The CMO Show:
Anne Johnston on relationships &...

Anne Johnston, Chief Marketing & Fundraising Officer at Children’s Cancer Institute, talks to host Mark Jones about the future of marketing for-purpose brands, and relationships and retention in the not-for-profit sector.

In Australia, more than 950 children and adolescents are diagnosed with cancer each year, and nearly 3 children and adolescents will die from cancer each week.

These devastating odds are what the Children’s Cancer Institute (CCI) – the only independent medical research institute in Australia wholly dedicated to childhood cancer – is on a mission to beat.

According to Anne Johnston, Chief Marketing & Fundraising Officer at CCI, the key to fundraising for an important cause is investing in building strong, long-term relationships with supporters.

“We are not the people that are going to cure kids with cancer. I have amazing researchers, brilliant minds, the latest technology, all working together to cure childhood cancer, but actually, we can’t do anything without you, and you are on our team. If you give us one dollar or a million dollars, you are part of a solution, and we’re on a journey with an end in sight,” Anne says.

With more than 13 years’ experience in the not-for-profit sector following a successful career working for commercial brands including Oroton and Harrods, Anne says nothing beats the feeling of contributing to social good.

“To be able to see that you can use everything you’ve learned in commercial in a different way in a different sector, and make a change that is influencing the lives of people, there’s just nothing like it. It’s the biggest rush that there is,” she says.

Drawing on the extraordinary stories of children who have undergone treatment that has improved their chance of survival, CCI’s Zero Childhood Cancer appeal aims to engage both the hearts and minds of potential donors.

“We made sure that we really put the quality into the communications and relationship management, and leveraged networking, and sat in front of people and told the story. We brought them into the labs, we brought them into the hospital, and they could see that vision and they understood that this was science at work,” she says.

“Many of them actually moved past the emotion pretty quickly to the science. They were very interested in the idea of not just, I suppose, making sick kids happy or comfortable in hospital today, but actually being part of something that would change the future.”

Anne acknowledges that for-purpose in Australia is reaching saturation and encourages those working in the not-for-profit sector to focus on “deepening” relationships with supporters.

“[We need to] find the donors that really care about our cause, and ensure that we create a journey for them, that means they’re with us for their lifetime.”

Check out this episode of The CMO Show to discover how to achieve cut through and foster loyalty in the for-purpose sector.


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The CMO Show production team

Producer – Charlotte Goodwin & Natalie Cupac

Audio Engineers – Daniel Marr & Tom Henderson

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



Host: Mark Jones

Guest: Anne Johnston

Mark Jones: We’ve come a long way from the early days of the 1940s when we developed the USP, the unique selling proposition as a way of explaining why some advertising campaigns were successful and others weren’t. Today, we think about a very nuanced definition of the USP. We think about differentiation, brand purpose, engagement, and we can apply the USP to almost any product or service. When you think about that one thing which makes your brand different, are you prepared to double down on that USP and forego the easy wins, even the easy sales, because sometimes, there’s a bigger opportunity with more impact that beckons?

Mark Jones: My guest today is Anne Johnston, Chief Marketing and Fundraising Officer at the Children’s Cancer Institute. And right upfront, a bit of a trigger warning, we’re going to talk about not just marketing and some really fantastic insights, but we do talk about cancer, and we talk about children with cancer. So if that for you is a difficult topic, then I just encourage you, have a think about whether you want to listen on. it is a deeply moving interview for me, particularly towards the end. But if you’re up for it, then please do join me for my chat with Anne Johnston. She has a lot of strategic insights about marketing, and how to align your marketing efforts with purpose. 

Mark Jones: Anne, thanks for joining us.

Anne Johnston: Thank you.

Mark Jones: As I said to you just before we started, I cannot think of something more a motive than children with cancer. I’m saying that straight off the bat because quite clearly, purpose, and I think – really from a marketing point of view – people have been searching for roles where they can make a difference in the world and connect to some sort of purpose. So I just think we got to go straight there. You came from Oroton Handbags. So tell me a story, what happened?

