Campaign: Welfare to Work

Client: Federal Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations

Agency: Hall & Partners Open Mind

Background

The 2005/06 Federal Government budget invested $3.6 billion in the Welfare to Work initiative to increase workforce participation.

The economic climate at the time, combined with low unemployment, provided an opportunity to increase the engagement and participation of people with disabilities, parents, mature age people and the very long-term unemployed, as these disadvantaged groups had been traditionally underrepresented in the workforce.

Under the Welfare to Work initiative, some income support recipients within these target groups were obliged to look for work and participate in services that would help them find employment and stay in the workforce.

Objectives

To support the new Welfare to Work legislation, and encourage unemployed people back into the workforce, a government information campaign was funded over three years, commencing in 2005/06.

The campaign would take place in several phases, with research contributing to initial strategy development, while also testing and refining key messages, tone and methods of communication to engage target audiences, as well as benchmarking and tracking the campaign’s impact.

Towards that aim, Hall & Partners Open Mind (HPOR) was commissioned to partner with the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR) communications team.

Strategy

HPOR started with a large-scale qualitative developmental research study focusing on the experience of people who would be affected by the legislative changes and their attitudes towards work.

To provide 360-degree perspective, HPOR’s approach included: extended duration group discussions among people in broadly similar situations, ethnographic case studies conducted in-home to establish a closer engagement with the lived experience of groups of jobseekers, and a combination of small group and qualitative interviews conducted by telephone with businesses.

HPOR found the unemployed valued work and wanted jobs. But they lacked confidence and believed employers wouldn’t give them a go.

Encouraging businesses to consider a broader group of potential employees, and illustrating possible positive outcomes in doing so, would validate jobseekers’ beliefs that employers were the problem.

HPOR therefore recommended a radical shift in the communications approach: rather than talk to people without work about why they should work – as the communications task had been conceived originally – a more effective way to motivate people back into the workforce would be to focus on employers.

The focus on business staffing needs allowed indirect communication to unemployed people, without putting them on the defensive, while also getting support from prospective employers.

Execution

HPOR research underpinned the selection of an advertising agency, Vinten Browning, and a creative concept for the initial communication (phase one) to provide basic information about the legislative changes to each of the key audiences. It introduced the Rolodex mnemonic device to communicate the idea of ‘pairing employer to employee’ and the new more optimistic and client focused tag line: ‘Helping People Move into Work’.

HPOR worked closely with the advertising agency on the development of phase two, conducting qualitative work to explore each iteration of the creative material and accommodate opportunities identified in the research.

Campaign phase two continued the tagline ‘Helping People Move into Work’ and appeared to target employers. It extended the Rolodex mnemonic device to tie the diverse elements of the campaign together.

Campaign evaluation research commenced with a benchmark study prior to the launch of the advertising campaign, followed by three waves of tracking scheduled to coincide with the tri-phased advertising activity to assess awareness and effectiveness of the advertising and key messages.

The research showed a significant increase in awareness about changes to the system among those affected after phases one and two. Research also showed, however, that a majority of employers did not believe that people on income support wanted to work and were dubious about the employability of the very long-term unemployed. The data showed that of all the media channels being used, the most successful with small- to medium-sized enterprises in the key target industries was radio.

HPOR research indicated a need to build on phase two and continue to encourage changes in behaviour and attitudes with employers, particularly by motivating them to be more flexible and engage with this larger, more diverse workforce.

Therefore, a revised strategy for phase three communications was agreed, which spoke directly to employers about being more flexible and the benefits to their business of considering a more diverse workforce. Additional phases of qualitative research were undertaken to explore how to better engage with this audience and get them to respond to the Government.

This included creative development workshops conducted with the advertising agency and clients to explore more effective communications cues and channels (including a national mail-out to business), and better targeting of small to medium enterprises in specific industries.

It also led to the development of one national hotline connecting to the national network of service providers, and the creation of a single web portal and job board.

Results

The close working relationship between HPOR, DEEWR and Vinten Browning delivered a successful ‘Welfare to Work’ campaign that boosted the confidence of disadvantaged job seekers and motivated potential employers to break down stereotypes about employing these groups.

By the endof phase three:

  • hits to the website had more than doubled
  • calls to the employer hotline had more than quadrupled
  • anecdotal evidence suggested an increase in the placement of jobseekers through government service providers
  • around two-thirds of each target group were aware of the initiative (disability 62 percent, Newstart 59 percent, Parenting Payment 62 percent, employers 67 percent)
  • confidence among income support recipients about their ability to get a job – considered one of the strongest preconditions to being motivated to look for work and the ability to be successful – rose strongly
  • employer awareness of the Government service to help find staff had more than doubled, and
  • the majority of employers understood that the campaign was encouraging them to consider employing particular groups of income support recipients.

The higher impact of the phase three campaign compared to phase two was deemed a direct result of the communications, in particular, the change in the tone, messaging and media strategy.

“HPOR’s insights into the findings of research were pivotal in informing the Department’s understanding of the complexities of this communications challenge,”says Mary Balzary, branch manager, Strategic Communications, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. “A significant achievement was the identification of communications that spoke to employers in order to boost the confidence of income support recipients who lacked the confidence to enter the job market. It was HPOR’s recommendations that led the campaign on that path and ultimately ensured the success of the campaign.”

HPOR’s research underpinning the Federal Government’s successful 2005/7 workforce participation drive won the prestigious Research Effectiveness Award for Social Impact at the 2010 Australian Market and Social Research Society (AMSRS) Awards. Held every second year, the AMSRS Awards are the industry’s pinnacle accolades.