Brand EditorialElite AgentLEADERSHIP

A new direction

With consumers more socially, economically and environmentally aware than ever, corporate branded merchandise is no longer the go-to giveaway. Direct Connect explains how it is changing direction and donating time as well as money to help some of Australia’s most vulnerable children.

If you visited Direct Connect’s stand at AREC last year, you would have noticed something different.

While other real estate related companies had branded pens, keyrings and mugs, the moving services company hadn’t produced any merchandise to give away.

In a market where competition is increasing, and brand awareness is as important as ever, you’d be forgiven for thinking Direct Connect had dropped the ball.

Instead, the company, which primarily helps renters to connect services such as gas, water and electricity, was forging ahead in its mission to change the playing field.

Direct Connect National Manager Belinda Seers says there was a clear vision and goal in the no merchandise tactic.

She says Direct Connect was responding to what its referral partners wanted, and more importantly, what they didn’t want.

Increasingly clients are embracing social and environmental change and rather than receive branded items that soon end up in landfill, they are calling on big businesses to reduce waste and make donations to charities.

“We have definitely seen a shift in interactions at trade events with referral partners and other potential clients becoming more socially and environmentally conscious and expecting those they work with to do the same,” Belinda says.

“Increasingly our referral partners are telling us they don’t want the normal rewards we would provide them, and instead they are asking us to make a donation to the local surf club, to sponsor the football club or to support things like grassroots sport for children or training and development for staff.”

Belinda says AREC 2019 year marked a “major turning point” for Direct Connect as they decided to do away with branded merchandise and instead direct people’s attention towards a major charity it supports called The Pyjama Foundation.

The funds the company would have spent on merchandise were instead donated to the foundation.

The Pyjama Foundation trains Pyjama Angel volunteers who provide literacy, numeracy, life-skills and mentoring support to children in foster care.

“While there was merchandise all around us we didn’t have any,” Belinda says.

“We did offer people a free gelato cup, and we found that as people stayed around to chat, we were able to talk about our relationship with the Pyjama Foundation.

“We did have a few people come to us as we’ve been known in the past for our good quality pens, but when we explained the rationale behind what we were doing, people were really on board.

“There were a lot of ‘ah-ha’ moments, and it was really wonderful to see.”

Belinda says Direct Connect will continue its charity work in place of branded gifts this Christmas.

Instead of spending money on gifts that are either thrown away or tucked in the back of a cupboard, Direct Connect will be the Christmas sponsor of The Pyjama Foundation.

“The gifts weren’t resonating with our referral partners, who wanted us to give back to the community,” Belinda says.

“We’re also going to do a gift drive for foster children and every staff member will donate their time and volunteer with gift wrapping and card making.

“I know that I’m personally really looking forward to doing this as when I watch the news and see what’s happening in the world I often feel helpless, but this can make a difference for children in the foster system.

“It also really fits with our very strong belief that everyone deserves a home.”

The Pyjama Foundation currently mentors 1467 children in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, and over the past 15 years has trained more than 8800 Pyjama Angels.

Originally a nurse and a midwife, founder and executive director Bronwyn Sheehan says she started the foundation after seeing a friend work as a foster carer.

“The turning point for me was when a little person, an 18-month-old, arrived with a plastic bag containing only winter clothes in order to hide the bruises on their body,” Bronwyn says.

“The children have all experienced trauma, and the carers deserve all the help and respect they can get.

“Our committed volunteers are matched with a child in foster care in their community, and they visit that child in their homes for an hour every week.

“They form a positive human connection and the children know that they are valued and they are important.”

The Pyjama Angels help the children with literacy, numeracy, life-skills and friendship. Bronwyn says many of the foster children have never been read to and initially show no interest in books or learning.

Statistics show 92 per cent of foster children below the average reading level at age 7, while between 35 and 41 per cent will enter the juvenile justice system at some point.

Three-quarters of the children won’t finish school.

“The biggest difference we see through the Pyjama Foundation’s work is children start to believe in themselves,” Bronwyn says.

“They are empowered and they see themselves as learners. The children are calmer and they can concentrate for longer. We are teaching children to read and to love books.

“A wonderful case study is that of a child that simply could not concentrate, but after six months with their Pyjama Angel they could sit still, and they never left the house without their favourite book in their hand.”

Bronwyn says it costs $800 to screen, recruit, train and support one angel for 12 months. The foundation raises 80 per cent of its funding, while the remaining money comes from the Queensland Government.

The foundation does not receive any federal, NSW or Victorian funding.

One way the foundation raises funds, and which Direct Connect loves participating in, is through National Pyjama Day.

Held on July 17 next year, National Pyjama Day is all about wearing your favourite pyjamas to school or work and making a donation to raise money for the cause.

“Last year we had more than 2000 schools and businesses participate, and I even jumped into a pool in my pyjamas,” Bronwyn says.

Direct Connect Chief Executive Officer David Holman says the company has supported The Pyjama Foundation for three years through donations, use of their facilities for meetings, the gift drive and volunteering to wrap presents and make cards.

“Once a year we all wear our pyjamas to work, and I even wear a onesie for the day,” he says.

“We take what we do very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

Belinda says with their referral partners increasingly aware of environmental issues, Direct Connect responded last year with the introduction of reusable keep cups as gifts.

“We’ve also started providing things such as reusable metal straws to curb waste and plastic use,” she says.

“We’re also meeting the need of being more socially aware through trying to source and use local suppliers.”

Direct Connect isn’t going to stop there with its desire to respond to clients’ changing needs, with an increased focus on reducing its carbon footprint.

“We are really thinking about producing a small amount of useful and considered merchandise such as items a property manager would find useful in a pack, rather than a low-quality keyring that everyone would produce,” Marketing Manager Emily Tong states.

The company has also responded to the call for more environmentally friendly processes through helping more than 100 referral partners this year to move from paper forms to online software.

Show More

Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Deputy Editor at Elite Agent.