“Genuine Stories Always Resonate”: McGrath Foundation (Ex-)CEO Petra Buchanan

“Genuine Stories Always Resonate”: McGrath Foundation (Ex-)CEO Petra Buchanan

Having announced her resignation as CEO of the McGrath Foundation just last week after nearly three years in the role, B&T was offered an exclusive interview with Petra Buchanan (who happened to be one of our esteemed judges for last year’s B&T Awards) to discuss the challenges she faced rebranding the not-for-profit organisation, and the key elements of a great brand.

You’ve achieved a lot while being at the helm of the McGrath Foundation. Is there a standout achievement that comes to mind?

We celebrated the first 10 years of the McGrath Foundation in 2015, and since then, we have been on a path which sets up the organisation for the next decade. I am very proud that during my time with the foundation we have achieved double-digit revenue growth and negotiated the renewal of the federal government’s financial commitment ($20.5 million) for four more years.

I am especially proud of re-branding the organisation and increasing the brand awareness and ranking of the foundation in AMR’s Charity Reputation Index, from ninth to seventh place nationally, and the consistent ranking in the top five of the GiveEasy Innovation Index.


What are your biggest learnings from your time at the McGrath Foundation?

Working in the not-for-profit space is rewarding, dynamic and at times challenging, so not really too different from every sector. But the one thing that sets it apart is the generosity that I felt from individuals – almost daily. People will try in whatever way possible to offer a hand, lend their knowledge or contribute financially to help. Generosity is inspiring and infectious.


What were the main challenges you encountered when undertaking the rebrand of the McGrath Foundation? How did you overcome them?

Rebranding a much-loved organisation for the first time since it was founded is a big responsibility that, with the support of design agency Hulsbosch, was an absolute pleasure and highlight. To unveil a new logo placing the McGrath Foundation name front and centre, revamping the colour palette and adding a new graphical element that is so digitally-oriented is a legacy that I’m very proud of.

The new branding is optimistic and brings to life the energy and vitality of McGrath Breast Care Nurses and the many people they support.


How is marketing a not-for-profit organisation different to those companies designed to turn a profit?

As with most businesses, growth at the McGrath Foundation relies on the ability to embrace technology to improve efficiencies and ensure strong relationships. Over the last three years, we have embraced technology through the rollout of a new Supporter Relationship Management platform, which has fundamentally changed how we run the organisation and allows us to maintain a personal touch. A holistic view of our supporter data allows us to focus on the important things that can make all the difference, like receiving a hand-written thank you note.


How hard has it been to engage men in the McGrath Foundation? How much has the Pink Test played a part in this, as well as the overall success of the organisation?

Support for the McGrath Foundation is almost evenly split between men and women, as breast cancer is such a universal health issue that affects families. The Pink Test has been an amazing partnership with Cricket Australia that provides mass media exposure through Channel Nine, and for those lucky enough to attend, it is a really powerful experience. It’s a very significant fundraising event each year and is great fun – the foundation is always looking for volunteers, so if you want to lend a hand and help raise funds at the SCG, I encourage you to get in touch with the foundation.


It must be traumatic to work for an organisation such as the McGrath Foundation. What practices has the organisation put in place to support employees?

It’s important in any environment to be aware of the impact of your work and team dynamic – be kind to yourself and ensure your team is being kind to themselves and each other. Everyone at the McGrath Foundation works hard to ensure we can support as many families going through breast cancer as possible, but the most effective – not to mention, enjoyable –  work is done when we can all take a step back, take a breath and smile at one another as we’re working towards something we all believe in.


A lot of brands seems to be pushing messages for the social good these days. Do you think Australians are getting a bit fatigued by this?

Every day, we hear about breast cancer statistics and diagnosis. One in three people know someone impacted by breast cancer, and over 17,000 people will be diagnosed in 2017. While this data is important, information alone can be overwhelming. When we share genuine stories, we take people on a journey and clearly communicate our vision in meaningful ways. A highlight for me was working with Penguin to publish Take My Hand – a book including the many amazing stories of McGrath Breast Care Nurses and the unique relationships they have with their patients. Genuine stories always resonate.


What happens to the McGrath Foundation if there’s a cure for cancer?

It will be a great day when a cure for breast cancer is achieved, but until then, the current 117 McGrath Breast Care Nurses will continue providing help to people (and their families) affected by breast cancer by providing physical, psychological and emotional support. From the time of diagnosis and throughout treatment, this support is available right across Australia – for free. But the need outstrips supply, and today there is an estimated shortage of 80 nurses required to meet the needs of families experiencing breast cancer. This critical gap in breast care nursing services is set to widen in the next five years, with a shortage of 110 breast care nurses predicted by 2021. So, the foundation continues to have a big job to do – to place more nurses in communities to support patients and families.


What are the key elements of a great brand?

Great brands stand out not because they try too hard or are too clever, but because they are authentic and provide a product or service that is clearly communicated to their target audience. Doing this well is extremely hard. For those of us that love connecting brands and audiences, this is the fun stuff that gets you up every day and makes you brim with ideas.


What does the future hold for Petra Buchanan? Where are you moving on to?

I have had the pleasure to work with amazing people and fabulous brands like Discovery Networks around the world, Unisys across the Asia Pacific, and here in Australia, ASTRA and the McGrath Foundation, during my career so far, and I’m hoping for more. I’m looking forward to that next big role in the corporate sector that takes me out of my comfort zone – inspires me and challenges me. Perhaps it’s a leading corporate affairs, marketing or general management role. I’m very open to new and innovative opportunities with great brands. I’d also like to contribute as a non-executive director lending my knowledge and experience.

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