributed a certain amount of money in return for which we got certain acknowledgement. We were acknowledged as a sponsor at a certain level. We got acknowledgement on their website through the social. We had signage opportunities at the netball centre. We had the opportunity to participate as a presenter to attend dinners. We also had the opportunity to run competitions specifically for the members. So there were things that you can do in the partnership because these organisations had their own membership base.

So it’s almost like you have an opportunity to access there membership base with an offer for your business. If you do that in a right way and give them something meaningful. Make it something a bit special. And that way you actually get a response and a return on an investment that is really valuable. If they are hosting a dinner or an event or a presentation, the other thing to do is actually turn up, be there, stand up and say, I’m really happy to be a sponsor. This organisation, this club, this sporting group does amazing things for the community and I’m going to be continuing to sponsor and support what they do. That personal contribution is enormously valuable and it’s enormously supported as well. The other thing to link to it is just the photo opportunities where if you support through the council ‘Clean up Australia Day’ initiative, make sure someone’s taking a photo.

iPhone’s have got great cameras on them. Someone gets the photo, go and get some t-shirts printed with your logo on it, make sure everybody is wearing a tee shirt, grab a photo, put that on your social, even better, send that to the local newspaper, make sure it’s a really great photo. Lots of colour, right balance. But send that to the local newspaper with a little bit of a story in it and that stuff is quite likely to get picked up because they love that and that’s where you get a really good return on investment if you like, from involving yourself in community engagement.

Jane:

Yeah, I love it, some great examples there and I think you’re absolutely right if you’re going to do this, it is a marketing initiative, but make it an operation or an operational priority as well. And as you said, make sure somebody within the executive team or the small business owner who might be sponsoring this, make sure that they turn up at the event because that way, you’ve got a room full of people who can put a face to the logo. That’s been on the basketball courts or on the netball courts all season. There’s a face behind that. And as you said, it’s about building relationships and people are obviously much more inclined to connect with people. So get your people behind those sponsorships and as you said, great example, get the photos of people in your tee shirts and people actually partaking in those sponsorship initiatives because then it becomes more than just the logo.

Jane:

On a tee shirt or on the side of a netball court. It actually becomes the people within that organisation, connecting to people that will ultimately be your customers. Great tips there. Now this one I love, I remember nearly falling off my chair when you were telling me about these community engagement examples. So you moved from the Dooley’s group of clubs into working for a funeral organisation. And you told me the story about something called the death cafe. Can you run us through this example of community engagement.

Simon:

I moved across to work for a while for a trust that managed a group of cemetery’s crematoria and one of the big changes that was happening within that industry was the need for community engagement. And really what that was about was, people at a time of death and dying, it’s a really, really difficult time in people’s lives and most of us aren’t prepared for it. And most of us generally don’t deal with death and dying well. And so there was an opportunity to build a community engagement program to support the people who are in need at a time of loss. And one of the things that I came across when I was looking at the research, again, research being a key thing to do when you’re putting together your community engagement plan was this idea of a Death Cafe. Death Cafe is an international movement and what it is, is literally a space where people get together, they have tea and coffee and they talk about death. And when I first mentioned this the response I got was like, what? What are you talking about?

But what it is, it’s actually an environment where people can comfortably get to do that and talk about what’s happened to them or what might be going to happen to them. The fact that they’ve lost someone and they just want to be able to talk about it in an environment where everyone is comfortable to talk about death. And we ran these as part of a community engagement program and we did a whole number of different seminars, education programs. We did community days, we did a whole lot of different things. We even ran Tai-Chi at one stage and one of our outdoor pavilions. But the whole idea with the Death Cafe was it just means, people could come together and feel that they were going to be able be supported and supportive because they could actually talk about what was going on in their lives and not have someone going, oh there there. It’s okay. Cause it’s not okay. We had I remember one of our guests was a woman, she was ill, an older woman and she was had three adult children and she wanted to talk about what was happening. She would bring up dying and none of her kids wanted to talk about it. They just say, no, no, no, we can’t talk about this. So she wanted some actual help to be able to say, how do I start talking about this stuff? Because it’s important. I want them to know what I’m going through, what I’d like to have happen and be able to have a conversation about it. So that was the whole idea behind the Death Cafe. Don’t be afraid if you’re thinking about doing community engagement to think outside the box as far as it’s okay to think about different ideas of things that you can do that other people aren’t necessarily doing. It’s great to actually look at a whole range of options before you choose the one that will go through.

Jane:

Yeah. Yeah. And so in terms of this, so if you kind of started that initiative around the Death Cafe, how did you promote that? Did you go out like what? I can’t even begin to think about how you acquire new customers for a funeral parlour. How did you promote this specific community engagement activity? Was it to new people? Was it to existing kind of inquiries? Like, how did that work?

Simon:

Well look, in any business we have a database? It’s a really important that you build your, in this day and age, your social was incredibly important. Facebook, Instagram, YouTube.

Jane:

How do you promote the death café on Instagram? Talk us through those examples.

