The CMO Show:
Teresa Sperti on marketing a...

Teresa Sperti, outgoing Chief Marketing, Data and Product Officer of World Vision Australia joins Mark Jones to discuss the changing landscape of the not-for-profit sector and the power of emotive storytelling in charity marketing.

Founded in 1966, the mission of World Vision Australia is to work with Australian organisations and individuals to overcome poverty and create global change through development, relief and advocacy work.

With more than 54,000 registered charity organisations making up Australia’s not-for-profit sector and disintermediation making it easier for consumers to donate directly to causes, there is a growing need for NFPs to change in order to achieve cut-through in a saturated market.

It’s a problem Teresa Sperti was working to solve as the outgoing Chief Marketing, Data and Product Officer of World Vision Australia. Teresa has more than 20 years of marketing experience, and the last 12 have predominantly been spent in digital and data roles, driving transformation.

As World Vision’s first CMO, Teresa drew on her expertise to ensure World Vision thrived in an era of disruption.

“For us, and many other charities, there is an intense need to change and evolve in line with the market to ensure we are future-proofed from the disruptive forces occurring. And so that means as an organisation, when you’re faced with many external challenges, you need to evolve internally,” Teresa says.

“When I think about driving transformation, what’s critical are the shifts you need to make as an organisation in core capabilities or enablement. When I think about those they are areas like data and insight, technology, people and process. If you don’t get that enablement layer right it’s very difficult to be able to drive the change within the organisation at a strategic level.”

The needs and goals of customers are important factors for not-for-profit marketers to consider. According to Teresa organisations need to show consumers exactly how their donation can change a life.

“We trade in emotion and what is really critical for us is that we find ways in which we can connect the Australian public with the big issues,” Teresa says. “Very few Australians will see and experience the work we do first-hand because it’s overseas.

“It’s really critical that we demonstrate through storytelling the progress and impact that we’re actually making within communities.”

Tune in to this episode of The CMO Show to hear Mark and Teresa discuss how internal enterprise transformation is key to external success, and the power of using emotive storytelling to make a lasting impact through marketing campaigns.


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The CMO Show production team

Producer – Charlotte Goodwin & Natalie Cupac

Audio Engineers – Daniel Marr & Tom Henderson

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Host: Mark Jones

Guest: Teresa Sperti

Mark Jones: What’s your purpose? It’s one of the biggest questions that we hear, particularly among the younger generations is, I wanna work in a job that aligns with my purpose. I wanna have a vision for achieving something in the world and putting my stamp on the globe as it were. And so when it comes to the world of work and working with agencies or in marketing, in PR and comms, we’re really attracted to purpose driven organisations or organisations that really seem to be making a difference. But once you got that sorted, my next question to you is, what about your skillset? Because it’s all very well and good to have a purpose and a vision and a heart, but how well have you aligned your skills with your purpose?

Mark Jones: Hello friends. We are back, and this is Mark Jones. You are with The CMO Show, and today we’re gonna talk about the not-for-profit sector. One of my favourite sectors because not-for-profits, charities, organisations thinking about doing good in the world, not only cool, they’re important. And the macro story, and I’m speaking here, I think professionally as well, we’re seeing huge amounts of disruption and change going on. It’s a really interesting time to be looking at the sector. In Australia, we have thousands and thousands of charities. And of course the problem with that is that they’re all fighting for a slice of your wallet. Your discretionary spend is being divided up again and again and again in small, tiny micro ways.

Mark Jones: And if you’re in marketing and comms, you’re trying to tell a story that connects with people, it’s becoming increasingly hard. Quite simply, we just don’t have the ability to think about dividing our discretionary dollars in multiple ways, right? So the challenge becomes a hard one. My guest today is the chief marketing data and product officer at World Vision Australia, Teresa Sperti, and it’s just fantastic to have her on the show. World Vision, of course, is a brand that many of us will know. I know this from the days of doing the 40 Hour Famine. I think that for us gen x’s it’s an iconic moment in our lives perhaps.

Mark Jones: And more broadly, we know through Tim Costello and others, they’ve really been very vocal in the media, speaking about issues of world hunger, the issues particularly in countries around the world. And as far as charity is concerned, this is the big one. From an Australian point of view, World Vision is incredibly influential and a fantastic organisation. So, having Teresa on the show, it’s a real pleasure, an honour. And also, I think, just to drill into some of the context for this show, she has this interesting mix of marketing data and product. So it’s a very broad remit.