Anne Johnston: Yeah. So I mean, all my career I’ve worked in commercial, so I started in Harrods, which was great because you’re literally on the shop floor, meeting the customer. So there’s no better grounding, I don’t think, for really thinking about who your target market is and understanding that much of product, place, message, marketing. And then I’ve gone to many different roles including marketing director for bed linen company in the UK for 12 years, came over to Australia, which of course is an amazing place to be, and I worked with Sheridan and then was GM for Oroton Handbags. In every one of my roles, I’ve had so much fulfilment in my job, I’ve been passionate about what I do, and I’m a big believer in you get out what you put in.

Anne Johnston: But I did have a moment when I was at Oroton Handbags when I thought, “Wow, I am working really hard here, and who is benefiting?” Obviously, the shareholders, and then people were hysterical about getting the latest season handbag, and I just felt like I could do something more. I thought maybe I’ll take a couple of years out here and work in the for-purpose sector. First of all, I went to Starlight Children’s Foundation, which was a really great transition because it was as commercial as for-purpose can get. Every dollar that’s raised there goes straight to the programmes that are running; the hospitals for kids, or the wish granting programme. And then I was fortunate to move to Children’s Cancer Institute seven years ago.

Anne Johnston: I can honestly say, having thought I would do something like this for a couple of years and then go back to commercial, I just couldn’t contemplate now not having that feeling every single day that this matters, what I’m doing, really, really matters and I need to be on my game, good at my job, because I’m paid donated dollars from donors, and my job is to cure every child with cancer, and I know we’re going to get there. I want to be out of a job, and I want to get there quickly.

Mark Jones: That’s incredible. Just take me back to that moment before we talk about the Institute. What was that moment of inspiration where you were like, “I’ve got to change”?

Anne Johnston: I think a couple of things. The shareholders, in fact, at Oroton Group at that time, there was a lot of change happening. I did see some dynamics at work that probably were not my favourite culture and values. But actually funny enough, it was my dad who was over in the UK, who saw a role, and he said, “Why don’t just go and talk… You’ve said for so long, Anne, that you want to work in for-purpose. Why don’t you just go and talk to somebody?” And I went to speak to the CEO at the time at Starlight Children’s Foundation, Jill Weekes, who was from a marketing background, so she understood where I was coming from. I just talked about how I felt about what they were doing and the brand, and what I thought I could do for that brand. And she fundamentally changed the role to create a more senior role for me. From the moment I walked through those doors, I just found a home and to be able to see that you can use everything you’ve learned in commercial in a different way in a different sector, and make a change that is influencing the lives of people, there’s just nothing like it. It’s the biggest rush that there is.

Mark Jones: What was it like walking through the doors at Starlight?

Anne Johnston: I felt some trepidation, because I mean, I’m not arrogant. I understood what I’d achieved in the commercial sector, but I knew too that this was going to be quite different. And so I went in really thinking, “My job here is to learn”. And because of the nature of the work that Starlight does, you are very fortunate that you can actually go into the hospitals, you can see Captain Starlight at work. And so you can be part of it in a very real, very tangible way. So the first few months, I just soaked everything up, and then I began to really look strategically at what can I do to shift and change.

Anne Johnston: I’m lucky that at both Starlight Children’s Foundation and Children’s Cancer Institute, I have had bosses who have said, “Go for it. You need to go for it”. And so I’ve never assumed that what I say would go, but I’ve always put the work into the data, the analytics, and the strategy, and the planning, to be able to say, “Look, if we can change how we’re operating here, if we can relaunch the brand, if we can invest in these areas of marketing, I can show you projections that I believe are going to increase what we generate as a result”.

Mark Jones: So take us through that process of learning. I presume strategizing and then implementing, because your title is Chief Marketing and Fundraising Officer, also known in the commercial sector as sales and marketing.

