The CMO Show:
Anastasia Symons on achieving cut...

The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that 80% of consumers expect brands to solve society’s problems by being a force for good. 

R U OK? is a non-profit organisation that exists to help prevent suicide by “inspiring and empowering people to meaningfully connect with those in their world and lend support when they are struggling with life”.

“We make sure that the stories that we share, the messages that we create, are tested with people who have had a R U OK? conversation. So they’ve asked someone that they love, or been asked themselves to make sure that we’re reflecting what they learnt through that journey, what worked for them, what didn’t work, and really drilling down into that,” says Anastasia Symons, Brand & Marketing Manager at R U OK?

With more than 160 events raising awareness for mental health taking place in Australia on an annual basis, R U OK? has sought to differentiate itself by placing emphasis on supporting the ‘help-giver,’ and sharing stories of lived experiences. 

“Something that has shifted a little bit for us in the last few years is that we’re moving beyond the celebrity engagement model. Where we really find success is in the real voices – the you and I’s of the world,” Anastasia says. 

“What we do as an organisation is that we’re constantly scanning for these stories, for these people who have taken it upon themselves to champion the message. We make contact with these individuals to thank them for sharing their story, connect them to the resources that they might need, and where it makes sense, to deepen that relationship and to continue to work alongside them.”

Anastasia says this shift away from a traditional influencer-focused marketing model towards an inclusive and collaborative community-focused marketing model works well for the organisation, as it’s an approach that’s well aligned with its purpose and mission.

An impressive ~50,000 pieces of user-generated content (UGC) are produced across various social media channels in the lead up to R U OK? Day each year.

“I do think that personal connection – the follow-up from our organisation – does really drive that conversation,” Anastasia says. 

Check out this episode of The CMO Show to hear more from Anastasia and find out how marketers can achieve cut through in a crowded market with purpose-driven brand storytelling.

Resources

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The CMO Show production team

Producers – Charlotte Goodwin & Stephanie Woo

Audio Engineers – Tom Henderson & Daniel Marr

Got an idea for an upcoming episode or want to be a guest on The CMO Show? We’d love to hear from you: cmoshow@filteredmedia.com.au.

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Transcript

Host: Mark Jones

Guest: Anastasia Symons

Mark Jones:
Purpose is ‘so hot right now’ – it’s been a business buzzword for some time. But purpose is more than a passing fad. Understanding your purpose is the key to crafting a strong brand identity amid that dreaded ‘sea of sameness’. So if you’re struggling to achieve cut-through in a crowded marketplace – stop and think about your brand purpose and how you communicate it. Customers increasingly want to understand a brand’s unique reason for existing, and how your brand can make a real difference – beyond profit.

Mark Jones:
Hello friends! Mark Jones here. Great to have you back with us on The CMO Show – a podcast, by the way, that has now been running for six years – it’s so awesome! And our loyal listeners will know that our guiding light for this season of the podcast is sharing stories about brands with a ‘purpose beyond profit’. And if you’re new here, it’s great to have you with us! Our 2021 season will be all about conversations with marketing leaders who head up purpose-driven brands.

Mark Jones:
And speaking of which – my guest on this episode is Anastasia Symons. She’s Brand & Marketing Manager at R U OK? – the Aussie non-profit dedicated to inspiring and empowering everyone to have a conversation that could change a life. Now just a heads-up – a bit of a warning before we jump into the conversation. Anastasia and I do discuss the topic of suicide prevention as part of the interview, so if that is a difficult topic for you, I do encourage you to take a moment and think about whether you want to keep listening. Otherwise, please do join me as I speak with Anastasia about achieving cut-through in a crowded marketplace, and how authentic storytelling can be a powerful marketing tool. 

Mark Jones:
Anastasia Symons, so great to have you with us today.

Anastasia Symons:
It’s lovely to be here, Mark. Thanks so much for inviting me on. I’m really looking forward to our discussion.