Mark Jones: And I’ll also say one thing about her own background is that she’s always had a passion for this, but actually her focus is, what skills can I bring to the mix? How can I help the organisation internally with structure and change and innovation? And then also the external story. How can we make sure that those two things are aligned? We hear a lot about passion and I see that in the not-for-profit sector, these people who are really driven by idealism. And sometimes, unfortunately, when you’re so ideologically driven, there can be a skills gap, because you’re not really focused on what skills are you bringing to the table. That in this case is not what’s going on. Teresa is highly skilled and has some fantastic insights.

Mark Jones: So I encourage you to have a listen. It’s a really awesome conversation. And just start thinking about, how do your skills and your purpose lineup?

Mark Jones: Teresa Sperti, chief marketing data and product officer at World Vision. Thank you so much for joining us.

Teresa Sperti: Great to be here.

Mark Jones: I just wanna jump straight into it. What’s it like working at World Vision?

Teresa Sperti: What’s it like working at World Vision? No two days are the same. it’s interesting because people probably have a perception of what it’s like to work for a not-for-profit, and there are so many things that are similar to working in a commercial environment. But of course the big difference is that we get to make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable every single day, and that’s a great feeling to go home with every single night.

Mark Jones: Yeah, absolutely. I think contributing to a greater purpose must be incredible. Give us a quick snapshot of your career and how you got to this place.

Teresa Sperti: Sure. I have been in the marketing industry for nearly 20 years. I started at Ford Motor Company as an events marketing coordinator and moved to Daimlerchrysler, spent three years there in their financial services division, and then spent a period of about four to five years working in travel. I went and spent some time overseas, took on an international marketing role out of London and then came back and spent another couple of years working within the classifieds industry for a brand called And then prior to joining World Vision, I spent five years in retail.

Mark Jones: Many and diverse.

Teresa Sperti: Very diverse career. The last 12 years has been predominantly within digital and data driven roles, and driving transformation within organisations, large and smaller.

Mark Jones: One of the things I’m fascinated by, the journey of people who go from the private sector into not-for-profits or charities or how you’d like to describe yourself, for purpose maybe, tell me that moment where you decided this is what I need to do.

Teresa Sperti: I don’t know if I had a moment. I’m personally passionate about female empowerment, and so World Vision presented an opportunity that really aligned with one of my passions. And so, it gave me the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of women and the communities that they’re operating within. But for me, I was also really interested in the opportunity to join an organisation that’s undergoing transformation and driving a transformation agenda. And that’s something that I’m also really passionate about, is being on a journey with an organisation and driving that transformative change, and being able to look back and see the success that we’ve achieved over that journey.

Teresa Sperti: And so I don’t think there was a particular moment that made me go, “Oh, I need to join a for purpose organisation.” I think it’s something that every marketer should do within their career, at least once, because it is a really nice change to be able to work in a sector that is all about purpose. Commercial brands in this day and age, strive to have a purpose, to engage their staff.

Mark Jones: Right.

Teresa Sperti: And so we’ve got one of the most powerful purposes in the world as a brand, and that’s a really great opportunity to work within that environment.

Mark Jones: So what does the transformation agenda look like for you? Because this is, if you like, the macro theme of not-for-profits these days.

Teresa Sperti: So if we look at the sector as a whole, the sector is facing significant disruption. You’ve got very high levels of competition. There are 54,000, not-for-profits operating in Australia, the growing trend of social enterprise. And we’re also seeing, particularly within the humanitarian sector, there is the rise of disintermediation, which is effectively enabling consumers to give directly to causes. And so the amount-

Mark Jones: And by the way, sorry to jump in, but that’s where most of your funding comes from, right?

Teresa Sperti: Absolutely. Yeah. So for us, and many other charities, there is an intense need to change and evolve in line with the market to ensure that we are future proofed, if you like, from the disruptive forces that are occurring. And so that means, as an organisation, when you’re faced with many external challenges, it means that you need to evolve internally.

Mark Jones: Yes.