Anne Johnston: That’s exactly right. It is very similar. I always say to people who want to come and work for Children’s Cancer Institute, “Look, you will love the passion that you see when you are working for-purpose. You will love that sense that you are doing something for the better good. But do not, for one minute, underestimate how smart you’ve got to be, how savvy you’ve got to be”. And it is the same as it would be in commercial. I always say, “You need to think about this as it’s simply a different type of business”. And so every team that I’ve run, I have never assumed that we could sit back and funding will come. Because I think in the not-for-profit sector, you have to remember, no one actually has to give.

Anne Johnston: So I know in every sector, people would say it’s a very competitive environment, it’s very cluttered, but broadly speaking, people do need energy, they do need foodstuffs, they do need to bank. Actually, nobody wakes up every morning obliged to give, and so you’re in the toughest sector. It is the most competitive, it is also the most confused. There is a lot of cynicism about where funding goes to. And so you’ve got to be really ready to get out there and motivate people, show them a cause that makes them feel they want to make a difference and show them how they can do that. And that takes quite a lot of thinking at the very front end of your strategy.

Anne Johnston: So you need to be able to demonstrate the devastation that childhood cancer brings, but you must show them how they can change things. You have to inspire them. When you lose donors, when you lose supporters, is when they feel they can’t make a difference because the job to be done is just too big, or that they personally are not valued. What the for-purpose sector needs to do is actually what a lot of commercial brands are having to do now, that in many ways for-purpose was ahead of the pack in terms of understanding that this is not about us just broadcasting messaging, but far more understanding of this needs to be an interactive relationship, we need to give people the opportunity to be part of something. We are not the people that are going to cure kids with cancer. I have amazing researchers, brilliant minds, the latest technology, all working together to cure childhood cancer, but actually, we can’t do anything without you, and you are on our team. If you give us one dollar or a million dollars, you are part of a solution, and we’re on a journey with an end in sight.

Mark Jones: So what’s your best advice then for stepping people through some of the stages that you just outlined there? How do you go from learning and listening to strategizing? 

Anne Johnston: As in any marketing role, you’ve really got to understand what your unique selling proposition is. An old fashioned phase, but still really important today, I think, why does it make a difference what we are doing? What are we doing versus anyone else in the market? And how am I going to really express that? So you’ve got to be really clear. And I know when I first started at Children’s Cancer Institute, I spent the first week actually with my team, and when I went in there, the fundraising team weren’t in the best place, and I could see right away that there was a lot to do for the people, that I needed to get those people who were in my team on my side, and I did a lot of listening, I spent hours with people just tell me how they will personally feeling, what their experiences have been, but then the rest of the time I read. I read a lot about the research that we were doing, the difference it was making.

Anne Johnston: The thing that made my head ache was actually not really how to market or how to raise money, but how to interpret that message about why our research was going to cure children cancer, how do I make that simple? Once I could get my head around that, then I was able to say okay, and I was fortunate, I have to say, to spend time with very senior researchers who gave me time listening to them and understanding how to convert what they were doing.As we sit here today and I look at what is working for this organisation and what is not, what do I need to do to ensure that we have a well-oiled, fully functioning marketing and fundraising team? It was clear to me that there were a few areas where we were really under resourced.

Anne Johnston: So we didn’t have a joined up approach, we didn’t have a joined up strategy, and we didn’t have a strong enough direct marketing campaign through face-to-face recruitment for regular giving donors and through our direct mail. That was not a joined up approach. We needed to persuade the board to invest in that, but equally, we didn’t have a joined up journey for our supporters and donors. And so really over the last seven years, what I have done is analysed what the challenges were, pulled together all of the data that I needed to put a strategy together, gone to the executive, gone to the board, said, “If you invest in these areas, this is what I believe we will be able to generate,” and create confidence, I think, with them, enable them to have the opportunity to question and challenge, and then keep that strategy top of mind.

Anne Johnston: So I could see very clearly that we actually had this remarkable work happening in our lab, we were really well known around the world for the research we’re doing for children with cancer, we were winning awards for our research, but the community had no idea what we were doing. 

Mark Jones: No one knew your story.

