Case study: Menzies Research Institute Funding Campaign

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Related areas of service: CampaigningGovernment Relations 

On May 10, 2011 the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania received word that it would not be subject to federal funding cuts that threatened a 50 per cent cut to the Institute’s annual budget and the loss of 150 medical research jobs in the State. Font was asked to help with the design and implementation of a short but effective lobbying campaign. 

In April 2011, the Menzies Research InstituteTasmaniawas faced with federal funding cuts in research support to the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), which provides critical funding forAustralia’s medical research institutes and pays the salaries of some 8,000 researchers.

Since inception, Menzies had developed and fostered a strong reputation as an innovative and highly-skilled research organisation, capable of producing world-class results and findings.

The Federal Government was poised to cut medical research funding of $715m at the time to $400m over three years in the May 2011 Budget, which would potentially see the loss of around 150 medical research jobs and 50 per cent ($10 million) of the Menzies’ yearly budget.

The funding cuts would have meant that research for diseases such as cancer, dementia, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease and arthritis would have been significantly reduced or even abandoned.

It would have also meant that Menzies would have no longer had the financial resources to train and educate PhD students, meaning the State’s top scientists may have been forced to further their careers either interstate or overseas.

Menzies approached Font to assist with the implementation of a community awareness campaign to pressure the Government into abandoning the proposed cuts.

This saw a short and effective media and social media campaign, which gained rapid momentum and significant coverage in the ensuing weeks, both at a state and national level.

While raising media interest initially was quite simple due to the contentious nature of the issue, Font knew that more would need to be done to keep momentum. Font recommended a lobbying and social media strategy with elected members of parliament.

On April 14, this saw Nelson MLC Jim Wilkinson move an urgency motion in the Tasmanian Upper House to call for an assurance from the Federal Government that funding would continue to be supplied to the Menzies Research Institute Tasmania.

The motion received unanimous support from the Legislative Council and State Government after Font provided briefings for members and parliamentary speech notes to support Jim Wilkinson in the move.

Font also prepared and issued briefing papers to other Legislative Council members and invited senior Menzies employees and managers to attend the sitting. Following the sitting, Font prepared and distributed letters to all members of the State and Federal parliaments, highlighting the issue and thanking the Upper House members for their support.

In addition, a social media campaign was devised for Menzies aimed to attract interest in the funding campaign and engage online supporters. This involved the creation of a Facebook page, Save lives, Save Tasmanian medical research and a Twitter handle, @ProfSimonFoote. Font set up and monitored both accounts on behalf of Menzies Centre, working closely with its director Simon Foote.

As part of the nationwide Twitter discussion #protectresearch, Font tweeted on behalf of Professor Foote. On the weekend of April 12, the #protectresearch discussion was one of the top 10 most popular Twitter discussions in Australia.

Font also monitored activity on the Menzies Facebook page, posting regularly to ensure that a relationship was established and fostered with the Institute’s followers. This included links to YouTube content, also created and uploaded by Font, as well as campaign updates and important milestones.

The YouTube content included interviews with Simon Foote and other senior Menzies staff, as well as students of the Institute. The goal behind this element of the social media campaign was to put faces to the stories and the people affected by the proposed funding cuts. By personalising the issue through individual stories, Font was able to create a more meaningful and hard-hitting campaign.

By this stage, the media campaign and social media strategy, along with parliamentary work had attracted the attention of Andrew Wilkie and the Federal Government, who was sensitive to Mr Wilkie’s balance of power role in the Federal Parliament.

Hence, on May 10, Menzies was notified by Federal sources that the Institute would not be subject to funding cuts.

The result was a big tick of approval for the work achieved by Font, as it was clear evidence that the increased publicity and awareness of the campaign had reached its intended audience, and a truly successful outcome had been achieved.

“We knew the campaign was working when we started to get politicians engaging with us on Twitter. That’s when I saw the power social media had in influencing people.” Penny Fannin, Communications Manager, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (Menzies affiliate)

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