The CMO Show:
Ryan Barlow on brand responsibility...

Ryan Barlow, Marketing and Revenue Director at McGrath Foundation, sits down with host Mark Jones to discuss brand responsibility, purpose-driven storytelling and empathy in marketing.

Consumers value brands that have a purpose beyond profit.

Accenture Strategy’s 2018 global survey of nearly 30,000 consumers across 35 countries revealed that 64% of people find brands that actively communicate their purpose more attractive.

Think about your team, customers or clients, and society at large. How do you meet their needs? What is your brand responsible for? What is your brand purpose?

For Ryan Barlow, Marketing and Revenue Director at McGrath Foundation, attracting and retaining genuine, purpose-driven brand partnerships is a way the breast cancer support and education charity authentically lives out its reason for existing: “to ensure every family experiencing breast cancer has the support of a Breast Care Nurse, no matter where they live – for free”.

“The strongest connections are driven by connection to the cause… It doesn’t work unless the [partner] brand is connected on a deeper level, and that’s internally and culturally. It’s through the branding. It’s through the activation and what we do to support what you do as a brand,” Ryan says.

“Our brand is a very tangible expression of [empathy]. Our nurses demonstrate empathy every single day, as does the healthcare system. We feel there’s a responsibility to really mimic that empathy [through marketing], and we try and go about our business in the same way and really care about the conversations we’re having and the impact we can have not just with patients, but the impact we can have for corporate partners, the impact we can have on the local cricket club, and what these moments do.”

This year – in line with COVID-19 guidelines – the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) had to operate at 25% capacity for the Vodafone Australia Sydney Pink Test – one of the biggest charitable sporting events in the world for the last 13 years. In response, the McGrath Foundation launched the Virtual Pink Seats campaign.

“Our expectations of the Pink Test [in 2021] were very low in terms of there being no crowd. We weren’t allowed any volunteers. We normally make hundreds of thousands of dollars shaking the tins as it were around the grounds. None of them were allowed in there,” Ryan says.

“The Pink Test was a visual moment that absolutely catapulted us as a business, but also as a brand. So we thought, ‘Well, why don’t we look at – in case everything goes wrong – we could sell virtual seats. We could sell these seats that nobody [physically] goes and sits in’.” 

Ryan says this challenge provided a creative opportunity for the brand to engage with all Australians at the cricket by changing from a charity donation to a purchase mindset strategy.

“Not in our wildest dreams did we imagine that we would raise over $3.1 million off the back of selling a JPEG of a pink seat with your name on it.”

To hear more from Ryan and find out how marketers can connect with consumers on a deeper level by leading with purpose, tune into this episode of The CMO Show.

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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: Ryan Barlow

Mark Jones:               
There’s something about brands that have a purpose beyond profit. We see value in them. We believe in them, and we trust in them. But what if you’re unclear about your organisation’s purpose? It’s a tough question. One way forward is to think about your team, your customers or clients, and society at large. How do you meet their needs, and what are you responsible for?

Mark Jones:
Hello, friends! Mark Jones here. Welcome back to The CMO Show for 2021, huzzah! It’s so good to be with you. We are kicking off the new year with an exciting fortnightly roster of conversations with marketing leaders who head up purpose-driven brands. In fact, our guiding light for this season is sharing stories about brands with a purpose-beyond-profit feel, really driven to make an impact in the world. And I’m looking forward to these conversations, and also having you on this journey as we look at all the great things we can do in this world through marketing.

Mark Jones:
Speaking of which, my guest today is Ryan Barlow. He’s Marketing and Revenue Director at McGrath Foundation. This is of course the Aussie organisation that is behind the largest sporting fundraising initiative for breast cancer. 

Mark Jones:
Just before we jump into the conversation, a bit of a trigger warning. Ryan and I discuss the topic of breast cancer as part of the interview. So if that is a difficult conversation topic for you, I encourage you to take a moment and think about whether you do want to keep listening.

Mark Jones:
But if you are up for it, please join me as I talk with Ryan about empathy in marketing and brand responsibility, and of course the story of the McGrath Foundation. 

Mark Jones:
Ryan Barlow,  Marketing and Revenue Director at McGrath Foundation, thank you for joining us.

Ryan Barlow:
Pleasure to be here.

Mark Jones:
Let’s kick this off and get stuck straight into the story of the McGrath Foundation. I’m particularly passionate about the origin story of any brand. And when we look at the McGrath Foundation, you have a fascinating and yet of course sad, tragic even origin story. Glen McGrath and his English-born wife, Jane, a beautiful couple, unfortunately Jane had an initial diagnosis and recovery from breast cancer, but they decided to start the McGrath Foundation in the midst of all of that trauma and health crisis. Tell me about that.

Ryan Barlow:
Yeah. So our history is one that I think some brands have to write a story after the brand’s been created and out there. Ours has the luxury – if you like – of having the story written as it was evolving. So as you say, Glen met his wife, Jane, a good English woman, and came out to Australia. She was diagnosed with breast cancer when they were on the road. So that was a little bit tough for them. But that whole experience was, as it is for many people, quite a dark one for Jane, and she found herself sort of pulling away from her family in a way. Trying to separate her family and the cancer, and trying to deal with the cancer over here, and then allowing time for her family separate to that.

