Jesse Marks, Animals Australia’s Director of Education and Outreach, spoke with Jon Bockman, ACE’s Executive Director, on August 18, 2015.
The overall goals and impact of Animals Australia
As an organization what are your one year, five year, and overarching goals?
Animals Australia’s overarching aim is to shift the way we think about animals, and to alleviate the greatest suffering for the greatest number of animals. Their vision is a world where humanity treats all animals with compassion and respect, and all animals are free from cruelty and suffering. They would like people to see animals as thinking, feeling individuals and to foster values that underlie not only compassion to animals, but all social justice movements, such as kindness, fairness, equality, justice, and respect.
Their mid-term goals are to end factory farming, achieve a ban on live animal exports from Australia, and to effect a significant shift in the number of people choosing meat-free meals. To that end, their short-term goals are focused on particular company targets. For example, last year, one of their major goals was to get McDonald’s to phase out caged eggs, and they are currently trying to do the same with Hungry Jack’s (the Australian equivalent to Burger King). They are also building alliances with plant-based food companies to elevate the status of their brands in Australia, utilizing substantive social reach to promote cruelty-free living, and establishing relationships with leading women’s and lifestyle magazines to increase their promotion of plant-based eating. They have tried to bring about legislative change on the live export of Australian animals, and are now looking to legal and commercial avenues to target the live export industry.
There are a number of more specific targets which Jesse Marks would be happy to share with ACE at a later date.
Animals Australia focuses a lot on live export. What is your strategy with that issue?
There a number of benefits of focusing on live export. Firstly, it affects a significant number of animals, though of course not as many as factory farming. There are 2-3 million animals exported every year and they face a significant degree of suffering. As well as being intrinsically important to stop this practice, the campaign on live export has elevated the profile of animal protection in Australia more than any other, and has inspired people to reconsider the way they treat animals. People can sympathize with the plight of farmed animals without feeling defensive because they personally are not supporting the industry causing the suffering. The most significant moment in the campaign occurred in 2011 when they publicly exposed cruelty in Indonesia on Four Corners, Australia’s most high profile current affairs program. In the following weeks, meat sales fell 10-20%. The campaign has given Animals Australia credibility in the media and among politicians. They have notoriety as an organization which can face down a big industry and not back down.
The campaign has also had significant ripple effects in other countries. The Australian government introduced a new regulatory system called The Exporter Supply Chain Assurance Scheme. This scheme has positively transformed how most animals are treated in the trade, although their treatment is still below standards in Australia. Every year millions of Australian sheep were sold in Middle East markets, trussed up, and put in car boots/trunks, in extreme heat. While some live exporters continue to break the laws, the number of animals experiencing the most extreme cruelty previously documented in the trade has dramatically reduced.
There have also been benefits in the Middle East. For example, before their investigations and campaigning, no sheep which Australia exported to Jordan were being stunned before slaughter, but now all animals that are killed in government abattoirs, including all Australian animals, in Jordan are stunned. In Vietnam, they have gone from 0% to 100% stunning in abattoirs which kill Australian animals. In Indonesia, before they began investigations there, stunning of Australian export animals was at 10%, and now it is at approximately 90% in those abattoirs. Animals Australia has also assisted local groups within the Middle East to try to facilitate a cultural shift in views towards animals.
Is the success in these areas due to Animal Australia’s work?
Yes. Before Animals Australia began campaigning on live export there were no welfare requirements placed on exporters. The current regulatory framework was a direct response to evidence gathered by Animals Australia. Live exporters and the government only started to try to improve standards when evidence from investigations was publicly exposed.
Animals Australia believes that live exporters introduced ‘voluntary’ welfare guidelines (including stunning and CCTV cameras) in the Vietnamese abattoirs they are using for fear of Animals Australia investigators documenting further cruelty. When Animals Australia did capture footage of Australian animals that had been sold illegally being sledgehammered, this prompted a discussion in Vietnam about slaughter practices and a commitment by the Agriculture Minister that they would work towards ending sledgehammering. Similarly, the campaign prompted a public debate about slaughter practices in Indonesia.
