Digital Influence and the Flagstaff Group

When I go to my local markets on a Saturday morning, I buy my fruit and vegetables from a market stall run by a gentleman and his friend’s special needs son. I stop and have a brief chat with them while they put my goods through the point of sale. I ask them how busy have they been this morning, and what is growing well in season at the moment. They’re always so happy to see me and I am so pleased that I can give them my business. Not only am I aware that I am helping a small and local business, but after getting to know the stall holder, I have become aware that I am having an indirect impact on the employment of a young man with special needs who otherwise could likely not be employed in the open market.

It’s something many of us take for granted – being able to find a career path we want to follow, or starting up and running a business. While ‘work’ is generally seen as a necessity to be able to provide us with the life we want to live, it also provides many of us with a sense of purpose and direction; a sense of accomplishment. So when I came to the realisation that this young man at the market stall I visit every Saturday morning does not have the same opportunities to work in the open market, it got me thinking of a very special social enterprise client we have here at SponsoredLinX.

The Flagstaff Group are a non-profit organisation with a twist; they don’t fundraise, and they don’t seek out donations. Rather, they generate revenue and ensure sustainability of the charity through the production, and sale, of quality goods and services. As a social enterprise, they strive to achieve positive cultural, social and community change, but more specifically, they strive to provide supported employment for people with a disability in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven region of New South Wales. Here at SponsoredLinX we help The Flagstaff Group manage their Google AdWords account, for which they also receive a Google Grant as a non-profit organisation. A Google Grant, for those who are unaware, empowers non-profit organisations with an Advertising grant to promote their cause via Google AdWords.

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In comparison to other charities you may be familiar with, The Flagstaff Group focus their time and energy not just into the production and sale of their goods and services, but also into the training and development programs which help to enrich the lives of their staff. As such, their marketing and digital strategy is focused on the communication of their products and services to their customers as opposed to fundraising. They have a diverse range of business divisions (seven in total) and they know that in order for customers to continue to use them that continuously innovating and leveraging new technologies helps them stay competitive.

I had the opportunity to speak with Karen Burdett, The Flagstaff Group’s Group Sales and Marketing Communications Manager, about how the organisation tackles their business goals through their use of online marketing. Their use of Google AdWords goes a long way to helping target customers which are conducive to ordering products online who are located outside of their geographical area. Karen explains that, “… as a not for profit disability enterprise that has a very minimal marketing budget who are paying to promote over seven business divisions – this grant has been such a valuable opportunity for us… by using Google AdWords we increase our exposure of products and services that we distribute nationally and expand the reach of our brand and the work we do to achieve a social outcome”.

It’s not just Google AdWords which helps the non-profit organisation online either. Overall their digital activity encompasses the use of social media, a massive website overhaul and re-design, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) and video content is proving to be a useful tool for expressing the stories of their wonderful staff. It all goes towards helping them to promote the work they do in achieving positive social outcomes for the community through the provision of employment for people with a disability.

In conjunction with their website redevelopment, they are also implementing a, “… new e-Commerce solution to make it more user friendly and adaptable for mobiles and tablets. A key driver in the update to our website update is in the ability for us to use this in digital marketing initiatives to help gain valuable customer data and help us more effectively communicate with our customers”. So what will this allow The Flagstaff Group to do? Well, it means that without ever allocating a cent more to their marketing budget than what they currently do, they can analyse what marketing medium is returning the greatest Return-on-Investment (ROI) and re-allocate their marketing budget into areas which are driving sales. It will also allow them greater flexibility when trialing new digital innovations, such as their ongoing video content development.

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Karen explains to me that, “video content is a big area for us in telling the stories about what we do and our people”. With video touted as the future of content marketing, The Flagstaff Group’s plans to leverage their own video content is in tune with online trends. Video is naturally engaging and offers a way for businesses to tell stories which are easy for viewers to consume. Karen talks about how their content focus, “…is tailored to our customers – ultimately enabling us to communicate more effectively and therefore track our return on investment for certain campaigns”. They have some forward-thinking ideas around, “engaging our employees with disabilities in filming their own stories and views on Flagstaff as a work place”.

Looking forward to the year ahead, it’s all about, “our new e-Commerce site and also to promote our new business division Flagstaff Mobility Aids and Supplies”, Karen says. The Flagstaff Group’s business divisions includes, but is not limited to Print & Mail, Fine Foods, Coffee, Krative Vision (a range of unique hand-made furniture made using recycled material), Laundry Services, Recycling Services, Packaging & Assembly, Industrial Products and Document Scanning.

If all Australian businesses invested in their people like The Flagstaff Group does, then the stories to come out of those businesses could create content that customers would willingly want to engage with. While much of the organisation’s digital strategy focuses on the sales of its products and services, their brand awareness is focused on its people and the societal and cultural outcomes it works towards achieving. So what can we learn from this? Just like many business owners around the nation, marketing budgets are tight, but with proper analytics and innovative thinking, your dollar can go a long way! On a personal note, a serving of humble pie has helped me to understand just how fortunate I truly am to work where I work and to live how I choose, and if I can make a small contribution to make a positive impact on someone living with a disability, I will certainly continue to do so.

Cover Image Q1 2016