Ryan Barlow:
She was doing her best as many do, and indeed went into remission – which was great – but the cancer returned some years later in what we call metastatic breast cancer, which is a fancy way of saying incurable. It means the cancer has moved from your breasts into other organs. It’s still a breast cancer, so the same cancerous cells that are in your breast have moved to other parts of your body. And effectively it means this is probably what’s going to get you. This is what’s going to end your life.

Ryan Barlow:
But at that moment, despite the sadness of that diagnosis, she also met for the first time a breast care nurse. Her name was Allison. And Jane described her as an angel, but importantly what it did was change Jane’s life, but not only Jane’s. It also changed what is now 90,000 family’s lives since that moment. And the breast care nurse effectively enabled what Jane had been trying to do the first time, and that’s allowed her to separate the cancer diagnosis with the rest of her life.

Ryan Barlow:
It allowed – as she would describe it – it allowed her to be the mother, daughter, wife, friend that she wanted to be because she could just put breast cancer over here. And she wasn’t alone because she had a breast care nurse, and that nurse was as much an emotional support for her as it was a technical expert who could help her understand what was happening, help her prepare for what was coming down the line. And as I say, it couldn’t save Jane’s life, but it definitely changed her life, and that impacted then the start of the foundation and set in motion what it was we would end up standing for, and therefore not just the heritage story if you like but the story of us moving forward as well.

Mark Jones:
And so is the key to this origin story understanding the role that professionals can play in helping you keep that separation? Because a lot of people would say, “You’re a whole person. Don’t separate your work and life,” and your health is inevitably part of your whole experience, but this is a unique situation.

Ryan Barlow:
Yeah, it is. And I think particularly now, we’re seeing the personal life and the professional life merge evermore as we sit at home on Zoom calls and our kids welcome themselves into our professional lives and that sort of thing. So I think there is now more of a blurring of – back into one person.

Mark Jones:
Yeah.

Ryan Barlow:
But she’s not the only one. I’ve spoken to a lot of breast cancer patients – and I’m sure it stands true for cancer and any illness like cancer – where there’s a certain amount of compartmentalisation that needs to happen in order to get through.

Mark Jones:
So why was there such a gap from a nursing perspective, and what was the need here?

Ryan Barlow:
Yeah. I think initially it was just a new service that existed only in pockets.  It wasn’t as though there was a gap in as much, it was just something that was getting off the ground, and certain hospitals and facilities would recognise the benefit of having somebody to help manage patients through this process. What’s happened since then, in the 13 odd years since the foundation’s been around, is obviously the nurse numbers have grown astronomically from what was one to now 150 plus nurses, but the professionalism’s come in.

Ryan Barlow:
So what we’ve also brought to the table is a way of managing patients, a process. We call it the McGrath Model of Care, and that outlines the structure of how we can help patients and how we can ensure consistency regardless of where you live, regardless of what type of breast cancer you have, what experiences you have outside of that, whether you’re wealthy or poor or you don’t speak English. It doesn’t matter what your circumstances are. This model of care will allow us to personalise the support you get and make sure that the outcomes and the benefits are as exceptional as they can be.

Mark Jones:
What’s interesting about this story is it’s so deeply entwined with outcomes and impact. There’s no question about the way that you’re working within the health system. It’s an interesting one because we have something like 56,000 charities in Australia.

Ryan Barlow:
Yeah, at least.

Mark Jones:
And it’s growing weekly by a thousand or more. It’s just incredible, right?

Ryan Barlow:
It is.

Mark Jones:
And by the way, I’m all for the diversity of that. There are so many different unique needs that are being catered for through that. But the interesting thing is a lot of other charities have a story in which they have to communicate a complex idea possibly, but get you to believe that they are making a difference with the money that you give them. Whereas in your case that’s part of the model from the very beginning.

Ryan Barlow:
It’s definitely more of a blessing than a curse, let’s be fair. It’s an outcome. It wasn’t designed. This was started off the purity of one person’s experience and recognised how that helped her. And she always said if she could help one person, that would be making it worthwhile. The fact that the numbers are far exceeding anybody’s expectations is fantastic, but it wasn’t constructed. It wasn’t developed in a way that said, “We need impact. Where’s a way we can find and deliver that impact. Therefore, we’ll build it off that platform.” It was created because it worked. Somebody felt it, “Let’s do more of this because I know it works.”

Mark Jones:
Yep. It’s kind of a test and learn model, right?

Ryan Barlow:
Yeah, absolutely it is. And today, probably unlike many many charities, we do have a direct link between the dollars you give us, where that goes, and the impact that is felt from effectively those dollars.

Mark Jones:
Yes.