You said the campaign raised the profile of animal protection. Is that based on anecdotal evidence or what you hear from people directly, or is there a data set supporting this conclusion?
In the last five years, two of their investigations have been the biggest animal protection story in Australia and the biggest news story in Australia. The first of those was live export. They generated 60,000 international media stories through that investigation, the vast majority of which were in Australia. Four Corners won the most prestigious journalism award in Australia for that story. As a result, media organizations have been much more open to working with Animals Australia, and coverage of live export has now plateaued at a higher level.
As to how this has affected other animal protection issues, Animals Australia receive more media contact and are now seen as the ‘go to’ animal protection organization for media comment.
Funding and strategy
Last year did you raise enough money to fully fund the programs you consider most important?
No. There are programs they would like to expand if possible. Public advertising has become a significant part of Animals Australia’s strategy. Australia has quite a concentrated media ownership landscape. Only 30% of Australians have pay TV, and most people watch public TV. So, Animals Australia are able to reach large numbers of people through TV, radio and billboard ads. In the last few years, factory farming has been a core focus, along with live export. Recently they have also started greater campaigning around puppy farming. They would particularly like to scale up, especially with their factory farming ads. In 2015 they’ve reached 48.5% of Australians – about 12 million people – on average three times on factory farming. Last month, their factory farming ads reached 3.5 million Australians. They believe there is great value in a consistent message to a broad audience about factory farming. They would like to be able to do more in this area.
They are also starting to move into leafleting. More funding would certainly help in this area. Finally, they would and could conduct more investigations if they had the funding.
Could you say something about the message in your factory farming ads?
They have a couple of strategic foci. 2009 was the first time they did national radio ads. These were focused on pigs because the Australian public knew less about them than chickens, and there was potential to shift the pig industry. The ads made the connection between a pig’s intelligence and that of a three year old child. The ads were narrated by a three year old child and the message was: ‘help end cruelty in the Australian pig industry’.
Their messaging on factory farming and on the veg campaigns more generally is to point people in the right direction. They aim for an all embracing and supportive message that encourages any step to a kinder world, whether that be through refusing factory farmed products, reducing meat consumption or going vegan. They believe this inclusive approach can bring more people along and that each step someone takes, no matter how small, is a foot-in-the-door, leading them to self-identify as someone who is willing to take action to help animals. And this in turn increases the chances that they will then take bigger steps to protect animals.
While Animals Australia does show the public the cruelty farmed animals are subjected to, much of their campaign messaging for ‘Make It Possible’ (their campaign to end factory farming) also utilises positive and inspiring messaging to give people hope and a belief in the vision of a world without factory farming. They believe that this will empower more people to be a part of creating change.
These public ads are a big part of campaigns—is it primarily numbers of exposed viewers you’ve used as a metric of value, or do you use another metric?
The number of exposed viewers is one important metric, but there are others. There was a poll which showed that 84% of Australian women and 69% of men support a ban on the battery cage. This is the strongest poll they have had to date. Some Roy Morgan research in 2014 showed that 300,000 more Australians (1.5% of the population of people aged over 14 years) were avoiding factory farmed products, and 100,000 more were seeking out vegetarian alternatives, compared to the previous year.
Animals Australia have also looked at pledges on their website, company sales, industry and consumer indicators, and the prevalence of vegetarian alternatives in supermarkets. They have put a lot of pressure on industry to shift their practices. Their advertising prompted the pork industry to voluntarily reduce the number of days a sow can stay in a gestation crate from four months to eleven days. They believe that their advertising and their company campaigning had a major influence on the decisions of the two largest supermarket chains in Australia to phase out sow stalls in 2012. (Whereas the US has many supermarket chains, Coles and Woolworths effectively have a duopoly. According to Roy Morgan, in 2014, they owned 72.5% of the grocery sector.) One of those chains has committed to phasing out cage eggs, and the other is likely to do the same soon.