Teresa Sperti: And that is everything from, how do we actually go about developing new products? How do we actually work to enable us to match the pace of the market and the rapid change that’s actually happening within the market? And to do that, you need cultural shift in mindset, shifts in the way in which we operate as an organisation, ways of working, and it also requires us to evolve from a systems and technology perspective.

Mark Jones: So it begs the question, how do you divide your time? I’m going back to your title, chief marketing data and product officer. So is it like a third split for each one, or what do you do?

Teresa Sperti: I think it’s interesting. Every role has competing priorities and it’s just that my role brings a diversity that maybe some marketing roles don’t necessarily bring. I really focus on the hot button issues when it comes to how I spend my time, and that might differ quarter by quarter.

Mark Jones: What do you mean hot button, do you mean like, for example, what the community’s thinking about or campaign you’re doing?

Teresa Sperti: Hot button issues in my mind are based on two things, I’m gonna call them the two Vs. one is visibility, is there an issue within the organisation or an opportunity that has significant visibility either at a board level, public level, or internally from a team perspective? Or does it create great value? And so, again, within an organisation where we’ve got a transformation agenda and we need to evolve, how we create value is critical. And so opportunities where we can generate new value, sustainable growth for the organisation is also an area where I place my focus and attention.

Mark Jones: How do you stop yourself getting distracted by the internal change?

Teresa Sperti: In transformative environments, the internal change is actually really critical, and so I wouldn’t see it as a distraction. It’s something that you have to actually actively manage and drive. When I think about driving transformation, what is critical is the shifts that you need to make as an organisation in core capabilities or enablement. And so when I think about those, they are areas like, data and insight, technology, people, process. If you don’t get that enablement layer right, it’s very difficult to be able to drive the change within the organisation at a strategic level.

Mark Jones: Do you find yourself working more across teams or just focus with your own marketing team? How does that dynamic work?

Teresa Sperti: So, when I joined World Vision, there was a real need for me to focus on the team and build capability within the team. But we play a very key role within the organisation to drive revenue and sustainable growth. And that requires us to work cross functionally. So collaboration is really critical, collaboration across our market facing segments right through to our field team.

Mark Jones: I wanna talk about a fun thing, which is this notion of competition in the not-for-profit sector. This is not very visual given it’s an audio medium, but I printed it out of the Google trends chart and I just plugged in World Vision, UNICEF Compassion, IDO and Habitat for Humanity, right? And you guys and UNICEF really are, in terms of brand awareness and searches, very high up there. But when you see things like this, how do you think about your competitive landscape? What are the drivers and the motivations and the feelings that goes along with that whole landscape?

Teresa Sperti: It’s a big topic.

Mark Jones: Right.

Teresa Sperti: So as I mentioned, we operate in a category that’s probably one of the most competitive in Australia and that requires us as an organisation to continually innovate and ensure that we’ve got really strong differentiation in market. And that’s just direct competitors, let alone indirect competitors. We are ultimately operating in a space where we’re competing for disposable discretionary income, and we know that Australians are increasingly facing low wage growth and a challenge by rising costs.

Mark Jones: The thing that fascinates me is this, I’ve heard other not-for-profits talk about coopertition or just different mindsets that are less harsh from a marketing perspective. But really as marketers, we’re all about differentiation, and how do I ostensibly help my organisation drive growth. So I think it’s just an interesting one because really it would seem to me that not-for-profits have to get a lot harder and a lot more focused about that, if you want to achieve your outcomes. Would you say this is one of your biggest challenges?

Teresa Sperti: I definitely think competition is one of our biggest challenges, and if you’re operating and working within the industry, it’s a challenge for everyone. There are definitely opportunities to come together and work together, and the sector is doing that more and more, which is really great to see. Partnering I think is really important given the level of competition in market, but yes, we also need to ensure, as charities, that we are sustainable and that we can meet the needs of the communities that we serve. And to do that, that means that we need to focus on what is happening in the market and how we can connect with consumers based on the-their changing needs.

Mark Jones: Let me talk about my favourite subject, which is storytelling. And I really do believe that one of the greatest assets that we as marketers have is the ability to tell a compelling story that moves somebody in some sort of way. And we’ve seen this expressed over the years in many different ways, very compelling campaigns by World Vision and others, particularly the iconic images of children and mothers in all sorts of desperate situations. So clearly emotive hook in storytelling is critical, I would suggest to success in this space. How do you think about the role of storytelling and your role in advancing that?

