WWF: How PR can help gain three times more conversions and cut ad spend by half

With a rude awakening in August this year, World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) revealed it was behind a controversial campaign called “Ivory Lane” to drive awareness of the ivory trade in Singapore. Done in a rather hush, hush manner, the campaign aimed to bring light to the fact the elephant ivory trade is still an issue, despite several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) calling for a total ban.

Only a handful of media were alerted (and made to sign non-disclosure agreements), and even corresponding offices of WWF were kept in the dark, said Kim Stengert (pictured), chief of strategic communication. Asked by audience members at Marketing’s PR conference how he ensured secrecy from the media, he said: “The media were excited about the idea and only too happy to keep it a secret to get the scoop.”

Explaining the campaign further, he said that since demands by NGOs had from time to time fallen on deaf ears, WWF Singapore decided it would be more effective if consumers were the ones deeming ivory trade to be socially unacceptable and demanding change.

The campaign was deemed a total success as it picked up traction online within six days and sparked heated public debate on wildlife trade on social media. While the initial campaign was set to run for a month, it made headlines thrice in two weeks and it was later revealed that WWF was behind the campaign.

“This campaign was very successful and nine out of 10 people congratulated us on the campaign post-reveal and that was awesome. We talk about things that people don’t want to,” he said.

How PR is structured at WWF

Stengert added that today, about 90% of WWF’s campaigns are done in-house with a budget of approximately SG$12,000, which is the amount WWF usually works with. With a background in digital marketing, Stengert has restructured his team by doing away with titles such as “PR specialist” or a specific individual who is in charge of digital or social.

Instead, he splits the tasks into two groups – one group is responsible for creating content, the other is in charge of distributing the content on all channels.

He said it took the team six months to get used to their new roles, with the content creation team working closely with WWF’s conservation team to figure out the types of issues to address. Meanwhile, the distribution team analyses ways to effectively put across messages that “no one wants to hear” to the widest possible audience groups.

Measuring KPIs

Having worked at WWF for nearly five years, Stengert said one of his major takeaways from running such campaigns is that “communications can increase conversion rates by three times and cut ad spend by more than half”. This is done by going back to the basics – appealing to human emotion.

“We are a science-based organisation. If we just talk about statistics, no one will care. We have to drive people’s emotions and only then can we increase the conversion rate of our leads by three times,” he said.

Stengert decided to switch things up by changing the KPIs of his team and focusing on core topics relevant to WWF – wildlife trade, deforestation and sustainable seafood.

“If I get two calls from a journalist on haze and it’s not the haze season and neither is there deforestation going on, I know my team’s work is very relevant,” he said. He added that while some might find such a KPI “soft”, it did help him and his team rethink how to do PR.

Changing its communication strategy

For a long time, Stengert says, WWF did “one-off” campaigns such as launching one story or a video to educate consumers. However, those did not gain traction and WWF decided to move away from that strategy by planning out a one-year campaign.

“We build it in waves, peaks and milestones. We will be really loud and we are trying to build communities that will follow [the campaigns],” he said.

In addition to creating emotional campaigns, he said it was also important to rethink an organisation’s communication style.

For him, it was a “revelation” to understand personas. While some in the PR industry are still crafting their emails beginning with “To whom it may concern”, Stengert said WWF decided to take a personal approach. It places an individual at the heart and centre of every campaign, tasking that individual to document the campaigns from behind the scenes to social media.

“We want people to understand the people behind the brand. We write very personal emails, we engage and sometimes we surprise,” he said.

Going back to the example of Ivory Lane, he said the campaign, in particular, had more engagement on messaging apps such as WhatsApp, which are harder to measure compared with other channels.

“It’s another reason why I don’t bang on about analytics or metrics too much anymore,” he said.

While WWF was unable to accurately predict if campaigns such as Ivory Lane would resonate with Singaporeans, it carried out omnibus research to test the potential relevance of the campaign and obtain market insights. Social listening is also another important aspect the team monitors very closely and Stengert encourages his team to reply and engage with the public as quickly as possible, especially when they come across negative comments.

“We have social listening tools that we use, a lot of which we get on a pro bono basis because we can’t afford them,” Stengert said, adding that WWF’s campaigns are able to succeed because he has a dedicated team behind them and plenty of partners which support WWF on a pro bono basis.

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