Anne Johnston: That’s exactly right. And so I felt strongly that we had to start with that messaging. So I went to the board with that strategy in 2013, we re-looked at the brand in 2013, we relaunched the brand in 2017. And a lot of the work that we were doing then was about building sustainability for the future, so growing our donor base, bringing more donors on being clear about the journey that they were on so that we could not only attract and acquire new donors, but retain them. And today, seven years on, I’d say for everyone in the for-purpose sector, the real game for the future now is about that deepening of the relationship and retention. Australia is a very generous place and for-purpose is reaching saturation. What we need to do is not necessarily find more donors for the sector overall, but find the donors that really care about our cause, and ensure that we create a journey for them, that means they’re with us for their lifetime.

Anne Johnston: And so having launched a strategy in 2013 that was successful and in which we were able to achieve greater brand recognition, greater cut through and grow our income, in the last two years, we then reviewed that strategy to say, what do we need to do now? Because in the last seven years, the shift from traditional medium to digital has been huge. I think that we’ve moved from a situation where the large charities could buy airtime, and the small charities would struggle to be able to do that, to a situation where we’re actually games on. We all can access digital, and we know that most donors today are going to give through a mobile device.

Anne Johnston: So how do you really engage them? How do you make that a great user experience for them? And how do you use data to create a 360 degree view of their lives, so you understand how to motivate them to do something more?

Mark Jones: Tell me about the structural changes that have happened in the not-for-profit sector. The huge, I think, quite profound shift towards the recipients of service is having choice, as opposed to, “Well, you’ve got this condition. Here’s your provider. Carry on.” That has been hugely disruptive for not-for-profits, right? What have you seen at your level? And how have you interpreted those changes?

Anne Johnston: Look, I think, we need to look a little more broadly at how the market views not-for-profit or for-purpose in the sense that I think that aligned to the general cynicism around authority. Whether it’s the church, or politics, or banks, there has been an increasing cynicism about charity. We saw that impact in the UK, where the media to attention to cases where elderly donors were feeling so saturated by demands for support, that actually legislation changed overnight, and the way that you could reach your market changed overnight. I think in Australia, we’ve been fortunate to see that happening and to be able to take action.

Anne Johnston: And so there’s been a lot of work in the for-purpose sector to be responsible, to be transparent, to report back to donors. 

Anne Johnston: So just as Airbnb, or Uber, or any commercial service today is aware that you can’t control your brand by closing your doors, you have to put your brand out there and let people speak about it, I think that’s been a huge shift. So a lot of the colleagues that I would have worked with in for-purpose, for example, actually wouldn’t have had a marketing department in the past because they didn’t need it. They had people that negotiated on contracts with government. So it’s been a huge shift. I think it’s a good shift, ultimately, for the end user So they’ve really had to turn their organisations around on the run to an extent, knowing there was change coming, trying to give up for change, but then not always knowing how that change might impact them personally in their sector.

Mark Jones: One of the things that interests me is from a leadership point of view, I’m presuming that you interface with some of our service providers that you reference, and so what you’re learning from each other, because you’re part of an ecosystem, right? And so how are you learning about these changes? And in turn, how do you flow that through into the tactics that you ultimately deploy?

Anne Johnston: Well, look, I think one of the great things about the for-purpose sector is that people share. So I was a bit blown away, coming from commercial, by how open one organisation will be with another. So we all belong to different groups and share learning. So my team regularly go to groups that look at what is happening in direct marketing? And are there any trends? And together, can we pull resources to learn and understand more, or corporate partnership, or events?

Anne Johnston: I’ve only ever worked in organisations that have been quite brand savvy and have been quite outward looking. So there has actually been quite a lot of sharing from those kind of organisations to more service providers But we in Children’s Cancer Institute don’t actually work directly with the children. So we research new treatments to try and get children to survive healthier, and we work very closely with hospitals. So my direct experience would have been more with colleagues in the sector in a similar role to mine.

Mark Jones: It’s really interesting to think about just how much value must be created through that collaboration. Are you finding an appetite increasing or decreasing from the for-profit sector to partner and to learn and to share ideas with the not-for-profit sector? So how are you seeing that bridge being created?

