The Australian bank entered rare air with its small business Facebook show on federal budget night, becoming the first local brand to produce a live news program on social media.
Ellen Fanning looks down the barrel of the camera and smiles. She is a familiar face for Australian news and current affairs viewers, who know her as a former 60 Minutes reporter, foreign correspondent and occasional ABC presenter. She is more than just good on-air talent; she represents authority and professionalism in Australian television journalism.
At 8:30pm on this particular evening, Fanning is sitting in a well-lit Brisbane studio, The Joinery in West End, surrounded by subject-matter experts. She is nursing a clipboard …
“Well, good evening, and welcome to the Suncorp Small Business Connect federal budget live stream. I’m Ellen Fanning. Thank you for joining us live on Facebook …”
The show might well herald a new era in brand publishing in Australia – a top-20 company using social media to broadcast a news show. The program, being shown on Facebook Live, is helping Australia’s small business owners understand what the freshly released federal budget means to them, and it’s been created by Suncorp.
The bank isn’t sponsoring it or underwriting it. It’s Suncorp’s show, and Ellen Fanning is hosting it.
A challenging budget
The federal budget coverage is broadcast live every year from 7:30pm on the second Tuesday of May. It’s an ABC TV institution, with an established format – the Treasurer’s 30-minute speech is shown and then there’s 30 minutes of analysis from experts, politicians and journalists. The Treasurer and his opposition counterpart also get a chance to state their case to the nation.
Suncorp’s Small Business Connect show went to air from 8:30pm and ran for about an hour. It contained live interviews with a range of experts, including some employed by Suncorp, and some neatly edited pre-recorded packages featuring quotes from small business owners.
The show covered many hot-button topics revolving around the impact Treasurer Scott Morrison’s announcements will have on business in the next year and beyond. Those issues that weren’t in the script were supplemented by questions sent in from small business owners across the country via Facebook.
Journalists across Australia always face major logistical issues covering the federal budget. Understanding the intricacies of the government’s financial choices and the impact they will have on taxpayers, retirees and social welfare recipients is not something easily done on the run. It’s why journalists enter a budget “lock-up”, where they spend an afternoon in secure locations around the country analysing budget documents and preparing their stories, ensuring they’re ready to go the minute the Treasurer steps away from the despatch box on budget night.
So how could a financial services company looking to make a program within an hour of the Treasurer starting his budget speech be so well prepared? Well, Suncorp arranged for four people to be in the budget lock-up in Brisbane, including a producer, videographer and a journalist, who wrote the scripts.
Steven Webster, Suncorp’s Marketing Manager, Business Customers, says the objective of the Facebook Live program was to help solve problems for the bank’s large number of small business customers. “It started for us with the knowledge that from about the federal budget each year [May] until the end of the financial year [June 30] is a really stressful period for small business owners,” he says.
“As a business we’re moving away from doing traditional product-based campaigns to focus on the key moments that matter.” Steven Webster
Small business owners have three key pain points: having enough customers, dealing with cashflow problems and understanding the changing regulatory environment, he says. “We thought we’d try to tackle that regulatory problem and make opportunity clearer, action easier and choice narrower for our customers as a result of changes within the budget.”
So it was decided to produce a live show about how the budget affects small business owners. “It’s something we’ve been wanting to do for a while but we really started to put the wheels in motion in February,” Webster says. But they were still faced with the problem of making it authoritative, with top-notch production values, given the time restrictions. It also needed to be shown at a time when busy business people would watch it. Cue Ellen Fanning …
“We didn’t want to go to market or have the live-stream on too late so we went live at 8:30pm,” Webster says. “We only had a really tight window to firm up what the [budget] changes actually were. We knew that we needed someone who could steer that conversation in a professional way and get into the nitty-gritty of what the changes were for small business owners. We were rapt when we were able to bring Ellen onboard as our host.”
Webster says a lot of time and energy was spent choosing quality guests (alongside Suncorp’s experts), covering the important issues live and in pre-recorded segments and having the best possible production values. “We know that small business owners face a number of challenges, and you don’t want to ask them to commit up to an hour of their time for something that isn’t going to give them value,” he says. “It’s about respecting their time, and part of that was making sure that this was presented with a professional look and feel.”
It was a major production on the night, all right. Adding up everyone in the live-stream production, the on-air talent, the scriptwriters and social media team, Suncorp had a team of about 30 people.
The way forward
Webster says Suncorp management is still analysing the impact the Facebook Live show had on brand awareness. The metrics they are looking at were viewership and reach, but all of the budget content produced by Suncorp was intended to have a long tail.
“We really had a three-step [marketing] process around the budget,” he says. “Phase one was about driving traffic and creating awareness of the live stream. Then we had our ‘connection phase’, which was the live stream. Then there was the engagement phase, where we pushed out all the content we generated on budget night for the following month.”
He thinks they will “absolutely” do something similar again. “It’s a shame to not take those learnings and then reproduce it,” he says. “It was received really well internally and externally, so we’re looking at other ‘moments’ within the year for which we could apply this approach for small business owners.
“Content is huge for us. As a business we’re moving away from doing traditional product-based campaigns to focus on the key moments that matter for business owners, and that’s around the budget and the end of year. So it’s less about pushing products and more about identifying opportunities to help, in this case, small business owners solve real business problems.”