Ryan Barlow:
So it’s – I suppose an easy story to tell in some respects – but after 13 years, the challenge is in making sure that it’s fresh, and that it’s not the same story, and that people understand that unlike a research grant where you give once, the money gets spent on the research, and hopefully there’s an outcome. These are nurses that are contracted year in year out. And so when we decide to put on more nurses, we need to be confident that our revenue is going to allow us to continue supporting that incremental nurse in perpetuity because we don’t bring them on so that we can let them go again. So our challenge is making sure people understand that that impact is real, but it’s ongoing, and each year the need for revenue and support continues, and we have to keep growing that.

Mark Jones:
So in many regards you’re actually just like a business.

Ryan Barlow:
100%. And one of the things we talk about, certainly my background is not in not-for-profit. It’s in the commercial sector agency land. And I was always very passionate about the connection between marketing communications – what I did, my role – and the act of actually selling and increasing revenue and growing the business. And I don’t think we stand alone. I think a lot of not-for-profits these days are taking a far more commercially-minded approach to things, but that’s how we look at it. 

Mark Jones:
That’s right. I couldn’t agree more philosophically too in terms of sustainability, having funds to invest and being healthy and not stressed and all the rest of it. 

Mark Jones:
One of the other things about your story that really stands out to me is that you’ve gone from that early starting point – that origin story – and grown, and developed, and matured as an organisation with the partners, with the experts and got to this level where it continues to grow and learn and develop. And if we think about Glenn McGrath himself, obviously a famous, well-loved Australian cricketer.

Ryan Barlow:
Yes.

Mark Jones:
Cricket’s his first passion, right? Growing up, becoming who he is, he wasn’t – I imagine – planning to become the chair of a foundation wearing pink every day, right?

Ryan Barlow:
No. Certainly not wearing pink every day. I can attest to that. But no, definitely was not on his radar.

Mark Jones:
What does it take to become successful in that context? What sort of effort is required? What sort of people are required? How do you go from if you like zero to maturity, zero to hero?

Ryan Barlow:
It’s like any small business story. It starts with passion. It starts a group of people who believe deeply in what they’re doing – whether that’s making ice cream or doing what we’re doing. But without that initial passion and drive to almost force yourself into a situation where you are successful and to find success in the first one or two years. At the start it was Jane, it was Glenn, and it was Tracy Bevan, Jane’s best friend. They were licking the stamps. They were folding the pamphlets. They were doing everything themselves. But back then it also took the support of some really key partners. So the Pink Test is clearly our big moment.

Mark Jones:
Yes.

Ryan Barlow:
It’s not our only moment – but it is a big, very visual moment. And we kicked off with that as one of our sort of launch moments. And Cricket Australia – I think it was 3 Mobile at the time who were the major cricket sponsors, SCG Trust. There was a group of people who came together and said, “This is important, and we’re going to make a Pink Test happen.” That first year was pretty light on until about three days before when everybody realised this was going to be big and they needed to get onboard. And again that’s where the same small group of people with a hell of a lot of passion come together and just find a way.

Mark Jones:
And I think I actually remember that because there was this moment of, “What are they all wearing pink for? What’s going on? And why is the crowd getting into this pink thing?” And it almost became a social moment in the sense of – the mood at the time was suddenly pink. What’s going on?

Ryan Barlow:
That’s right.

Mark Jones:
So tell me about the power of colour from a marketing and brand perspective.

Ryan Barlow:
Yeah. I mean, no surprises, right? The visual aspect of the Pink Test is really important, and that’s again something that we wanted to do at the start. And potentially not really knowing at the time the importance of that symbolism, particularly when you consider the test match arena, which is traditionally very white and very conservative.

Mark Jones:
Yes.

Ryan Barlow:
So the colour itself is synonymous with breast cancer, but to try and bring that into a test match arena – of all things – was a bold move, but one that all the corporate partners supported and certainly to your point the Sydney population or at least the attendance of the match really got onboard with, and really surprised people.

Mark Jones:
Would you describe that as the tipping point? That’s where this thing really kicked into gear?

Ryan Barlow:
There are two tipping points I suppose. The first one is that the federal government at the time supported us, and helped get us off the ground in terms of funding a nurse and really starting us off with a commitment. So that was an absolutely critical moment to make this bigger than just one person in effect, right? But it needed to be more than a federal government supported initiative. It needed more than that. And as a fledgling charity, it’s very easy to spend years trying to get off the ground and really make hay. So the Pink Test, that visual moment absolutely catapulted us as a business, but also as a brand, and suddenly McGrath Foundation as a not-for-profit brand stood so high above other brands that had maybe existed for 20, 30, 40, 50 years.

Ryan Barlow:
And so that came to your earlier point with pros and cons. The pros being of course everybody knows you. It makes it easier to knock on a door, or to put out a hand and ask for support. But the cons meant there was a misconception that we were probably larger than we ever were.

Mark Jones:
Right.

Ryan Barlow:
So with brand size in the not-for-profit space comes this perception of scale of fundraising, and obviously breast cancer’s been around for a while, so  surely somebody else needs a turn. And yes, we all need support, but our mantra is always not at the limitations of somebody else. So we are doing well, but the brand is certainly larger in people’s minds than the scale of the organisation.