Mark Jones:
Now I reckon just about everybody knows R U OK?, which is a really great position to be in in this world of “How do I get brand awareness? Doesn’t anybody know how amazing we are?” But for those of us who don’t, please give us a quick overview.

Anastasia Symons:
So R U OK? as you just mentioned, is one of Australia’s most well-known health promotion campaigns. And so our focus is on inspiring and empowering people to meaningfully connect, and lend support to anyone in their world who might be struggling with life. So our focus is on the help-giver – the friends, the family, the colleagues around someone who may be experiencing distress or going through some challenges in life – and giving them the skills and the confidence to provide support, and connect them to help if required and needed as well.

Anastasia Symons:
So today as I talk through some of the examples in the work I do, it may bring up some complex emotions for you. And if it does, I hope today is the day that you reach out to someone that you trust to talk about how you’re feeling, or reach out for support. And that may mean calling a crisis service like Lifeline, which is available 24/7 on 13 11 14.

Mark Jones:
Thank you for that. I think it’s really important we reiterate that. In fact, I love that about the community – broadly speaking in this space – that is so ‘others focused; and interested in giving people that perspective.

Mark Jones:
Now I just wanted to pick up one thing, is the messaging you used there was around struggling with life. I think that’s interesting because we hear a lot about mental health and mental health care. Tell me about the difference between the two as you understand it.

Anastasia Symons:
Yes, so what we know is that there are times in our life when we might need support. It could be when we’re experiencing a period of grief or loss, or going through a major change. It could be work has shifted, we’ve moved cities, something’s shifted in our life. And so while you may not be experiencing a mental health issue, that’s still a period of hardship and a time when you need support from others.

Anastasia Symons:
What we also know is that when people call into these crisis support services, they’re often calling in for support for other issues – financial problems, relationship issues. And so we want to make sure that our messaging – as an organisation – speaks to people who are going through those tough times, as well as those who are experiencing a mental health issue, and making sure that their friends and their family aren’t going straight into diagnosis, but instead focusing on the things that might be leading to distress – those moments in life, and really reaching out and providing that support.

Mark Jones:
Yeah, that’s great. Tell us about your role. I think many people aspire to working in – if you’re in the marcomms space, doing something meaningful, significant, connecting up with a for-purpose organisation. How did you come to be in the role and what got you there?

Anastasia Symons:
It was quite funny actually. It was someone posted about it on Facebook. My sister saw it, passed it along to me and said, “I think this is the next step for you.” I was working in politics at that time and was seeking that adventure, that chance to work on a issue or a problem that affected many Australians. And as someone whose life has been touched by suicide, having a lost some loved ones, it was something that I really wanted to make to a difference on.

Anastasia Symons:
So I applied for this role with the organisation, and started work as a Campaign Manager, and have been here for almost six years. And over time have moved up to take over the marketing portfolio, which I absolutely adore having that opportunity to inspire and empower Australians to lend support, to role model the behaviour, and to also share the stories of lived experiences is something that brings such joy to my work life every single day.

Mark Jones:
Go back six years and you’re just about to start work, it’s the night before, and you’re not sure what’s coming. What were you worried about?

Anastasia Symons:
I think I was most concerned about being a subject matter expert. So I hadn’t worked in suicide prevention before. I hadn’t worked in health promotion. I’d worked on political campaigns, which – they can shift and they can move quite frequently -so tying yourself to a single issue that you didn’t feel you were a subject matter expert in was definitely something that worried me. So I was frantically reading absolutely everything that I possibly could on the subject, and came into the organisation – perhaps a little bit overwhelmed – and thankfully had a fantastic Campaign Director who set me straight with the information that I needed to focus solely on our organisation and our mission, and not get caught up in tackling the entire complex issue of suicide prevention.

Mark Jones:
You’ve obviously grown, as you said, from this Campaign Manager role into the full marketing role. What’s the difference between the two?

Anastasia Symons:
The Campaign Manager position was when we were almost in that startup phase, I was the fourth employee at R U OK?. We’ve since grown to an organisation which has 17 staff nationally. So still relatively small, but certainly more established than I was in the day. And the idea was that they needed a project manager to come in and support their community engagement activities.