Anne Johnston: So look, I think what’s quite interesting is that when I first started working for-purpose, I would go to quite a lot of conferences. At any training that was around, I guess, pure marketing or digital, the assumption was that the commercial sector was ahead of the for-purpose sector and that we needed to learn from that. I remember going to a Harvard for-purpose, and all the case studies were from commercial.

Anne Johnston: Interestingly, I think there’s been a bit of a shift. As I said earlier, I mean, I think that for a long time, for-purposes understood that nobody has to give, and so you got to work a bit harder, and I think that’s been a learning in the commercial sector. I think we are seeing a shift in the workplace, where the younger generation coming through are really bringing with them a slight different culture. And I think that the days of these generations only looking for career development and remuneration are changing. I think they are looking for a greater sense of fulfilment. 

Anne Johnston: And so when we work with organisations, our corporate partners, and we work with Freedom and Brickworks, Electrolux, but also with KPMG and some of the banks, it’s quite interesting how passionate their workforce is about being part of something. And so that can be as simple as coming to a gala dinner and having a table and using that as an opportunity to understand better how they can get give back, but increasingly, is around skill volunteering, and then being very willing as organisations to fund a project, where their own team work side by side with our team to help us achieve our mission.

Anne Johnston: And so an example of that, through our programme, Zero Childhood Cancer, which is a personalised medicine programme that is looking to cure children, one child at a time, we are generating huge amounts of data. Zero Childhood Cancer is the largest initiative ever undertaken for children with cancer in Australia, and it’s a globally leading programme. And the whole idea of Zero Childhood Cancer is that we know one of the reasons it’s so difficult to cure children and adults with cancer is that cancer is a disease of our own DNA, our own unique metabolism. And so when you take that to the next level and think about it, if we all have a unique DNA, and cancer is a disease of our own cells, this is why we don’t all respond to standard treatments in the same way. The reason it’s so difficult to cure every childhood cancer is because every child and every cancer is different.

Anne Johnston: And so what Zero Childhood Cancer is doing is saying for children with less than 30% chance of survival, we are going to take your cancer sample from wherever you are in Australia, and we are going to put that through a series of complex genetic testing. So that’s whole genome sequencing, we just start there. It’s almost like solving a crime. Cancer is a series of accidents, what is the first genetic mutation that is occurring? And then what is the next situation in which that cancer can grow really quickly, which can be over expressed proteins? If we can understand why in Jill or Jack Smith, those changes are happening and what they are, can we find drugs that will target specifically that individual cancer? And if we do that, can we get more kids surviving?

Anne Johnston: We began with this programme with a pilot study in 2015, that went for two years with the hospitals in Sydney. We launched a national clinical trial in September of 2017, with all of the Children’s Cancer Centres around Australia, and we are experiencing extraordinary results. We have children now who are alive, who would have died if it wasn’t for Zero Childhood Cancer. So it’s a hugely exciting time. We know we’re not going to get there for every child overnight, but for 74% of these kids in nine weeks, we are finding personalised treatment that does aim to improve their chance of survivorship.

Anne Johnston: So we’re really at the front of the curve, and we’re sharing the results of this programme around the world, and we are sharing the data that we are generating from these children with St. Jude’s in Memphis, with Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, so that we will have a living, breathing data bank of cases of children that can help all children with cancer identify targeted therapy. Because even for children that have a cancer that responds to chemotherapy or radiation, we all know from our own network what the impact of chemotherapy is. We know that it destroys all fast growing cells, so we lose our hair, we lose our stomach lining. That’s bad in adults. In children, there’s huge damage done in maturing organs.

Anne Johnston: So this is a game changer. This will change the model of care for children with cancer, and ultimately, adults with cancer. We’re leading the way, and in the future, there is a very real hope that we’ll not only be able to go from eight out of 10 children surviving their cancer, but to 10 out of 10, and ultimately, to understanding the cause of cancer early enough to potentially prevent it occurring.