Mark Jones:
And I imagine there’s a lot of people in the NFP and the charity sector that are kind of green with envy to think about the brand awareness, the reach, the media scale, the impact of having Glenn and the sponsors, and the Cricket Australia, and of course the TV, Channel Nine all onboard with this thing.

Ryan Barlow:
Absolutely.

Mark Jones:
I mean that’s pretty incredible.

Ryan Barlow:
It is money-can’t-buy stuff. We can all go out and find an ambassador. We can pay them, or they can have a connection to a brand, but Glenn’s iconic stature in Australia, his connection to the cause, but also the connection into our moment, you can’t create that sort of thing. That’s where I talk about the brand story being born of itself. That all just existed. The fact that Channel Nine and now Channel Seven support us is incredible. It expands it from 45,000 people at the SCG on any one day, to hundreds of thousands of people at home. And when we fast forward to this year’s Pink Test that we just had, that was never more important because there wasn’t 45,000 people at the Pink Test. There was a couple of thousand. And there were lots of other restrictions around that test that meant this was going to be a very, very different experience. And again without those partners around us, it couldn’t have been. It wouldn’t have been.

Mark Jones:
So then give us an insight into the pivot that went on. Sorry to use that swear word.

Ryan Barlow:
Love the P-word. Yeah.

Mark Jones:
So at the Pink Test, people could purchase a virtual pink seat because of COVID. How did that work? And what was the idea behind that?

Ryan Barlow:
Yeah. So it’s interesting, and in many respects it was a pivot, but what I particularly love is that for me this year’s Pink Test wasn’t what it appears from the outside, which is a well-timed pivot to respond to a lack of people being at the SCG. I’m fine with the optics of that now. But what happened behind the scenes if I rewind 12 months was we have – as we’ve discussed – a fairly strong brand story. We can summarise it as nurses. We are breast care nurses. That’s it, super, super simple. Each year at the Pink Test, it’s largely the same group of people that come out, and so we have to find a fresh way of talking about the foundation and connecting with people. As we went into last year’s Pink Test, the bush fires were around. New South Wales, Australia was burning.

Mark Jones:
Right. Correct.

Ryan Barlow:
We were aware of that. There was growing support for the kind of bushfire cause. Celeste Barber was just becoming a name that everybody knew.

Mark Jones:
Yep.

Ryan Barlow:
But literally two days before the Pink Test, it really ramped up. It absolutely exploded. And what we realised was the zeitgeist of Australia was right behind bush fires. Everybody wanted to donate to bush fires, and we had five days of the year where we needed to stand on top of a pedestal and yell, “Please support us.” How do you do that when everybody’s looking the other way? And in fairness it was impacting us. We had nurses whose houses burnt down, patients who couldn’t get to breast cancer treatments because of bushfires.

Mark Jones:
So you’re like, “How do we do this with integrity?”

Ryan Barlow:
“We feel this. We’re with you, Australia.” But at the same time, we can’t let this moment pass or wing this, and then breast cancer patients suffer tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day.

Ryan Barlow:
So we had to find a way very quickly last year, literally in hours, of finding a way to connect with bushfires and community spirit. At the same time find a way of bringing our story into that.

Ryan Barlow:
And because we had such a strong centre point, breast care nurses, it meant we had a freedom to kind of ebb and flow around that. And the truth be told, we were talking to a patient, and she expressed to us that breast cancer never happens on its own. Breast cancer is always breast cancer plus my husband got laid off, or breast cancer plus my kids are going through something, or a divorce, or…life happens around breast cancer, right?

Mark Jones:
I was just going to say.  Normal life keeps going on.

Ryan Barlow:
It keeps going on, and there are pros, and there are lots and lots of hard things that happen in life as well. Bushfires was just another thing. And this breast cancer patient expressed to us that, “It’s not easy. It sucks.” But the bush fires is just another part of life that she has to deal with along with breast cancer. And so what we started looking at was how our role in this is breast cancer plus community, right? So everybody’s out there supporting bush fires. We want you to support bushfires –  plus – reach out and support us.

Ryan Barlow:
So let me fast forward then quickly. So that last year was about pivoting quickly. And we then spent 12 months pivoting again and again with COVID, and all the challenges that brought. And effectively we’d spend eight, nine months training to turn corners very quickly and find opportunities where they maybe didn’t exist before. We’d then been looking at the Pink Test and recognised that  we get about 15,000 individual donations during the test, yet we know there’s 45,000 people a day at the game, and there’s 400-500,000 eyeballs watching in Sydney alone. So there’s a lot of people who watch the Pink Test but don’t connect with us. The hypothesis was that those people didn’t really connect on a philanthropic level, so the emotional connection between our cause and the cricket wasn’t there for them. They just wanted to watch the cricket.

Ryan Barlow:
So we looked at, how do we make this a purchase process rather than a donation?