Simon:

We probably, what we were doing was we take the cemeteries, because they are actually beautiful large public parks, as well as being places of memorialisation. So you have incredible flora and fauna. And you know, we had avenues of jacarandas, we had different wildlife and so we would take photos at different times. Yeah. And actually put that on our Instagram and also around key events ANZAC Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, there would be Father’s Day, we do all these times when you can actually include. And also when other people are taking their own photos, they tag the site. They tag that they’re attending or visiting cemetery. So those are the things that you just look at those different ways in which you can, lean through, but with the Death cafe we were working with community again, the idea is work with the community partners. So we partnered with an organisation that it was actually involved in running support services for people who are experiencing grief and loss and they brought their own database with them. So, and I promoted it. So to be honest, it wasn’t necessarily us. We actually provided a venue. We provided the support, promotional support for it, but they, because if again, it’s looking at smart ways you can partner with organisations who have their own ability to create or manage these events. You don’t necessarily have to start from scratch.

Jane:

Yeah. That’s brilliant. That’s such out of the box thinking. And I can imagine in your role in marketing there, it would’ve just been full of out of the box thinking in terms of how you get the message of death. Because as you said, it’s just not something that people are necessarily comfortable talking about. And I think in that respect, the fact that you showed up for your community and provided them with something that they clearly needed, you know and it was outside of the scope of their family and their friends who just either couldn’t or wouldn’t or talk about that with them. The fact that you offered platform is brilliant. So what kind of uptake and engagement and I guess measurement parameters, did you put? How did you work out whether this was actually something that was adding value to your business?

Simon:

Well, my thinking around community engagement is it’s a longer term investment because you’re building relationships over time. It’s not a case of I spent X amount of dollars to run this particular event and I expect to get sales of Y as a result. I wouldn’t have that view. The things you can do if people are attending an event, a Death Cafe, an open day, an education seminar, you take the opportunity to build a database, collect their email addresses, and their phone numbers. And just on the basis that if we were running something else like this, would you be interested in attending? What you’ve done is just provided an opportunity to actually create some lead generation? It’s not as blatant as that, but at the end of the day, you’re looking for opportunities to engage with customers or potential customers and there’s no problem with doing that.

The other thing you’re looking for is amplifications for your either media. So if you get articles in the local newspaper you know, bear in mind the multiplier effect, an article in the newspaper is worth three times the same space in advertise in advertising. That is incredibly valuable. If you can do that. Also, if you publicize these events on your social, your website, your Facebook page, then you know, this is something you can measure in terms of likes, shares, comments and click-throughs to your website. So there’s a number of metrics that you can put around your community engagement that really talks about the number of people who will see your brand.

Jane:

Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Brilliant. That’s excellent. Wow. That’s such a great example of community engagement that I think has the potential to provide a really rich form of engagement that goes beyond the kind of sponsorship of the local netball team, really, doesn’t it? Like, that’s a really emotional kind of connection that people stand to have with your business. Excellent. So are there any tips, because again, and you touched on it before in terms of actually getting people to see for this sponsorship to be visible. You spoke about you know, getting people to wear your tee shirts when they’re down doing ‘Clean up Australia Day’ or turning up at the various sponsorship events, putting your logo on the sporting ground, et cetera. Because again, this is something where a lot of businesses, they might be pouring out these sponsorship dollars, but no one’s seeing it in terms of how businesses kind of get that visible. But also, if there’s any additional tips around how they can measure that effort or plan that if it most successfully. Have you got your kind of top tips for what businesses should do to really make sure that their community engagement hums?

Simon:

Well, for me, I think the idea is, rather than try and do 10 things, do three things really well, bring it down. Because community engagement, there are so many things you can do in your local community. There’s a vast range of things and it’s really hard in some cases to say no because they’re all good causes, they’re all great. You’d need to have some criteria and be able to say, these are the two, three, five things that we will do. The other thing is if you’ve got to do it, don’t call it play. So there’s a kind of rule of thumb that says, for every sponsorship dollar that you spend, you need to spend another $2 to actually maximize the value out of it. So $5,000 to sponsor the local club sporting club, it’s actually going to cost you $15,000 by the time you add in all the things that you’d be should be doing in terms of time to build your relationship, to add promotions, to advertise.

Because it’s not just enough to write out the cheque. You’ve actually gotta be telling people and advertising it. So there’s an investment over and above what the initial cost is. And that’s something you just need to build into your thinking as far as what the time is and what the investment will be. But if you’re realistic about that, then you really will get the return on investment. But it’s also, built the relationships with the key people who will support you because they’re aligned to what it is that you’re trying to achieve. So it’s about a value proposition and working with people who share the same values.

Jane:

Oh, love it. They are cracking tips. Thank you so much for that. That tip about I assume that you’re going to need to spend at least two or three times the original amount of the sponsorship is a cracker. Like, and I think that’s something that a lot of businesses could take away in terms of understanding how to really make that sponsorship worthwhile and more importantly visible so that, if you’re going to get the benefits out of sponsoring an organisation, make sure people know about it, you know so that yes, you’re delivering value to that sponsored organisation, to your community. But with marketing, we also need to make sure that we’re delivering value for the organisation itself. So brilliant. I love it. So much good insight. So many good tips. Now, Simon, if people want to connect with you because they loved hearing what you have to say, where can they find you?

Simon:

I am on LinkedIn Simon B Graham and I can also provide some contact details for you.

Jane:

I can put those in the show notes. Absolutely. So that’s Simon B Graham on LinkedIn. And look, I just can’t thank you enough for such a wonderful bit of insight into the world of community engagement with some fantastic examples. Thank you Simon.

Simon:

That’s all right. You’re very welcome.

 

 

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