Anastasia Symons:
When I arrived, the first thing that we kind of noticed when we were talking about my background and where the organisation wanted to go, was that the digital campaigning arm of the organisation perhaps needed a little bit more direction and a little bit more attention. And so I gravitated towards creating our first digital engagement strategy for R U OK? Day in 2015.

Anastasia Symons:
And through that, I discovered that I had a natural affinity for marketing and for creating these longer term communication strategies. And so I slowly evolved into this position over time as the organisation grew and my understanding of our role and the space grew too.

Mark Jones:
So that sounds pretty exciting and also you’re up for constant learning and change and all that stuff by the sound of it. I want to understand a bit more about how you tackle the challenges. So identifying the issues from a ‘all of us’ perspective in terms of the life challenges, we get that. But how have you gone about identifying specific issues? Because it’s not hard to find them in terms of “How do we with a small team, for example, get the reach that we need? How do we get impact, and how do we cut through?”

Mark Jones:
Just to amplify that point, we did a bit of research and there is something like, in 2021, 162 commemorative events regarding specific mental conditions. So just from a purely marketing perspective, if we can just park the issue aside, just from a marketing engagement consumer perspective, wow there’s an issue right there. How do you cut through?

Anastasia Symons:
Yeah, so when you do your environmental scan, you’ll see that there’s a lot of organisations working in this space. But R U OK? has a single-minded focus. It is on upskilling the help-giver. So a lot of those days, a lot of those activities are focused on the help seeker, which is extraordinarily important and so key to solving this complex issue of suicide in Australia.

Anastasia Symons:
But R U OK? speaks to the friends and the family around them, that informal support network and the scaffolding that we all need to navigate life’s ups and downs. And so what the organisation saw when it began, was that there was perhaps not a national campaign that focused on that help-giver and the role that they needed to play. But we knew that so many of us were gatekeepers for the people in our lives. We were put in that position of having that conversation, of being worried about someone, and were seeking out advice and information and somewhere to go to make sure that we supported our loved one – safely – and that we connected them to the help that they needed as well. So we needed to be educated, and we needed to feel confident that we can take action.

Anastasia Symons:
So we really saw that there was a unique position for R U OK? in the market. And I think that that was something really key to establishing R U OK? on the national agenda.

Anastasia Symons:
But what really launched R U OK? onto the national agenda was our founder’s story. So our founder was driven by a personal loss – so he sadly lost his father to suicide in 1995. He was left with that question that so many people who experience that loss are, “Why did it happen? What can I do to prevent this for myself and other people in the future?” And he started with a documentary.

Anastasia Symons:
So he went on a fact-finding mission. What he kept coming up against was that so many people who experience those suicide alleviation, and so many people reflecting on the loss of a loved one talked about how people had started to disconnect prior to their deaths. How they’d started to cut off from their friends and family. And their friends and family had noticed but weren’t sure how to reach out and what to say to that individual when they first started noticing those signs. Anastasia Symons: And so he saw that there was really a national need to get a framework out there for people who found themselves in this situation. And so from that, R U OK? was born. And it was quite a disrupter to the health promotion space in Australia.

Anastasia Symons:
Normally, these organisations go through a lengthy period of research prior to launching. Our founder said, “This is a problem. We’re going to go ahead. We’re going to try, and we’re going to get started.” And so he approached the federal government and they loved the idea of creating this initiative for early intervention. And from that, the first R U OK? Day was born.

Anastasia Symons:
And so while our founder has sadly since passed away from cancer, his legacy lives on 10 years later. So what we’re seeing is that message has caught national attention, and it started with that willingness to disrupt. It continued with him sharing his personal story on Australian’s Story, which captured the nation’s attention, and it’s ongoing in the activities that continue year round. So it’s no longer just a R U OK? Day. Every day is R U OK? Day with the campaigns and the resources that are being distributed nationwide.