Mark Jones: So it sounds to me like you have developed a unique approach that will scale globally in terms of application, and that’s a compelling story. How do you take all of that thinking and that story, and translate it into a message that will result in donations, because quite clearly, if you’re going to lead the world in that, you’re going to need more money because there’s something going on there. 

Anne Johnston: So look, I mean, I think the first thing is what I was speaking about earlier in terms of translation, that you need to make it easy for people to understand. And so to do that, we’ve actually pared down everything I’ve just talked to a couple of very simple infographics that can be shared in a print format, but more importantly, digitally. And so we’re combining translating the science in a way that makes sense to an auntie Betty or major giving donor with stories of children that need help or have been helped. So video content is incredibly important of both the children and the researchers. I’m here in the lab today, this is what I’m working on, this is the difference it will make.

Anne Johnston: People are fascinated to see cancer samples. Everyone has experienced cancer. So I think you’ve got to look at the channels that we’ve got available to us today to translate that content, initially. And then we knew that this programme was a $58 million programme only for the clinical trial, and we knew that we needed to get the programme started, that we wouldn’t be able to attract government funding if we were not able to demonstrate progress. And so we started with philanthropy, and we started with major donors and partner organisations that could fund us, and we brought them in really early. I mean, I remember the first charts I was drawing for people saying, “This is what we want to do. This is how we want it to work. We don’t know if we can do it, it’s a huge experiment, but we need money to get started.”

Anne Johnston: That first money, if you like, seed capital, that came in, helped us to get that pilot study up and running, and then we started to get results. And from when we got results, we were able to track government funding that went to capital equipment and infrastructure. Because broadly, the government tend to fund proven research So we leverage that for ourselves and the partners that we’re going to help deliver Zero Childhood Cancer, And then we’ve continued to work with major donors.

Anne Johnston: So we were able to project out of the $58 million, we had a $12 million gap, and we put a campaign together that we call a Capacity Campaign, a little bit like when you’re raising money to build a building, and we broke down what it was that we needed to raise the funds for and we went and started to talk to people. So we did some very precise targeting and profiling to find key people. We don’t want to raise 12 million for 1000 cuts, we want to raise it for a few significant donors. And so we made sure that we really put the quality into the communications and the relationship management, and leveraged networking, s, and sat in front of people and we told the story. We brought them into the labs, we brought them into the hospital, and they could see that vision and they understood that this was science at work.

Anne Johnston: Many of them actually moved past the emotion pretty quickly to the science. They were very interested in the idea of not just, I suppose, making sick kids happy or comfortable in hospital today, but actually being part of something that would change the future.

Anne Johnston: And so we have moved on from there, and I’m very happy to say that Capacity Campaign has now raised nine and a half million dollars. We have another two and a half million to go.

Mark Jones: Congratulations.

Anne Johnston: And as we get towards the end of that very tailored campaign, what we will now do is go out to the market, and we will use those more traditional channels to speak to our existing donors and bring them on that journey too. But it’s been hugely motivating and a great learning curve for me too in terms of, there’s a lot of smart people and they can help you. 

Mark Jones: I’m interested in chatting with you briefly about the concept of the marketing budget.

Anne Johnston: Ah, yes.

Mark Jones: I call it a concept because you are in a different space, where clearly you’re influenced by sales in more profound ways, perhaps, than in the corporate sector. So just give me a snapshot, how do you construct it? Is it an inherited budget from year to year, or do you go zero base every single year and build it up based on what you actually need?

Anne Johnston: It’s both. So what we look at, as in any organisation, what are the opportunities that we have to drive? Brand awareness and income. And so we look at what our historical activity has been and what the trends have been for that historical activity, and we look at any innovations that we’re working on, so we’re constantly working on new concepts and new ideas, and how do we optimise those.

Anne Johnston: I think one of the challenges in the for-purpose sector is you can try and do too much, and you can try and spread yourself too thin. And so, one of the things I’m working with the team right now, is really having the marketeers and the fundraising or sales people, if you like, in the room together very early, and we’re working on every opportunity we have on the table, and I’m talking to the team about, right, we are not doing all of these. So we have to do the traditional, what is high effort-high return, low effort-high return, high effort-low return? And every single year, we will take out that bottom 10% or 15% because we must do the big ideas really well.