Ryan Barlow:
And we couldn’t quite work out what they were purchasing because in effect it would be nothing. We didn’t want there to be anything we’d have to actually ship out to people. We just wanted to change the mindset into a purchase cycle, not a donation process, right?

Mark Jones:
Right.

Ryan Barlow:
And then as we kept going, we were turning corners left and right, and then suddenly this seat challenge came up where actually the stadium might not be full. And I’m talking about August where we were hypothesising that given we’re all still in lockdown, Melbourne’s doing this. Can India even get out to Australia? Will we be playing New Zealand? I mean everything was on the cards. So we thought, “Well, why don’t we look at – in case everything goes wrong – we could sell virtual seats. We could sell these seats that nobody actually goes and sits in, but we sell them. This is a purchase.”

Mark Jones:
And what do they get?

Ryan Barlow:
What they get at the time was who knows. But what they ended up getting was something – I said to the team, “It just needs to be simple this one. We could make this very extravagant. The user engagement could be unbelievable, but this is first year. This is the test. So keep it simple, and all we want is personalisation.” So here’s a picture of a pink seat. You tell us what your name is. That’s going to go on the seat, which is in effect a JPEG. Let’s be honest. It’s a photo of a seat, and we’re going to send that to you with your name on it. And then you can put it on social, or you can smile to yourself and delete it. It doesn’t matter. But that’s it. That’s what we’re talking about here.

Mark Jones:
Yep. A bit like the park bench you see with, “Donated by,” right?

Ryan Barlow:
Yes, but a picture of a park bench with, “Donated by,” written on it. Yeah.

Mark Jones:
Yeah. I’m with you now. I got it. Yeah, they’re virtual.

Ryan Barlow:
And importantly, and one of the things we had to push hard on, is nowhere was the word ‘donate’. This was a purchase. You buy your virtual seat.

Mark Jones:
It’s a really great insight. Where did you get that from? What was the thinking behind it?

Ryan Barlow:
It came from talking to friends, and talking to people. I’m not from a not-for-profit background, and a lot of my networks aren’t overly philanthropic. So you’d talk to them, and they, “Oh, okay. Yeah, you’re at McGrath Foundation. Okay.” “Will you support me? Will you do this?” “Oh yeah, I’ll get around to it.”

Mark Jones:
It sounds like pub test stuff.

Ryan Barlow:
Absolutely. Yeah, but without even the direct ask of, “What do you think of this?” It was just that kind of osmosis over the years. I get a sense that there’s two groups of people, those who give and those who don’t. How do I talk to those who don’t? Well let’s talk about buying something. And boy oh boy did Australia get onboard.

Mark Jones:
There’s an interesting theme developing here which is not overthinking stuff.

Mark Jones:
Keeping it simple. Having a crack.

Ryan Barlow:
Yeah, we talk about failing fast. Not a new adage by any stretch.

Mark Jones:
Right. Is that how you would describe the management culture of the organisation?

Ryan Barlow:
Oh yes. Yeah, very much so. So we’re a not-for-profit, so you can’t invest huge amounts of money into polishing something up, making sure it’s perfect, testing it, getting it into market, reviewing it, building it. What we need to do is come up with ideas, light touch, get it into market quickly, understand if it works if it doesn’t, and then move from that point onwards. So, do and learn rather than test learn, test learn.

Mark Jones:
How do you deal with failure? How do you talk about failure, and how do you deal with the stress of that scenario that you spoke about knowing that it could all go pear-shaped? “We’ve got three days to go. We’re waiting for this thing to kick in. It’s the big thing every year. If this doesn’t work, what are we going to … ” There’s a lot of stuff building. How do you deal with all of that?

Ryan Barlow:
That’s a great point because that comes back to culture, right?

Mark Jones:
Yeah.

Ryan Barlow:
And the belief in our situation, not just from the leadership team – so the CEO and myself and there’s a couple others in the leadership team – but also from a board level. I have a saying with my team that’s endorsed by everybody and that’s, “If you only do what you can, you’ll never be more than you are.” And with that comes an inherent belief that you have to embrace failure. Without failure there is no learning. So I from day one try to instil that in the team, but I think it’s probably taken the best part of three years for that to really embed itself into the culture so that it’s not just a policy, it’s not just rhetoric, but it’s felt. And that everybody feels like if they have a go, if we are all aligned and believe this is the right thing to do, and it doesn’t work, as long as we learn that’s a success.

Mark Jones:
Yep.

Ryan Barlow:
And it is now absolutely felt from the top down. And this was not without its risk, but in a year like this, there was an acceptance that – I mean, our expectations of the Pink Test were very low in terms of there’s going to be no crowd. We weren’t allowed any volunteers. So we normally make hundreds of thousands of dollars shaking the tins as it were around the grounds. None of them were allowed in there. So inherently this was a year where we were already ready for failure. That was the default position. Anything we can do on top of that is success. Now that could have meant another type of failure but one that brought new learnings, or it could have brought some success that helped us learn for what we could do with the following year. Not in our wildest dreams did we imagine that we would raise over 3.1 million dollars off the back of selling a JPEG of a seat with your name on it.

