THE GOLD STANDARD AWARD FOR DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS

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The Winner: Icon Agency – #Farmers4LandReform Campaign

In early 2016, the New South Wales Government announced plans to reform the laws governing how farmers can use their land. Farmers were determined to protect their way of life and the freedom to manage farms efficiently in the face of a well-organised coalition of environmental NGOs pushing for regulations that threatened to lock away some farming land for ever. 

The NSW Farmers Association, broadly supportive of land reform but concerned that government would implement restrictive laws, engaged Icon Agency for its largest-ever government relations campaign, seeking land reform legislation that balanced biodiversity with the needs of farmers.

Drawing on research showing the NGOs gained policy influence by dominating social and digital media, Icon took its #Farmers4LandReform campaign directly into the competitors’ heartland with a reasoned, scientific, “whole picture” argument executed using the web, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. That strategy helped turn the debate in NSW Farmers’ favour and, after eight weeks of public consultation on the legislation, the Government agreed to farmers’ demands for more detail on native vegetation maps and to consultations with farmers before finalising the legislation in late 2016.

Land reform is complex, so Icon helped humanise the issue by getting farmers to share their stories in video, text and on social media. It showed farmers cared about the environment, too, and were helping to protect biodiversity.

The campaign argued that the proposed laws would do more harm than good and presented a more reasoned, ‘whole picture’ alternative. It was vital to shift the debate with clear messages that had broad appeal: the current laws were having a negative impact on the environment and placed an unfair burden on NSW farmers; they were not just failing farmers, they were failing the people of NSW.

Over May and June 2016, the campaign dominated media discussion on the land reform issue, leading to important concessions from government. The farmers’ opponents were out-campaigned, particularly in social media where their influence is highest. Icon’s strategy helped shift the land reform conversation to focus on progressive farming practices and emphasised the positive role farmers play in protecting biodiversity.

The farmers had a 70 per cent share of voice in social media and 58 per cent in traditional media. They achieved top poster ranking on Facebook and fourth on Twitter on biodiversity issues. The campaign generated 274 articles – more than five times the target – and reached 10 million people. Every article quoted an NSW Farmers spokesman and included the association’s key messages.

With the final legislation due later this year, NSW Farmers has achieved its policy objectives and positioned itself as the authoritative voice on land reform for decades to come.

The Award was presented Icon Agency’s Joanna Painter by Gold Standard Awards judge, Abbott Laboratories’ Shakilla Shahjihan