Teresa Sperti: We trade in emotion and what is really critical for us is that we find ways in which we can connect the Australian public with the big issues that are occurring in the context for which we’re working.

Teresa Sperti: Very few Australians will see and experience the work that we do first hand because it’s overseas.

Mark Jones: Right.

Teresa Sperti: And so that actually makes storytelling far more important as a way in which to connect and engage the Australian public, and that’s not just to get people to donate. The point of donation is really the start of the journey and the start of the relationship. It’s really critical that we demonstrate through storytelling, the progress that we’re making, the impact that we’re actually making within communities.

Mark Jones: And it connects people to the work that you’re doing and lets them feel part of it, and all those sorts of things. I wanted to pick up on your comment, I think its an interesting one, is that you’re trading in emotion, was that the word you said? What type of emotions, what works and what doesn’t work, because the public can be quite fickle when it comes to the emotions that they engage with or not.

Teresa Sperti: We’ve been on a journey since I’ve been with the organisation, learning more about how do we activate and engage the Australian public. I think for a long time the sector has very much focused on driving donation through guilt as an emotion.

Mark Jones: Right.

Teresa Sperti: That is absolutely effective and an effective tool for-

Mark Jones: Like a big Haiti crisis or whatever, is that …

Teresa Sperti: Yeah, but also images of children within communities that are struggling. So for us, what has been a significant shift is actually also focusing on positive emotion, the feeling that people get from seeing the progress that we’re actually making in communities. The fact that we’re empowering kids to actually be able to live life to their full potential.

Mark Jones: You’re talking about outcomes there, aren’t you?

Teresa Sperti: Absolutely. Yeah.

Mark Jones: Has that been a missing part of the story, seeing the result of my work because otherwise it’s just going off into the abyss as it were.

Teresa Sperti: Yeah. Once you’ve engaged with World Vision, we’ve always demonstrated outcome, but our focus to market from an acquisition perspective has historically been more focused on need rather than impact or outcome.

Mark Jones: Yes.

Teresa Sperti: Those who have engaged more recently with World Vision will see that there is a shift that we’ve made, focusing on both need and impact. And again, from an emotional perspective, that is to reinforce the good that Australians are doing in these communities overseas. And that whilst you are one individual, you can actually make a material difference in the lives of the most vulnerable children.

Mark Jones: If you think about World Vision as an influential storyteller in the community, it would seem to me you have an opportunity to also pick up on maybe that narrative and others that you see are important. And so for example, I can pick on other brands like Nike or Dove campaigns or State Street Global, these big national community issues, and make a statement, right? And we’re seeing more and more of that. How do you see yourself as part of, if you like, that role or that opportunity to change a national or a broad community conversation?

Teresa Sperti: Historically, World Vision has always actively engaged in the advocacy space and played quite a key role I think a really great example of what you’re talking about is, actually last year, we launched our Kids Off Nauru campaign. And that campaign was done in collaboration with a host of other humanitarian organisations, but it was led by World Vision. That was tackling a really key issue, which is about the challenges of locking children up and the impact that that actually has on their mental and social wellbeing. And so we’ve really shaped public opinion when it comes to how people perceive and think about the children that are refugees, but equally we’ve also shaped government opinion on that, and driven policy change.

Mark Jones: Look at where we are now, right?

Teresa Sperti: Exactly. And so our role as an organisation to shape and engage the community on those issues is really key and something that you would actually expect from a brand the size of World Vision.

Mark Jones: Right. So then how do you imagine the future will look? Do you have other campaigns up your sleeve? Is there something, a particular cause that you’re uniquely focused on? Do you have a calendar of events?

Teresa Sperti: We do, and I think the other initiative that I haven’t touched on is our Thousand Girls Campaign. The Australian public is very focused on female empowerment, that campaign we ran towards the back end of last year and it was extremely successful. I think we drove growth of about 25% year on year in terms of engagement with child sponsorship yeah, and so that again is another example of how we are looking at what is important to the Australian public and how we’re leveraging that as a platform to engage and have conversations with the wider Australian public about the challenges of females in these communities.

Mark Jones: Fantastic.