Mark Jones:
So there’s a couple of things at play here to reflect it back to you, we’ve got the simplicity of your story. Everything’s in the name – and there’s the simplicity there. Then you’ve got the compelling origin story and how you’ve been able to grow and shape and change that.

Mark Jones:
The other component to what you just said was this gut thing that we talk about in marketing where we could get a lot of data on it, but sometimes we just know. If you’re in the position of being able to get the right resources and perhaps the right opportunity to just do it and give it a crack, we can talk about agile marketing all we like. It’s just really let’s see what happens.

Mark Jones:
As you now tell that story and shape it going forward, what keeps it relevant? What keeps connecting people? How do you do that?

Anastasia Symons:
Yeah, when I think about our brand story, the real hero in it is the friends and the family around someone who might be going through a tough time. And really that’s all of us at some point in our life. I think when the hero of your brand story is everyone across Australia, it makes your job a lot easier. But something that we continued to do is at the core of all of our activity is lived experience.

Anastasia Symons:
So we make sure that the stories that we share, the messages that we create, are tested with people who have had a R U OK? Conversation – so they’ve asked someone that they love, or been asked themselves to make sure that we’re reflecting what they learnt through that journey, what worked for them, what didn’t work, and really drilling down into that. So that’s really key for us. Whether we’re talking to our vulnerable communities, or we’re creating resources for workplaces, that lived experience is always going to be absolutely key for us.

Anastasia Symons:
I think continuing to keep at the core of our content strategy, real people. So even if we use a celebrity, their story needs to be relatable. It needs to be something that, “I, Anastasia, who lives in Leichhardt, could see myself doing with my mate down at a café.” It shouldn’t just be something that sits within the ambit of a celebrity. That’s a bit distant for me. It’s got to be relatable. It’s got to come back to something that I feel I do, and I need to see a reflection of myself in that story.

Mark Jones:
Well, you’re among friends with storytelling. That’s our heartbeat. The interesting thing in all of that is this concept of an education campaign as well. It’s one thing to ask, are you okay, but I guess the Australian psyche would say, “Yep, I’m good.” Dismissal. How do you push beyond it?

Mark Jones:
As I understand, there’s these steps. So ask, listen, encourage action, and check-in. 

Mark Jones:
I wanted to get your perspective on how you tell those stories in a way that equips somebody to push a little – to get past that initial kind of barrier. And what I think is key about this, and we see this quite a bit in brand storytelling, is how do I do that in a way that’s empathetic, it’s real, and it’s not talking down to people? It’s very hard to get across the complexity of that nuance. So how do you understand that?

Anastasia Symons:
Yeah. I think part of that is understanding your theory of change. So you need to understand the journey that you’re going to have to take people on in order to achieve your ultimate vision, which ours is a world where we’re all connected and protected from suicide. And we understand that there are different needs for awareness, education, and action. So when we’re talking about our awareness message, that’s all of population. So that comes to those issues that we can all relate to and we can all face. It’s the messaging that we hope will sit with people.

Anastasia Symons:
So when they find themself in this situation, they come to our organisation for advice and support on how to approach the conversation. And that’s where those who are engaged, we start to educate them by providing those resources in really simple language that have been checked with mental health professionals. So mental health professionals inform the approach, but the language itself is always at – the highest is Year 12 level just to make sure that it can be simple and that what sits alongside that are real examples of how this has been applied.

Anastasia Symons:
So the most popular resource for R U OK? is our simple conversation framework, which spells out the four steps. So you’ve got ask are you okay, what you might say at listen, what you might say when you’re encouraging action or connecting someone to support, and what you might say when you check back in with them. And there’s simple phrases there. And the idea there is that there’s something that someone can hold onto when they start the conversation, and continue to come back to as they try to navigate past that actually maybe I’m not okay when they’ve followed up and dug a little bit deeper.