Similarly, in 2014 they had ads in the market around cage eggs at the same time that they were campaigning to get McDonald’s to stop using cage eggs. This campaign was ultimately successful, and so they believe that this general advertising about factory farming enhanced the impact that their direct campaigning of McDonald’s was able to have.
You mentioned that you could conduct more investigations. Some US groups are concerned about over-saturation of, and diminishing returns to, investigations. Do you share any of these concerns?
Jesse to some extent agrees that there is a risk of oversaturation. The ‘ag gag’ debate is kicking off in Australia.
However, the animal protection landscape in Australia is different to that in the US. Animals Australia are the only major national animal protection group which runs campaigns in the way they do. There are smaller groups which carry out investigations, but they don’t always have as much success in getting media coverage for them. In addition, while there has been quite a bit of evidence collected in factory farms, there have been very few undercover investigations conducted in Australia. They believe this may be an area of opportunity. There are areas they could be investigating, but they have pursued other strategies, such as public advertising, because they have evidence of impact.
Having said that, they have found investigations in factory farms to be of value at key strategic moments. For example, in 2014, during the McDonald’s campaign, they acquired footage from a caged egg farm owned by one of McDonald’s major suppliers. This allowed them to keep the heat on McDonald’s, to keep the issue topical and to escalate impact.
With regard to your programs—public ads, leafleting, and undercover investigations—how much more money do you feel you could have used towards those programs?
Animals Australia could easily double their budget to factory farming advertising and see a massive increase in impact, particularly because so far they have only tackled pigs and cage eggs, and meat chickens to a lesser extent. They view pigs as a good gateway campaign because people can connect more easily to pigs. If they had the funding, they would like to spend more on meat chicken campaigns.
They would conduct more investigations into live export if funding increased. Industry often claims that Animal Australia’s work picks out isolated incidents. A broader campaign would add credibility to the live export campaign. They would also like to do more on dairy because this seems to inspire a lot of people to reconsider the way we harm animals for food, especially due to the suffering endured by bobby calves. Every time they do a dairy campaign, they see a large increase in pledges on their website, not only to choose alternatives to cow’s milk, but also to go meat-free.
Leafleting is part of Animals Australia’s future plans. They have hired a youth campaigner who was Victorian Young Australian of the Year, and so who already has a good profile. He has started a school outreach program. Animals Australia next plan to roll out a leafleting program. Some volunteers are already doing leafleting ad hoc, but Animals Australia is now finalizing a veg starter kit with supporting materials, including a ‘Why vegan?’ booklet, to hand out at university campuses. While they do not currently have the resources to do that at scale, they are sending volunteers to Vegan Outreach’s coordinator in New Zealand and Australia.
It is important to point out that the wide range of issues highlighted on Animal Australia’s website does not reflect where the largest portion of their funding is invested. Cover issues on their website often act as a gateway to more important campaigns.
Would you be able to spend additional funds solely on your most important projects, or would they be distributed more widely?
Nothing at present stops them from spending additional funds on their most important projects.
We have seen from your finances that you have doubled your expenditures in recent years, which is quite extraordinary. Do you expect your funding situation in the current year to differ significantly from your funding situation in the last few years?
This growth can be attributed to the success of the live export story in 2011, which gave them a great platform to campaign on other areas.
In 2012, they rebranded their factory farming campaign as ‘Make it possible’. One of the goals of this campaign was to secure 3000 monthly donors to donate AU$1m to sustain public advertising. They had to secure funding from a major donor in order to launch, but they met their goal, which has allowed them to build capacity. Similarly, in the last 18 months, they have recruited monthly donors willing to fund advertising on live export.
So, their donor base has shifted from major donors to monthly donors. This has made their financial situation more predictable. They expect growth in the coming year, but that their current funding would continue.