Teresa Sperti: We do have a calendar of events, I’m not gonna tell you what’s coming up.

Mark Jones: Well no, we talked about competitors, right? You can’t

Mark Jones: So it seems like you have to find the right balance between responding appropriately to a regulatory environment and then also knowing the creative levers you can pull, right? So just how emotional can you get, for example. Just how brave can you be, and keep everything in balance. Is that a fair way to understand the position that you’re in?

Teresa Sperti: Absolutely. And the other key area, which is an increasing challenge for charities is, over the previous few years we’ve seen continual erosion of trust across the sector. You’re always playing in the back of your mind some of the challenges that exist, how do you balance and ensure that you can be brave to enable you to be able to achieve the outcomes that you need to, to drive the impact in the community while balancing that with the fact that you want to continue to build trust, and also ensure you balance the risk element to what you’re doing from a marketing perspective.

Mark Jones: That’s great. And I’m glad you raised trust cause I actually wanted to ask you about a related word, which is belief. And it’s my view, I speak about this publicly, which is the belief systems that we hold, whether they’re political or religious or existential, about whether people would go to all those sorts of moral issues. They really do inform how we behave and how we respond to the world around us. And I note that on the World Vision website, like many websites in your sector, there’s the breakdown of spending, and how much money you put into admin and marketing. It’s one of the things you always have to put out there, and I think it’s because society or people, individuals have a view, a belief of how much of their money should be spent on “admin” versus going directly to those in need. And so those beliefs are actually quite tightly held. So how do you work in that context and how do you process that world? Cause that’s a very different dynamic to consumer marketing.

Teresa Sperti: You’re absolutely right, and those beliefs have been held for a long time. So it’s not something that’s easy to change. I’m not so sure that people have a figure in their mind as to what should be sent, it’s more about, there is a broader perception that predominantly the majority of funds that go to charity aren’t going to those in need, if that makes sense. And so-

Mark Jones: Justice equity fairness type mindset, is that right?

Teresa Sperti: Yeah. I think over time, the erosion of trust in the sector has created a level of scepticism around how much of the funds are actually reaching those in need. There is an assumption that the majority of funds aren’t getting there. And I think that that’s not just about World Vision, that’s the sector more broadly.

Teresa Sperti: With World Vision being a large brand, there is an assumption that as a large brand, your costs must be higher. What we actually find is that when the general public or those supporting us actually realise and see that 83% of our funds go to those in need and our advocacy work, they’re actually really pleasantly surprised. And so what’s really critical in the way that we actually go to market is to ensure that we’re very transparent about where the money goes, and that as we continue to engage with donors, we show the impact that we’ve made and the progress that we’re making in communities. Because that instills confidence that we’re actually doing what we promise with the funds.

Mark Jones: Yeah. And I think it probably ties back into your role, which is, what are the stories that you can tell that will help build that trust and confidence? How would you move people along the belief journey towards a different understanding, right?

Teresa Sperti: Exactly. That’s right. And different segments have different needs. We operate across an array of segments. We engage the general public, we engage the government, we engage with philanthropists and corporates, and they all have different needs and different ways of consuming impact, if you like. From a general public perspective, it’s all about individual stories as well as some data that demonstrates the broader shifts that have been made within community. And then at the other end, from a government perspective, of course, there is a lot of data that we provide our institutional stakeholders, to demonstrate that we’ve delivered the outcomes that we set out to achieve in community, but it’s not a linear process as well. Sometimes we will set out to achieve certain outcomes in a community and we may not deliver all of those outcomes. Poverty, it’s not a simple beast to tackle, and so when things may not go to plan, it’s really important that we communicate that to our donors as well.

Mark Jones: And how you’re learning from those experiences.

Teresa Sperti: Absolutely.

Mark Jones: I’m really enjoying this conversation because we’re skipping across all these things that I’m really interested in. A couple of more things I just wanted to touch on before we wrap up. Firstly, media channels. And there’s an argument out there that you’re either all digital, and I’m seeing someone like Mark Ritson who say, don’t forget TV. The old school is still fine and good and whatever. What’s the reality from your perspective, what actually makes a difference in terms of donations?