Anne Johnston: And then when we’ve gone through that process, and we have a few campaigns that are on the ascendancy at the moment, then we say, okay, that’s where everybody has to focus. It doesn’t matter what team you’re in. I don’t care if you’re in corporate partnerships, community engagement, or the direct marketing side of it. All of us need to bring a cohesive campaign together for that activity to generate the dollars, and the marketing team are there to help with the acquisition

Anne Johnston: So it’s very much a unified approach, and I encourage the team that whilst there might be experts around the table, everyone has the opportunity to have ownership and contribute, and everyone will be heard. 

Anne Johnston: We’re very strategic in those campaigns. So we run a campaign, for example, called CEO Dare to Cure. The proposition is you are CEO or a C level exec, you live a very busy life, probably very fortunate in your life. Can you take half a day out to do something that puts you out of your comfort zone that is fearful for you, but nothing compared to one day of chemo for a child? So are you prepared to get a tattoo, get your head shaved, eat a bug, do a flying trapeze, do a snake bath, jump in an ice bath? And will you do that with colleagues on the steps of Mrs. Macquarie’s chair overlooking Sydney Harbour.

Anne Johnston: And so we’ve gone from year one last year with 47 CEOs to this year, nearly 100, from $450,000 to nearly $700,000. And that’s a fantastic campaign. The reason we do that campaign is obviously it’s great to raise those funds, but actually the far more important reason to do it is because of the relationships that we can open up.

Anne Johnston: And so with the team, I’m constantly working with them to say, “What is the opportunity that we’re trying to deliver for the long term that creates sustainability versus the short term gain, and how are we going to balance the marketing investment against long-term sustainability versus short term gain?” How do you, even with your own time, ensure that you’re working on the most important things, not the most urgent, but you’re delivering to your budget every single day? 

Mark Jones: No, but it’s very strategic in the way that you’ve applied it. And I’m also interested to hear some of the insights around telling people to say no to certain things. That’s quite clearly important. Just in the remaining moments, I wanted to bring it back to the kids, because we’ve spent a lot of time talking about strategy, and marketing, and all that fun stuff that I love. Tell me about your experience working and experiencing some of these, what must be incredibly moving moments? How do you process the emotion that’s quite clearly there, and I can see it as we speak?

Anne Johnston: Yeah. Look, I moved to Children’s Cancer Institute because the institute was founded by parents, parents who had children with cancer, who in 1975, wanted to make a difference. That was really important to me. And I always say to anyone that comes through our labs, “Look, this is an amazing research institution. We do have incredible researchers, and we do have the latest technology, but the thing that makes this organisation really unique is our heart and our soul.” And our leading researchers were there when the labs first opened. Three of our researchers have given up 35 years of their working life to helping to cure kids with cancer. They care passionately, I care passionately, everyone that works at the institute cares.

Anne Johnston: So the family are the most important people that we work with. The day that we disappoint a family, because the research we’re doing isn’t good enough, or our culture or values aren’t up to scratch, that’s a bad day . So every day, we come in knowing why we’re there, and we are all connected to that cause. And so I am fortunate that I do work with a lot of families who are like all of us, they’re going through the normal life. We all get frustrated by the traffic, we’re all rushing around trying to get kids to sport, dealing with that dental bill that we didn’t expect, and suddenly life changes, your child could just be bruising easily, not so well, and you might go to the doctor on a Monday morning, and that evening, you might be in the local Children’s Cancer Centre. Chemotherapy will begin the next day.

