The following is a summary of a conversation with Nick Cooney that took place on September 15, 2014 as part of our evaluation of Mercy For Animals. Nick spoke with Allison Smith, ACE’s Director of Research.
Updates based on the previous conversation with ACE
During the conversation in May, it was said that Mercy for Animals (MFA) planned to shift part of the focus of the education department towards online ads, online outreach, and outreach in countries outside of North America. Generally speaking, things have been shaping up according to plan. MFA has shifted a considerable amount of their education budget towards online advertising. They estimate that by year’s end, approximately 40% ($300,000) will have been spent on online vegetarian ads.
They also began to roll out their international vegetarian advocacy materials and advertising campaigns. In July, they launched all of their Latin American materials, which included vegetarian websites, vegetarian starter guides, cruelty video websites, leaflets, and email series on how to eat vegetarian. Since launching the Spanish language websites, they have been engaged in a big Facebook campaign to drive web traffic to those sites. In addition, they also plan to release all of the Chinese versions on or around November 1 and the versions for India shortly thereafter. Overall, most of this international expansion has gone as expected, although some of it is being rolled out later than planned due to some time constraints in the IT department.
They have experienced organic growth in their Facebook following, as well as an increased following stemming from their ad campaign. As a result, the amount of their material that is being shared is significantly increasing. They have distributed significantly more printed material this year than they did last year, despite devoting less resources to that facet of their outreach than they did last year.
Nick recently began compiling a spreadsheet that tracks between 75-80 different data points that measure the scope of their reach. This data focuses mainly on their online reach, and the numbers that he provided are fairly representative of the numbers of the rest of the year. Some important examples of the kind of data points they are tracking are:
- Total video views on factory farm cruelty (consists of Youtube, cruelty websites, and Facebook): 970,000 in July
- Blog Visits (MFA blogs and Choose Veg): 400,000 in July
- Pieces of distributed veg literature: 130,000 in July
- People who have signed up for their email series on going veg: 16,000 in July
- Cumulative social media reach: 83.5 million in July
- Total number of Facebook shares: 360,000 in July
They expect that the cumulative number of video views will be in the range of 16 million this year. The total number of printed vegetarian material distributed is expected to be 1.3 million for the year, and they anticipate in excess of 160,000 people signing up for their email series by year’s end.
Education materials for international outreach
When translating their Choose Veg website into Spanish for a US audience, MFA relied on people living in the United States to help them with a straight translation. When preparing to expand to more international markets – namely India, China, and Latin America – they spent several months talking to people in those countries as well as people native to the particular country currently living in the United States for feedback on how to make the suitable changes to the materials. They sought advice from between 4 – 8 people for each region and also consulted with them prior to launching the finished product.
The aim was to engage in robust consultation to make the material as localized and culturally appropriate as possible. This included including giving consideration to social dynamics and family issues; as well as culinary aspects such as appropriate recipes and current meal suggestions based on available ingredients in that country.
In the previous conversation it was stated that they expected to double the number of undercover investigations from 6 to 12. As of early November, they have released 10 investigations this year and there are another 4 that are completed and are currently waiting to be released by the media outlets that have exclusive rights to them. Three will certainly be released by the end of the year, but the fourth might wait until January if they can get better media coverage that way.
Including the investigations waiting to be released, MFA has completed 14 investigations for the year. There are 5 investigators currently working on investigations in the field.
With more investigations comes more media exposure. Even with the increase in investigations, the viewership for each video has remained consistent, but whether that continues to hold true in the future remains to be seen. Online views have actually increased because Facebook now allows video posts to contain embedded videos, instead of links to YouTube.
An exclusive is a type of agreement that stipulates that MFA will not tell other media outlets about the investigation until after the story has been released by the holder of the exclusive rights. The day after the media outlet releases the story, MFA sends out a general press release.
Their strategy when selecting which outlet to give the exclusive story to basically comes down to how they can have as big an impact as possible. The general approach is to choose whichever outlet has the largest viewership and will cover it thoroughly and in the most favorable light. The exclusive rights to this year’s North Carolina Butterball investigation was given to Univision and first ran on Primer Impacto, a news program that reaches 4-5 million Spanish-speaking Americans. Similarly, an upcoming investigation, involving a livestock auction, will run on a media outlet with a viewership of 2.2 million.
With more investigations comes more media exposure. Once the story is released by the media outlet with exclusive rights, a number of other outlets will pick up the story. On average, each investigation will have 20-100 news stories written about it. The story is often picked up by the Associated Press, Reuters, and other major papers. The number of potential media outlets for the video footage tends to be less, and is largely limited to being picked up by the local television stations where the investigation was conducted.
MFA Fellows program
There are currently 10 – 12 Fellows operating at most of the Ivy League schools for the fall semester. They also ran the program during the summer term at Stanford, which included a vegetarian starter guide stand being operated and a few thousand leaflets distributed. In addition, they are currently working to develop a Stanford guide to vegetarian eating, which will focus on local eateries and other material specific to the university. The current Fellows programs are operating in a similar way. They will also carry out video screenings, get op-eds in papers, arrange for speakers, and encourage other students to sign up for Meatless Mondays.
Impact of ACE’s recommendation on fundraising
MFA referenced ACE’s recommendation on their website and sent out an email blast when it was announced. However, it is difficult to conclusively determine if, or to what extent, the recommendation has positively impacted their fundraising. Nick is unsure about this because it is not his department and because it is hard to know if donors are making donations because of the recommendation, or because of other factors.
In addition to the victories discussed in the previous conversation, Nestlé, the largest food producer in the world with annual revenues of $92 billion and 7300 suppliers, announced landmark changes. These changes were the result of an undercover investigation at a Wisconsin dairy farm that provided dairy for DiGiorno Pizza, a Nestlé company.
Following the release of the investigation, MFA launched a campaign to pressure Nestlé to change their dairy animal welfare policies. The company was initially hesitant, but became more willing to act after seeing the extent of the online petition, and the website that was created to display the video footage.
The company said that they would work on it but then MFA didn’t hear from them for about two months. During that time, Nestlé reached out to the World Animal Protection (formerly known as the World Society for the Protection of Animals) and said that they wanted to improve their standing on animal welfare practices around the world, not just in the United States. MFA and WAP continued to be in contact with Nestlé executives, and a few months later they announced that they’d not only be making all of the requested changes, but additional changes on top of that.
The outcome of the fallout of the investigation was the biggest corporate animal welfare changes in history for farmed animals. The scope of the changes is unprecedented and will improve the lives of tens of millions of animals in 140 countries.
For cows, Nestlé is doing away with dehorning, tail docking, veal crates, and will end castration without anesthesia. For pigs, they will be moving away from gestation crates, tail docking, and surgical castration. With respect to eggs, the company will be phasing out battery cages and may be getting rid of the cage system in general. In addition, they intend to do away with ‘fast-growing’ poultry, which is the first time that MFA is aware of that a large company will do this. Finally, they also intend to make some changes related to antibiotics, including phasing out growth hormones.
Projected education budget for 2014
The budgets for most departments have largely remained the same as expected earlier in the year, with some slight increases. The bulk of the budgetary increases occurred in investigations and education. The investigations budget had increased approximately $250,000 from last year, while the education budget had increased by about $200,000. MFA’s overall budget increased from $2.3 million to $2.9 million.