Mark Jones:
I love it. But the interesting thing emotionally, and I think psychologically from a team point of view is you could say as a team, “Yep, you’ve got permission to fail. You’ve got permission to give it a go. And we’re not going to sack you because of it,” but you may not raise enough money to keep them.” So what sort of person does it take, or what sort of person is required to operate in that environment? There’s a lot going on there.

Ryan Barlow:
Yeah. And it does, so that’s trust. That’s trust that even if we fail, and even if we fail badly, you’ll still be here. And that’s also going back to the nature of the organisation, our business mentality. So we go into the budgeting process knowing it’s a year of COVID. Let’s plan for this year to be a terrible year. Let’s make decisions now and set ourselves up so that we can still make ends meet at the end of this thing. And our strategy this year. We’d been driving a growth strategy for the last two or three years, and we were on a trajectory that would have us meet the need. Achieve 250 breast care nurses in Australia and have everybody able to access a nurse if they need one.

Mark Jones:
Amazing.

Ryan Barlow:
It’s pretty unheard of for a not-for-profit to say, “We’ve done it. We’ve reached our mission.” But we had a line of sight on that, and we were on a path to get there. When COVID came in, we had to put that aside, and we changed to protect patient care. We didn’t want to let a single nurse go. That had implications for staff. They were on stand down. There were a few we had to let go, and a few found other jobs in other roles and things. It was not a fun time, but it was built off a platform of we want to protect our patients and the support they get, and that means firstly protecting our nurses. Everybody bought into that from a cultural perspective. They all trusted that that’s what we were doing. They could see how we were going to do it. They bought into the decisions.

Ryan Barlow:
It then meant when we got to the Pink Test everybody understood that we’d set ourselves up to cope with whatever this looked like, and so anything we could do on top of that was brilliant, but if we only just met our budget, that’s fine. That’s what we’d built this year on. So we set ourselves up, if you like to protect patient care based on the year being terrible. And therefore we’d freed ourselves to have a go.

Mark Jones:
It sounds like a lot of open communication and bringing people along the journey with you, right?

Ryan Barlow:
Yes, very much so.

Mark Jones:
So that’s a big tick. It sounds like you guys are really doing a great job there. Tell me about the role of these corporate partners too.

Ryan Barlow:
Yep.

Mark Jones:
Because there’s something like 50 different corporate partners that also underwrite the budget that you talk about.

Ryan Barlow:
Absolutely.

Mark Jones:
So what’s the corporate partner versus individual donation split? How do you manage that? How do you keep these corporate partners engaged, involved, happy? There’s a whole lot of work going on there I’m sure.

Ryan Barlow:
Yeah. There is. Let me quickly articulate our various revenue streams. Because Pink Test is one – and this year was a huge achievement. We’ve got corporate partners as you mentioned, and they bring in for us anywhere between 2.5 and three million dollars a year – so quite a large chunk of support. We also have what I would consider traditional fundraising, which is door to door. Still an incredibly consistent and successful means of raising money to this day.

Mark Jones:
Literal door knocking?

Ryan Barlow:
Literal door knocking.

Mark Jones:
Wow.

Ryan Barlow:
Teams of people knocking on your door.

Mark Jones:
Still doing that?

Ryan Barlow:
Yeah. There’s innovation built in there with iPad signups and all of those sorts of things driven faster by COVID, obviously making sure that we’re socially distancing while we’re doing that.

Ryan Barlow:
Unfortunately or fortunately, people need to be asked, but when asked they do give. And so the door knocking still works because when you do confront somebody and say, “I’m here. It’s your choice, but this is our cause. Would you be willing to give?” there’s quite a few people who say yes. But if we didn’t knock, if we didn’t have that interaction, they wouldn’t give. It needs to be done. So, we’ve got that. There’s bequests, and major donors and all of that tranche. Then we have what we call community and campaigns which is where our Pink Test sits. It’s a campaign. But around that we also have Pink Stumps Day. We’re a major partner with Dry July. And we have just – if you like – organic community groups who come together and hold an event, be it a morning tea, or a game of cricket, or a game of soccer, and they raise money around that.

Mark Jones:
Great.

Ryan Barlow:
So they’re our kind of three big chunks, traditional, corporates, and the community campaigns group. Corporate, as you say, around about 50 partners. They range from large scale like IGA, BP, who run big campaigns. They activate them themselves and support with their own media buys and PR support. Down to your local dentist who is going to whiten your teeth this month with $10 dollars from every whitening going back to the foundation. They all connect with us for different reasons.

Ryan Barlow:
The strongest connections are one driven by connection to the cause, not a belief that your brand could help me sell more teeth whitening. It doesn’t work unless the brand is connected on a deeper level, and that’s internally, culturally. It’s through the branding. It’s through the activation and what we do to support what you do as a brand. So the beautiful thing about our corporate partners is that they’re not one year. They tend to be five plus years.

Mark Jones:
And do you go in with that pitch?