Mark Jones:
Yeah. There’s a real courageousness required in that, isn’t there? I imagine from your point of view, you’ve mentioned the importance of getting your messaging right and having that right perspective. From the marketing perspective also, I imagine so search, SEO type strategies be really key here. How have you worked to make sure that you can get those connections to people when they need it? 

Anastasia Symons:
Yeah, you’re trying to understand what language they’ll be using when they’re looking for resources and support. And what we do find is that terms like ‘depression’, terms like ‘anxiety’ – so the diagnostic terms will often come up, and it’s how to help someone with ‘insert’ mental health issue. So making so that our resources come up when someone is typing in those phrases is really important. But also working with organisations that are able to serve up information at appropriate times. So we’re really proud to have strong relationships with Twitter, also with Twitch and various other organisations, which means that we’re listed on the support pages so that if someone is going there because they’re concerned about someone, that our resources are there to help the help-giver who is often going there to pick up a referral for their loved one.

Anastasia Symons:
What we also always try to do is to reflect to our community best case practise. So having really strong community management guidelines is something absolutely vital for a suicide prevention organisation. And what I’ve seen over my six year journey with R U OK? is that people who engage with our brand will often use our responses and our language. Maybe tweaked slightly, but we’ll see them saying the exact same thing that we say repetitively, over and over and over again. It’s really wonderful to see them reflecting that to their audience because if they’re repeating it, their audience is no doubt going to take that onboard and hopefully then they’ll put it to their audience. And soon enough, everyone across Australia understands what to say in those situations as well, which is really fantastic.

Mark Jones:
Another big hurdle for organisations like yours is partnerships. You’ve started by mentioning the government, which was right there at the beginning. I’m aware of a collaboration with a Melbourne tech startup. You also did something with a KitKat, and I’m sure there’s possibly dozens of partnerships. What’s your strategy? How do you set them up? How do you manage them? How important is that to achieving your goals and objectives?

Anastasia Symons:
For any charity, partnerships are absolutely vital. You want to have diversified revenue streams so that you can continue to function as an organisation if anyone falls over. When I first started at R U OK?, we were in a bit of a tight financial position. We were relying on a few – it was three funders, and two of those relationships were up for negotiation. Now since then, we’ve managed to diversify that quite significantly. And so we have a stream of a small government grant. We rely on our merchandise sales to fund our activities, and we also rely on corporate partnerships. But all of our corporate partners need to be vetted to make sure there’s an alignment with our brand. There’s a genuine wish within that organisation to not just supply money, but to actively try and drive an R U OK? culture within their workplace as well.

Anastasia Symons:
So we’ve been really blessed to onboard a large number of partners, including CONNOR – CONNOR menswear – who are our principal partner and really do drive that culture across their retail stores and at point of sale with their customer base as well by providing R U OK? conversation cards there too, which is absolutely fantastic. So we’re really blessed to have that strong network, and we’ve got our partnership management team who work really hard to ensure that we’re creating value for our partners, but also that they understand our work and they’re engaged with it too. So there’s that deepening, that long term relationship at play always.

Mark Jones:
I think about the simplicity of your story, and how easy it is to get across a simple message at a point of sale, which is another way of looking – at sort of this billboard idea. It’s one quick idea that can be understood in a glance. If you were an organisation that had a complex message, how would you simplify it? What lessons have you learnt about the power of simplicity and how to take possibly new ideas that seem complex and connect them down to a very, very simple idea? It’s a challenge for a lot of people.

Anastasia Symons:
It is certainly a challenge, and I think sometimes we try to take on every problem under one umbrella, and that’s not always going to be possible. So if you’re struggling to solidify these multitude of problems into one umbrella, perhaps that’s somewhere to start. Split them out and take one at a time. So for example, when I think about the R U OK? message, we’ve got two things that we try to do. So one is to get people to connect and invest more time in their relationships. Because when we’ve got that trust, we’re more likely to see the signs and have a conversation. And the other is to actually have that conversation – how to tackle it, how to do it safely and appropriately.