Teresa Sperti: So for us, one of the reasons I was hired with World Vision was my digital background. And so there was a strong focus for us to shift our media buying towards digital. But for me as a marketer, I think it’s really important to adopt a channel agnostic approach to media buying and to determine what works, and optimise and evolve your approach on the basis of what the data is telling you. We’ve been on a journey over the past couple of years to establish what is the right mix of media for our marketing activity, and we do adopt an array of channels. One of our most effective channels is TV, in driving demand and engagement from the Australian public.

Mark Jones: Are you measuring that on the basis of donations, from certain campaigns?

Teresa Sperti: We have an attribution model that enables us to determine inbound demand that’s been generated as well as new child sponsorship sign-ups in donations that come from all of our media, but it’s not just about TV. So from a digital perspective, younger generations of course have a much higher consumption level of digital media.

Teresa Sperti: You know, channels like social media are critical, as well as engaging with audio and video mediums from a digital perspective.

Mark Jones: Before we wrap, globally … Give me your insights. This is a global organisation, how do you think about marketing in a global versus Australian context? Is there expectations that you’ll take on campaigns from overseas? How do you decide what’s appropriate? What does that look like for you?

Teresa Sperti: We have 12 offices around the globe that raise funds on behalf of their markets, and so I look after Australia. I actually also sit on a global committee, and that global committee makes decisions around where we’re gonna invest from a product development perspective, so we can create new propositions to penetrate new markets. When it comes to marcomms, we do develop campaigns independently, but on the basis of success they’re then scaled globally. So –

Mark Jones: Interesting. So you can try it in one market, and then test and learn, and then go from there.

Teresa Sperti: Absolutely. And now Thousand Girls Campaign is a great example of a campaign that will be scaled globally.

Mark Jones: Would you describe it as decentralised in that regard?

Teresa Sperti: It is in part decentralised. If you think about things like product development, we are looking to move towards a more globally coordinated approach, and that’s one of the things that we are leading from a global committee perspective, ensuring that the propositions that we develop can be scaled across the globe, cause that creates economies of scale and efficiencies.

Mark Jones: Right. Yeah. Because I think this is, again, another one of those pendulum swings between global campaigns and highly tailored, nuanced local, and then how you do that. We just see this going around and around and around like, oh, we’re gonna have a global campaign and everybody’s gonna do the same message, et cetera.

Teresa Sperti: Yes.

Mark Jones: And it doesn’t always work.

Teresa Sperti: Absolutely. That’s right. Exactly. So we do have autonomy in our local market, but also we’re focused on where we can work together to drive those efficiencies and economies of scale.

Mark Jones: Great. Well, let’s wrap up there. I’ve loved our conversation. I’m a big fan of World Vision, supported for many, many years, so congratulations on doing some fantastic work. And I do wish you and your team all the very best in a very competitive market. And also the change programme that you’re going through clearly requires a lot of hard work and focus. So all the best with that, and enjoy.

Teresa Sperti: Thank you so much.

Mark Jones: You know one of the things I enjoyed about my conversation with Teresa is the concept of emotion. This is a big deal for me, of course, in storytelling. I talk a lot about the role that emotion plays in powerful and effective storytelling. In this case, we’re talking about strategically understanding why you’re using emotion, and from her point of view, what she’s saying is, let’s talk about the good stuff that’s happening. Let’s talk about the outcomes, and obviously if the money that you’re giving to World Vision to achieve great outcomes in the world is happening elsewhere around the world, you wanna know, you wanna see, you wanna feel the sense of achievement from what’s being done, and that’s a great powerful way to encourage people to join you on your journey.

Mark Jones: Of course, the comparison point is that many not-for-profits trade on guilt or fear or some kind of negative emotion that talks about the bad things that are going on in the world. And it’s just really nice to hear Teresa’s view, which is of course a little bit different. It’s about what can you do, what change can you inspire in the world through positive emotion. So a great lesson there from World Vision. Thanks again for listening to the show. We love it as always, the fact that you guys listen to us, that you’ve rated us as well in various iTunes and android stores around the world. And we’re still enjoying the fact that we have been part of the Australian Podcast Awards, it’s been a great journey for us and really nice to get that validation. We don’t seek the awards all the time, but you know what, if things come along and we get a little thumbs up from someone, even to be nominated, that’s all good by me.

Mark Jones: So that’s it for the show. Thank you once again, and we will see you on the flip side.

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