Ryan Barlow:
Absolutely. And in fairness, a lot of times they’re coming to us. So people are recognising the brand. They’re seeing what we do in other spaces, and they’re knocking on the door. But that’s definitely part of the conversation. We’re not interested in a 12 month relationship. We want to build a partnership like you do with other brands.

Mark Jones:
And what are they getting?

Ryan Barlow:
What are they getting? They’re getting the strength of our brand. So it’s very recognisable. It helps people believe that their brand is giving back in a very tangible, understandable, meaningful way. But it also delivers internally we’ve found for culture, internal culture. Staff connect with it. It elevates some of the conversations. And often brings out conversations within teams internally that people didn’t realise were there. People start to understand why certain people feel certain ways because they’re talking about their own personal experiences. So it’s an internal as much as an external commercial benefit.

Mark Jones:
I want to ask you about empathy.

Mark Jones:
The corporates, they’re connecting with your purpose story. In other words, they have a sense of empathy, not just sympathy, but they connect to the importance of breast care nurses helping women and families. They understand that – so there’s an empathy that underpins that.

Ryan Barlow:
Yes.

Mark Jones:
Then you’ve got individuals who are connecting, and you’ve got the team that are connecting through empathy because, “We’re here because we’re connected to a cause that we care about. I can see myself contributing to that purpose.” Right?

Ryan Barlow:
Yes.

Mark Jones:
So I’m employed, but I’m also empathetically connected into that. And then when you’re positioning that out in the marketplace through your messaging and so on, you’re actually inviting people into a story, effectively inviting people to have an empathy for this direction that you’re going, this ability to make a difference. How do you think about that strategically?

Ryan Barlow:
Good question. I think at the end of the day, isn’t that what we all do? I mean, our brand is a very tangible expression of that. Our nurses demonstrate empathy every single day, as does the healthcare system, let’s be fair. But our nurses are incredible in the way that they work with patients, and I think that we feel internally – obligation’s probably too strong a word – but I think there’s a responsibility to really mimic that empathy, and we try and go about our business in the same way and really care about the conversations we’re having and the impact we can have not just with patients, but the impact we can have for corporate partners, the impact we can have on the local cricket club who turns pink and what these moments do.

Ryan Barlow:
Pink Up Your Town is an initiative that’s about three years old. It’s not groundbreaking by any stretch. But you take a town, a small town. They come together as a town and turn pink. And the second year we did this-

Mark Jones:
Great idea.

Ryan Barlow:
Yeah. The second year we did this, I had the absolute pleasure of going down to Braidwood, a little town south of Sydney.

Mark Jones:
Okay. Yeah.

Ryan Barlow:
And this town, fair to say, has been ravaged by drought. So there are farmers who are really struggling, and I’m not just talking financially. I think there’s emotional struggles that are going on with farmers.

Ryan Barlow:
In the midst of this, this small town joined our Pink Up Your Town program, and they turned pink. They had local towns turning pink. They had a fireworks night. They had a gala dinner, all of these sorts of things. I was invited down to go to the gala dinner. But just walking around the town talking to people, they would recognise that this moment allowed them to take themselves out of their own problems, which were genuinely serious, and empathise with other people in the community, their neighbours, their friends, their friends’ friends, people they’d known their whole lives but hadn’t known. And the conversations that came out of that – the connections, the understanding – not only helped the people they were talking to, but they themselves went back to their own problems with a different lens. These are the conversations they’re having with me. This is not me interpreting anything, but this is what they’re giving me.

Mark Jones:
Yep. Correct. You’re walking around soaking it up.

Ryan Barlow:
And it’s unbelievable to think a small initiative that’s designed to try and help raise funds to support breast cancer patients is bringing towns together, and is energising towns, and is helping people communicate and connect and find empathy where it didn’t exist.

Mark Jones:
So I really like that story because the interesting thing to me as I read a lot of the trends reports and what’s happening in marketing and so forth, there’s a lot of this discussion about the importance of empathy from a leadership perspective.

Ryan Barlow:
Yeah.

Mark Jones:
You know, “Leadership teams need to have empathy. You really need to know your team,” and all that stuff. Great. Of course. Obvious. You need to do that. What’s missing is the storytelling component that you’re speaking about here, which is that it needs to be part of your messaging, your – if you like whole – culture of how we connect with people needs to be underpinned by not just this sense of empathy for the other but a real integrity about it, right?

Ryan Barlow:
Yes. Not a sense of empathy, actual empathy.

Mark Jones:
Correct. Doing something. In other words, story-doing not storytelling.

Ryan Barlow:
Yes.

Mark Jones:
I want to kind of get a sense from you of how this is continuing to change you as a person. Because in all of the stories that you’ve shared with us today, there’s actually a recurring theme that everybody can relate to, new experiences that surprise me, the need to be agile, flexible, make up stuff on the go, take risks, constantly learn, constantly put myself in a position where I’m uncomfortable, right? And if you’re familiar with the growth mindset versus fixed mindset, the growth mindset says, “I can’t do this yet, but I’m going to give it a go, and I’m going to see this as an opportunity to grow and learn and develop.” A fixed mindset says, “Too difficult, too hard, not worth the effort,” right?