Do you have any concerns about growing too big too quick?
They are conscious of it. However, they have been careful to hold on to their culture while they experience fast growth. They are still able to respond to external events quickly and creatively. They plan to expand programs which will have the most benefit, rather than add new staff.
How would you use additional funding, say $200,000-300,000 beyond what you project raising this year?
It would mainly go on public advertising about factory farming. At the peak of the outdoor ad campaigns, they were reaching 1 million people a day. Jesse is aware that other groups have had an impact through online advertising. Animals Australia have found that they can have a greater impact with their own unpaid social media. Public advertising gives them access to an audience which they cannot reach through other mediums.
Digital campaigning is a key investment of staff time for Animals Australia. And social media is a growing avenue of outreach for them. Investing in a full time social media manager has been hugely beneficial to Animals Australia. In the 2 years she has been with the organization, their Facebook following has grown from less than 150,000 to over 930,000. They now have the largest social media presence of any NGO in Australia. In the last financial year they achieved over 1 billion un-paid Facebook news feed impressions of their content, and a Facebook engagement of 158 million. In the same period their main website, AnimalsAustralia.org, had 4,456,000 web-sessions. On average, they reach around 10 million people on Facebook through unpaid promotion.
Many media outlets would be envious of that reach, so media see them as an audience that they want to tap into. On numerous occasions in the past 12 months, Animals Australia has been successful in attracting traditional media interest from campaign content developed specifically for social media. This work has been very cost-effective. In light of the success in this area, they have recently taken on a video editor.
Their McDonald’s campaign was largely a digital campaign, and it is their high online engagement that gave them the supporter base to mobilize and win that campaign on a relatively small campaign budget. If they had additional funding, they would also consider hiring a second staff member to help run their social media, as they believe they could double their output on Facebook and achieve even more significant engagement and online outreach.
2015 has been unusual because they have done more on puppy farming and greyhounds. But normally, funding goes on factory farm campaigns and to a lesser extent live export.
Programs, outcomes and measurement
What is your thinking on greyhounds and puppy farming?
Animals Australia are trying to position themselves as the most trusted animal protection organization in Australia. Their work on puppy farming and greyhounds provides quite large benefits to dogs and gives Animals Australia a platform to speak to the general public about farm animal issues. Australia has the highest rate of pet ownership in the world and puppy farming occurs on a significant scale in Australia. In order to build brand recognition, they had factory farm ads out at the same time as puppy farm campaigns.
Their advertising supported moves in three states – Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland – into having public consultations on dog breeding legislation. Victoria has committed to significant reforms, including the banning of the sale of dogs and cats through pet stores, and limiting the number of litters that a dog can have.
Their campaign on greyhounds came about through a smaller group Animal Liberation Queensland (ALQ) coming to Animals Australia with evidence of live baiting. ALQ had already approached Four Corners about the issue. This provided excellent prospects of impact because of the illegality of live baiting and the prominence of the Four Corners program. Animals Australia was able to help secure the story and increase the reach of the campaign by gathering evidence in 2 other states, briefing Four Corners for the story, and engaging their supporter base in lobbying politicians and sponsors. Four states have launched inquiries into greyhound racing. There have been dozens of life bans; racing boards in three states have been sacked; there has been increased adoption of greyhounds; and so far this year the Four Corners story has been one of the most significant news stories in Australia in 2015. This campaign has brought a large number of people into the movement.
How do you measure the outcomes of your most important programs? Specifically, with regard to your public ads, how do you decide, for example, how much money to put into TV commercials, radio ads and billboards?
One of the measures is the shifts they have seen in company behavior, which the ads have contributed to. So far, they have primarily used industry and consumer indicators which are available in the market, as well as Roy Morgan polls. Animals Australia measure the impact on the supporter base through pledges on their website. They are starting to commission polling to get a better handle on the impact of ads, and will commission polls after the next round of ads to track increasing awareness and changes in attitudes or behavior, which they are happy to share with ACE.
