A mutual interest in children’s health made Vaalia a standout in the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute’s hunt for untied funding for research. Greg Johnson discovers how the two were united.

A mutual interest in children’s health made Vaalia a standout in the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute’s hunt for untied funding for research. Greg Johnson discovers how the two were united.

Murdoch Childrens Research Institute identified an opportunity to obtain untied funding from the corporate sector in 2006, so it could support new research that couldn’t yet attract government funding. Murdoch Childrens decided to implement a corporate partnership strategy, devised by Cavill + Co, which would see it secure between three and six partners, each contributing a minimum of $450,000 over the partnership duration. It had already brought Snooze and Kay & Burton (real estate) on board when it approached Parmalat’s yoghurt brand Vaalia in early 2009.

In a corporate prospects think-tank, Murdoch Childrens identified some key words that defined the institute – happy, healthy, children, discovery and future. Vaalia was identified as a good fit due to its positioning as a wellness brand, used ‘happy’ in its advertising and the fact that it had a range of yoghurts for children. Alyssa Jones, Murdoch Childrens head of PR and development, immediately felt that there was significant potential for a partnership with Vaalia.

“There was strong synergy and a natural fit,” says Jones. “It was important that we align with a company which shared our commitment to happy children as well as health. So, whilst there were some other great food companies that worked from a brand perspective, some of them had products that were deemed unhealthy so they had to be rejected.”

A well-timed approach

Vaalia was busy preparing the launch of its new slogan ‘It’s hard to hide when you’re happy inside,’ just as Murdoch Childrens made the first approach by e-mail to Parmalat marketing manager Michael Goodhew. The 400 word email was well received at Vaalia’s Brisbane headquarters, and soon brand manager Michelle Kirk (who has since left to have a baby herself) boarded a plane to meet with Jones in Melbourne.

“We had participated in a range of small-scale sponsorships, such as Ride to Work Day and wellbeing workshops for mums and babies, but we had not engaged in anything on the scale of the Murdoch Childrens partnership,” explains Goodhew. “When Murdoch Childrens approached us, we were already thinking how we could make a really big impact while aligning the Vaalia brand with a nonprofit organisation with similar objectives. So, for us the timing was excellent.”

It wasn’t just the timing of Murdoch Childrens approach that caught Vaalia’s attention. Murdoch Childrens had extensive research carried out on the brand and understood both its organisational and brand values. Those efforts didn’t go unnoticed when the approach came across Goodhew’s desk.

“They knew we were about health and wellbeing, backed by science,” says Goodhew. “I can’t emphasise strongly enough how vital this is for any nonprofit who wants to partner with a corporate – they need to know what the corporate’s objectives are and understand how they can help support those objectives.”

The opportunity was perfect for Vaalia. It was a chance to support a cause that would resonate with customers and strengthen the brand’s position as a healthy alternative to its competitors, while bolstering the product’s scientific element.

Straight to the point

A $450,000 commitment is a big one for any company to consider and also a significant amount to ask for. Goodhew and Jones both agree, however, that detailing the minimum financial contribution at the first meeting made negotiations much easier.

“It certainly helped that from the outset Murdoch Childrens were upfront and clear about what they required to partner with us, and that enabled us to be really upfront with them about our need to achieve objectives,” says Goodhew. “It was a business relationship right from the start. Our business challenge now is to maximise all the numerous opportunities that the partnership presents.”

“There are not that many strategies that can impact consumer perception, brand health, stakeholder perception, motivate sales teams and staff [like this partnership can],” adds Goodhew. “Thankfully, it’s a three year partnership, so we don’t have to rush it.”

The financial benefits for the institute don’t end with Vaalia’s $150,000 a year contribution over three years, however. Murdoch Childrens also hopes to secure a further $20,000 through staff fundraising, with Vaalia’s staff encouraged to take part in the institute’s annual fundraising event – Foxtel Lap Corporate Treadmill Challenge. Vaalia’s staff were the first to be informed of the partnership with Murdoch Childrens Research Institute at a ‘We’re doing good from the inside’ yoghurt cupcake tea party in April.

Vaalia will also help drive Murdoch Childrens’ new donor acquisition efforts. Its multipacks will feature a donation form, inviting each of its customers to make their own direct contribution to the institute. There is no cost to Murdoch Childrens and it will reach thousands of potential new donors.

Promoting the partnership

Another valuable aspect to the partnership for Murdoch Childrens is that Vaalia has actively sought ways to promote it. Vaalia has booked an advert in Mother & Baby Magazine and will distribute a brochure to 103,000 general practitioners around Australia, both of which will give Murdoch Childrens Research Institute exposure.

Vaalia has also decided to run a partnership logo featuring the Vaalia and Murdoch Childrens logos on all of its products, instead of just its children’s range. “Murdoch Childrens told us that they really wanted to increase awareness of their brand and their cause, but didn’t have the marketing budget to do it,” says Goodhew. “As our product reaches millions of women, we thought this was a brilliant way to help them. Exposure on our pack is good for us too, so it’s really a win-win partnership.”

Murdoch Childrens expects these mass market exposure opportunities will see a 25% increase in its national brand awareness over the next three years.

A learning experience

With so much synergy between the institute and the yoghurt brand, there were few obstacles during the six months between first contact and having a signed agreement. Even Kirk’s departure on maternity leave proved to be only a slight bump in the road, but Jones still says she has learned much from the experience.

“I learnt to trust my instinct. As soon as Vaalia came up in the brainstorm, I had a feeling it was right,” says Jones. “Then when we researched them and I started buying their product, I just knew it was a great fit. Instinct coupled with solid research and approaching the right person at the right time was the key to our successful approach.”

“From our board and executive’s point of view, they have learnt that corporate partnerships are a great way to secure untied funding so we can fund new research that cannot yet attract government funding,” she adds. “My team has secured over $2 million in the past three years with Cavill + Co’s HeartSmart strategy. In addition, the mass market exposure will really put Murdoch Childrens and our child health research on the map.”