Anastasia Symons:
While the two speak together, they won’t always fall under the same umbrella. So we’ll often try to tackle the complex problem of investing more time in your relationships, overcoming barriers in your relationships – and from the practical four step application. Because when they get confused together, people will naturally want to gravitate to whichever one’s speaking to their experience at the time.

Anastasia Symons:
I think something that is really useful for us is to always test the problem with the community first. So, so often organisations that perhaps have a limited budget will do testing once they’ve got their messaging down pat. They’ve come up with a creative, they’ve got that beautiful tag line, but what informed that creative was the problem. So you need to make sure that your problem is actually the most impressing and important one in the first instance. So we really focused on getting the problem right, and then we do the message testing. But we still rely a lot on gut feel because often people will have a vested interest, and that can inform their responses to things as well.

Anastasia Symons:
So I think make sure you’ve got your problem right. Don’t try to put too many under the one umbrella. And then really try to reflect the language used by people. If I think about an experience outside of R U OK? – so a couple of years ago I worked on a UK political campaign. I live in Australia. I don’t know much about the UK. I don’t know much about UK politics, and I was helping out someone as a communications consultant. And I had to try and identify what were the big issues that people were talking about. So a lot of that was going to the community, trolling Facebook groups, reading newspaper articles to work out what those big issues were and how they were presenting them. And we didn’t try to put everything under one single umbrella. We focused on communicating each of the major issues – which surprise, surprise, education and health were the two biggest ones – into the language that people were already using in the comments on media walls and the like as well.

Anastasia Symons:
So really, it’s about finding a way to reflect what people are already thinking to try to get them to take action. I think that that’s something that R U OK? does really well and something that I really strongly believe in. The consumer does ultimately know best.

Mark Jones:
And if you had to do that at a more nuanced perspective over time because quite clearly we’re talking about suicide prevention as the biggest issue, but within that, there are other issues in terms of how well equipped are the support networks, for example, is an obvious one. So have you simplified it?

Anastasia Symons:
Yeah. There’s a number of different campaigns. R U OK? is 17 campaign settings, and for each of those settings, we’re in a variety of different phases. So when we set up our campaigns, we always write a three year phased approach where we’re going to tackle problem X in year one, problem Y in year two, and problem Z in year three. So by knowing that from the outset, we know the journey that we’re taking people on over time, and we know that at the end of each phase we can evaluate to make sure that the problem that we’ve predicted for phase two is still the one that we want to progress to. And we move on that way. Sometimes we stay at phase one for another couple of years because the audience is just not ready to move on from there, and sometimes that’s the simple getting people comfortable with the idea that a conversation plays a role in suicide prevention.

Anastasia Symons:
Then the second step is making sure that they feel confident, that they know how to have that conversation. And the third one is really making sure that they’re aware of the pathways to support. So what exists in the community? Where can they go for more information? What if the conversation is about suicide – how do I make sure that someone is safe and connecting them to that? But we know that people need to go on a journey before they get there. So mapping that to settings, having that three year approach is something really important for us and having evaluation built in regularly to make sure that we’re not just assuming we’re onto phase two, but we’ve tested that with the community as well.

Mark Jones:
Yeah, it’s a really great reminder because we can get very excited about creative and visions, and where we’re going to go in the future, as you said. If we’re not connecting it to the real issues, then it’s kind of wasted effort.

Mark Jones:
How do you keep your influencers, for want of a better term, on the same path? I note that you’re working with the likes of Samantha Jade, Dom Thomas – these are in some circles quite well known people, but they’ve all got their own stories, backgrounds, influences. And you’ve got to kind of, I presume, keep them on track with the changing narrative that you’ve just unpacked.

Anastasia Symons:
So we’re really blessed. In the build up to R U OK? Day, there’s close to 50,000 pieces of user-generated content that are produced across various social media channels. So there’s a lot of people from celebrities, right down to you and I who are sharing the message. And what we try to do is make sure that we’ve got simple guides and resources which explore how to share the message to a broader audience in a safe way. There’s suggestions on how to do that. We always keep it to two or three sentences, and we also provide guidance on how to share your own personal story safely and appropriately.