They tracked the success of the McDonald’s cage eggs campaign by looking at feedback on McDonald’s Facebook wall, tracking the additions to Animal Australia’s email list, and tracking changes in McDonald’s responses to comments. The campaign cost AU$42,000, and McDonald’s changed policy. The result is that around 311,000 chickens will be pulled out of cages. In the follow up, Subway also committed to phasing out cage eggs as well. Of course, this kind of cost-effectiveness might not be possible for all campaigns.
If you’ve set specific goals you wanted to achieve in the past, how did you respond? For example, did you measure impact and shift resources?
Jesse provided a number of examples of how Animals Australia have changed their approach over time. Firstly, Animals Australia has been around for about 30 years. They initially acted as a representative body for government and they still sit on a number of advisory committees to government. However, their perspective was often ignored. About 15 years ago, they realized that this approach was not effective and so started to focus on campaigns and consumer change, which they believe must precede legislative change.
Secondly, previously they tracked the number of politicians who have voiced opposition to live export. There has been slow and steady progress, particularly in the Labor party.
Thirdly, they have shifted the way that they approach digital campaigning through feedback about the extent to which MPs read e-petitions. They also use A/B testing to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of their digital communication.
What is the thought process behind the transition into leafleting?
Investigations, public ads and digital campaigning are areas they already do well in. One area they could do better in is the development of advocates at grassroots level. They want to empower young people to become advocates and recognize their potential as the agents of change. They believe that college students are an ideal target audience because of where they are in their lives. This makes leafleting at universities potentially one of the most effective interventions.
They have a volunteer base of 10,000 contacts registered as volunteers. However, most of Animal Australia’s reliance on them has been through digital platforms with spurts of outreach. So, they could do more to foster these people as advocates themselves.
How many key leadership positions do you have?
How long do people stay in leadership positions?
The Executive Director has been there for 30 years. Since Jesse joined more leadership roles have been created. Jesse has been there for seven years and has been in a key leadership role for 3-4 years. Other Directors have been there for more than 4 years, while those in new positions have started more recently. There is very little staff turnover.
Do you have an established procedure for training new volunteers and employees?
Yes. They talk new recruits through their theory of change. They provide guidance on the right way to talk about campaigns. Senior staff would usually provide mentoring, which could last for a while, depending on the role and the level of public representation the new recruit will be responsible for. They also have a general induction to show new recruits how Animals Australia works and to make them feel welcome.
Do you have a transparency policy or share information with other groups?
They have no formal policy, but they recognize the value of sharing where they can. For example, in response to a request from Mercy For Animals, Animals Australia gave them a campaign brief to provide an overview of how they won a recent campaign. Mercy For Animals shared this with other organizations in the US. This in turn has influenced The Humane League’s strategy for their Sodexo campaign.
Moreover, they have provided creative material to other organizations. They provided their original ‘Make it Possible’ factory farm TV ads to SAFE in New Zealand and other organizations. They have given short web videos to organizations in the US including Mercy For Animals and Farm Forward. These videos have also been translated into about seven different languages and used in many other countries. Animals Australia allows these groups to rebrand the video, but ask for a credit.
Animals Australia is a peak body, with 37 member societies. At key times, they are able to provide support to these member societies, through legal, political and strategic advice, as well as engaging their large online reach to leverage support for issues member societies are working on. They also underwrite the costs for the independently run Animals Activist Forum, which is Australia’s only national animal rights conference.
Their Campaign Director, Lyn White, helped establish the Princess Alia Foundation in Jordan and often provides strategic advice to other organizations in areas where Animals Australia has expertise. Animals Australia also works with organizations in other countries sharing footage from their live export investigations to assist the global campaign against the trade. Jesse has also tried to build bridges between Animals Australia and other progressive movements by making presentations in his own time.