Mark Jones:
You actually have to constantly put yourself in that position in your role. And I think for anybody who has been in the corporate game, gets into the not-for-profit game because they want to do the right thing, make a difference in the world. It’s a very common path. And by the way, one that I’m thumbs up to it.

Ryan Barlow:
Sure.

Mark Jones:
I’m totally in support of, but it does require this growth mindset. It does require this ability to handle the level of intensity that you’re faced with everyday. So what’s your approach? How do you deal with that?

Ryan Barlow:
That’s interesting. This is the difference between talking and doing again. I think I’d always talked about a growth mindset. I’d always talked about being brave. I’d always talked about things. And to a certain extent I’m sure I was. But coming in, what the foundation’s brought out in me is the doing of that. They’re no longer catch phrases. It’s no longer rhetoric. I absolutely demand of myself that I lead by example. I would never ask my team to do anything I wouldn’t dare do myself, but equally I need them to feel what I’m saying.

Ryan Barlow:
When I first started, I talked about reaching for the stars. There was a sense when I first started that we’d plateaued, and I really wanted to break that ceiling. So it was about, “How do I demonstrate what reaching for the stars means? How do I make them believe what I’m saying, and not just listen to what I’m saying?” And to me that’s been the shift.

Ryan Barlow:
It wasn’t something conscious that I bought in. It wasn’t something that I kind of sat down and thought, “You know what I’m going to need to do here is?” But I think that’s just what I’ve asked of myself. And to my earlier point, when I think about what I’ve learnt most, it’s been about me. I think there is some self reflection that says, “You’re talking the talk, mate, but maybe let’s start walking the walk.” And whether that was conscious or not, that’s definitely been that change. It’s come about because I’ve recognised to get the best out of my team, they’ve got to see it. They’ve got to feel it and believe that I mean it.

Mark Jones:
Yeah. What’s your approach to storytelling in person with your team? How do you do that?

Ryan Barlow:
It’s from the heart every time, absolutely every time. I absolutely love stories. I love language. Words, individual words are really important to me. I don’t just throw words away. Each one matters, and I choose them carefully. And when I’m telling a story to my team, I believe in the power of a story, rather than just a statement or a presentation. But it’s got to be authentic. It’s not so much storytelling as it is story-sharing. It’s wanting to be around a campfire again like our ancestors were, sharing the knowledge, sharing the stories, and bringing people into a story rather than pushing it out to them.

Mark Jones:
As you think about the future, what would be the difficult things that you’ve got to be aware of?

Ryan Barlow:
Look, for us, we are at a turning point. So breast cancer patients at the moment have a great care package in our McGrath breast care nurses. It is life changing, and everybody knows that story. What we recognise is that, with a few exceptions, other cancer patients don’t have the same experience. There’s, if you like, a discrimination there between what breast cancer patients receive and what others receive.

Mark Jones:
Okay. A much better experience.

Ryan Barlow:
A much better experience, a much better outcome. They are, by virtue of our nurses, better looked after patients. They get a better treatment outcome when you have a McGrath breast care nurse by your side. So how can we try and deliver that same care and support across any cancer strain so that everybody can have the same sort of care and support that we have. It’s big and hairy, and it’s certainly not what our foundation was set up to initially do, but we recognise that as we near our mission, there’s no point sitting back on our laurels and saying, “You beauty, we did it.” The question is what’s next.

Mark Jones:
What have we learned, and how can we apply that to-

Ryan Barlow:
How can we apply it? How can others benefit from this?

Mark Jones:
It’s been fantastic to have you on the show. I really appreciate the honesty of your story and what you’re doing, clearly some fantastic outcomes, and there’s more to come. So, Ryan, thank you so much for being my guest on The CMO Show today. All the best with your work and the career and the mission and the impact that you’re making.

Ryan Barlow:
Brilliant. Thank you very much, Mark.

Mark Jones:
So that was Ryan Barlow. I really hope you enjoyed our conversation as much as I did. McGrath Foundation really is a great example of a brand that has reinforced its marketing strategy by leading with purpose. 

Mark Jones:
And I’ve got to say I was particularly struck by the way Ryan and his team are constantly learning, adapting, looking forward and creating a new vision. You know, it’s just not easy to become a mature – almost household name – that’s making a real difference in the world. 

Mark Jones:
And so I found this to be such an inspiring story. It reminds us just how important it is to get your story right. It’s got to be really simple, and think about what you do and why. And they’ve really been able to package that up well and stay true to the cause. I hope you’re as encouraged by it as I am.

Mark Jones:
Finally, a quick reminder, if you haven’t already, please subscribe to The CMO Show. You can get us on your favourite podcast app, so you never miss an episode. Mark Jones: Also be sure to head over to LinkedIn and follow both The CMO Show and Filtered Media for fun teaser content ahead of each upcoming episode. Thank you for joining us on The CMO Show. As always, it’s been great to have you with us. Until next time.

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