Anastasia Symons:
What we do as an organisation is that we’re constantly scanning for these stories, for these people who have taken it upon themselves to champion the message. And we make contact with these individuals to first of all, thank them for sharing their story, to connect them to the resources that they might need, and where it makes sense, to deepen that relationship and to continue to work alongside them, particularly if they speak to an audience that we’re focused on reaching this year and beyond.

Anastasia Symons:
So something that has shifted a little bit for us in the last few years is that we’re moving beyond the celebrity engagement model, and where we’re really finding success is in the real voices – the you and I’s of the world. And making sure that people feel confident in sharing it, that it’ll be received well, and that there’s also messaging out there that they can reflect if they’re not quite sure what to say or what to write in that post but they want to write something. Whenever that might be, if it’s R U OK? Day or beyond. But I do think that that personal connection – the follow-up from our organisation – does really drive that conversation.

Mark Jones:
I really think for any brand – regardless of if you’re for-purpose – that’s really a bit of a nirvana right? Is that people would personally connect with a message, take some time to write their own reflection on why this means –  I see that on social from time to time, “I normally don’t post about this, but I just want to take a moment to write this story about what I’ve done and so on and so on.” That’s really, really powerful because it ticks all the authentic boxes. It does all the things that we want social to do. How do you keep that real? Again, easier said than done.

Anastasia Symons:
Conversation Heroes are one of our core content pillars. So we always try to reflect these stories wherever we can. And not everyone will connect back to our brand’s mission and purpose. Some of them might be talking about something completely different to what we’re focused on. They might be talking to the help-seeker as opposed to the help-giver. And on those ones, we always thank people for their contribution to the issue in the area, and then ensure that help-seeking information is available. But we’re constantly role modelling ourselves, and I think that’s something you can never take your foot off as a brand is role modelling. The behaviour that you want people to reflect themselves, particularly in health promotion.

Anastasia Symons:
So making sure that we share those real stories across all of our channels, in our resources, is absolutely vital and important. And that they’re fresh. There’s that phrase micro moments – what are times when people might be more likely to connect with your brand and your organisation? So understanding the national conversation and producing content or stories that relate directly to the national conversation.

Anastasia Symons:
So an example that I might speak to is when Meghan Markle disclosed that she’d experienced pregnancy loss. That was something that we then wrote a guide on how to have a conversation with someone about pregnancy loss, and reflected in that three people’s experience with such loss. So being able to respond to the national conversation and role model on an everyday basis I think is absolutely core and key alongside connecting to individuals who are taking it upon themselves to champion your message or brand.

Mark Jones:
Look, there’s a lot of great ideas in there about how do you steward a brand in the context of a national conversation, and I think to have the privilege of being part of a national conversation I think is one that many organisations don’t take lightly at all.

Mark Jones:
What’s the future look like for you guys from a responsible business perspective? So sustainability, a sense of understanding as an organisation how we give back to the community. Obviously that’s reasonably self evident. But how do you think about continuing to grow and change, and have that more kind of inclusive perspective as an organisation?

Anastasia Symons:
So R U OK? has in the last 12 months, we’ve rejigged our social impact measurement framework. So we’re constantly measuring our progress towards our vision through our omnibus surveys and national trackers. And what these tell us are how confident people are reaching out to someone they care about, how confident people are opening up when they’re asked a question, what some of the barriers might be to having a conversation, and also what information or additional resources and support they might need.

Anastasia Symons:
We also test our metrics of perceptions of our organisation, and what we’re doing and producing. And this helps inform our work moving forward for all of population but also diving deeper into that for population groups that may experience higher rates of suicide. So for those areas – where perhaps people are in an earlier part of the journey, talking behaviour may not be normalised, stigma might be a big issue still. It’s understanding that people are at a different point and really trying to focus on the issues that they’re facing at this time and creating resources that speak to them, are in their language and reflect their experiences as well.