Anne Johnston: During that moment when you’re told your child has cancer, a moment that I can tell you no parent forgets, you will be asked, which of you can give up your job, because you need to be in the hospital with your child. The doctors and the nurses do an amazing job of treating the illness, but they are not there to care for the child. And so the impact on the whole family is absolutely devastating. And even for cancers we think of as relatively curable, like leukaemia, treatment is a minimum of two years. So for that family, they can never go back to being a family that didn’t have a child with cancer. And so, what I’m inspired about is the courage of the parents who live in the hospital for months on end, who have to juggle the other kids, trying to explain to an 18-months old, “I love you just the same as your brother or sister, but actually, I can’t be with you for the next two months.” It’s really tough, the emotional pressure as well as the financial pressure. But so many of these families come back and help us. If you look at all of our community fundraising activity, you will find there will be a parent, a grandparent, or an aunt, or an uncle that has originated there. They are so grateful for the work that we do. How can you say no? I mean, I feel like I could work 24/7 and it wouldn’t be enough. I know they can see that in me, and I think that’s important. But then the people of course that really, really, every single day, you want to change the future for the kids. And you know what, kids are amazing.

Mark Jones: Yeah.

Anne Johnston: They are. Their capability to get on with things, to not complain, to not think ahead, to deal in the moment, this is what gets those kids through, because they can be wandering around the hospital with a drip in the middle of chemo. As an adult, we would be moaning and complaining, thinking about the next lumbar puncher. They live in the moment, and they are capable of getting through their journey, partly because of their capability to still be a child, and that, I love.

Anne Johnston: When I see the difference with kids who have been so sick, that then… We have a child on Zero Childhood Cancer, who had relapse and brain cancer, and whose tumours were growing down their spine, and they were losing their eyesight, they were having weekly Spinal Taps for the fluid that was building up in their brain. They were in a wheelchair. They were close to palliative care, and they were put on Zero Childhood Cancer, and we identified a particular mutation that you would normally see in melanoma, not in brain cancer, and we used a drug for melanoma. And that little boy went from being wheelchair bound and blind, in 45 days, he was playing tennis.

Mark Jones: No way. What?

Anne Johnston: Now for me, that is when I say, “I am part of that. I have helped to make that happen.” And that’s what motivates you to keep going. That’s how you deal with the stories that are not so good, where you haven’t been able to help that family, and where you know you sit in a room with those parents and you can feel their pain. It is a real thing when people talk about the air being thick with emotion.

Mark Jones: It’s visceral.

Anne Johnston: It’s visceral. And so both of those scenarios motivate me every day. Both the parents, who I look in their eyes and I know I wasn’t early enough, I couldn’t save your child, and the kids that are out playing tennis, that’s why I do what I do. That’s why I’d say to anyone working commercial that is thinking about moving to for-purpose, if you can get the satisfaction from your job that I get from mine, your life will change. It’s an amazing opportunity.

Mark Jones: An extraordinary story and I’m really inspired by your focus and your dedication and your courage to keep going. I imagine some days where you don’t really feel like you want to because these stories are hard, right?

Anne Johnston: They are.

Mark Jones: Yeah, and equally inspiring. So thank you so much, Anne for being my guest, and all the best to you and your colleagues, and your supporters, and researchers who are quite literally changing the world and the worlds of these children and families. So thank you.

Anne Johnston: Thank you very much.

Mark Jones: Quite an interview, I got to say, and emotional. what amazes me is on reflection with an interview like Anne’s, is the strategy component of marketing. We really have to appreciate just how important strategy is to effective marketing, knowing what programmes or tactics you’ve got to cut out, that bottom 10% that she referenced. And to be able to get all of your team to focus in on that big purpose, those big rocks, or big targets that have got to be achieved, I think that goes a long way, also to very clearly show an alignment between your activities and the work of your organisation, in this case, some incredibly remarkable work done by the researchers. And then of course, how do you articulate that out?

Mark Jones: The storytelling bit, which I love so much, being able to tell that even in a one-on-one setting. In such a clear way, you’ve been able to sift through all of that research and come up with a clear idea. It’s both an art and a science, I can assure you, but very achievable.

Mark Jones: an inspiring conversation today with Anne Johnson. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Please do like, subscribe, tell your friends, I’d love to know other guests you’d like to interview. I really do appreciate the feedback I get through LinkedIn and other channels. So that’s it, and we will talk to you next time.

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