Anastasia Symons:
So for the year ahead, where is our focus going? We’re really expanding our engagement with senior Australians. We know that this is a population group that do experience a large number of major life shifts and changes, and we know that there is increased risk for suicide for people as they age. So we want to make sure that our resources speak to them, to their experiences, and also get in front of them. They respond to different channels to perhaps what we might be producing for our youth focus campaigns. So engagement with schools and workplaces will continue as well this year, and we are releasing the next phase of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander campaigns stronger together as well.

Mark Jones:
That’s really encouraging. So you’ve gone from the big macro message, this applies to everyone, and now you’re thinking about those groups of people. How do I create campaigns that are specifically targeted for them but actually more meaningfully, how do we help them in ways that are relevant?Mark Jones: When you hear lots of people talk about the value of empathy, and it’s actually very much in the – if you’re like the business zeitgeist at the moment. This is supposed to be the year of leaders having empathy for others and having empathy for the community. How do you react to that? Because I find that empathy can – and should be genuine, heartfelt and “true” as it comes from a place of being real. But equally it could be misconstrued or seen as condescending, false empathy, like the latest trend thing that I’ve got to put on. How do you react to that?

Anastasia Symons:
Yeah. Look, I think it all depends on who is modelling that behaviour and why. Your drive to be empathetic shouldn’t be to hit a tick box. It should be to positively impact the people around you. And if that’s not your driver, you probably want to think about who else around you might be driven in the correct way, and therefore should be tasked with providing that empathy and that support. It doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and it’s okay sometimes to go, “I might not be the best person in this context to role model that behaviour. But I’m going to support others to do that. I’m going to make sure they’re given the space and the time to do that within their organisation and their business.”

Anastasia Symons:
I bring this back to R U OK? in this way. We talk in all of our resources about picking the right champion within your organisation, your community, your school, whatever setting it is for a message like this. You don’t want the person that bangs heads one day to be standing up and talking about holding hands and supporting one another the next day. You want it to be someone that people view as genuinely connected to that, and want to see that outcome.

Anastasia Symons:
And if you’re someone that needs to do a 180, it’s okay to take yourself on that journey, but don’t expect to be taken seriously in the first instance. People will need to see that shift and that change within you over time, and it’s okay to give yourself that space and that time before you become the role model yourself.

Mark Jones:
Oh, wow. There’s a lot of wisdom in that. I really appreciate that. So Anastasia Symons, can I thank you so much for being our guest today on The CMO Show. I’ve loved all of your insights and the chance to talk to you about a really, really important issue that myself and the team here care a lot about. It’s a real pleasure and a joy. So thank you so much for your time today.

Anastasia Symons:
Likewise, Mark. Thank you.

Mark Jones:
That was my conversation with Anastasia Symons. I really hope you enjoyed that, and it got you thinking.  If this conversation did bring up any issues for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. That number again is 13 11 14. I think R U OK? is such a great example of a brand that has a really strong purpose, and that purpose is it’s pillar of strength. The organisation is really clear on who it is, what it stands for, and what makes it different from the rest. And it’s also a really inspiring brand story – it reminds us that clear and consistent messaging can have a big impact. 

Mark Jones:
And if you haven’t already, please “subscribe” to The CMO Show on your favourite podcast app, so you never miss an episode. If you like what you’ve heard, you can also head over to thecmoshow.filteredmedia.com.au and check out our full back catalogue of more than 130 episodes and the articles – and there’s plenty of information and ideas to get stuck into, and inspire you in your role. We are also proudly celebrating 6 years of The CMO Show podcast this month. So I wanted to take a moment to give a big shout-out to anyone and everyone who has worked on, or been featured on, or tuned into the show since we started way back in 2015 – when we all were just getting excited about podcasting. We wouldn’t be the award-winning marketing podcast – that is listened to by marketers around the globe – that we are today, without you all. So a big thank you. That’s it from me for this episode. As always, it’s been great to have you with us. Until next time.

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