Australian Wool Innovation outlines direct digital strategy

Terry Sim, November 28, 2016
AWI CEO Stuart McCullough

AWI CEO Stuart McCullough

CONTENT delivered direct to wool growers digitally and not via mainstream media is central to Australian Wool Innovation’s communication’s strategy, chief executive officer Stuart McCullough has said.

At AWI’s recent annual general meeting in Sydney, Mr McCullough said he wanted to tailor digital content to wool growers directly, “controlling the message” and not relying on mainstream media.

He said he will talk to mainstream journalists, but wanted their stories to be “positive” and indicated AWI will isolate journalists and publications perceived to be not giving the wool research, development and marketing company “a fair go”.

He confirmed that AWI had denied some media access to overseas designers and brands to avoid animal welfare questions, highlighting how AWI’s reluctance for mulesing to be associated with Australian wool was affecting its attitude to mainstream media. Click here to get Sheep Central story links sent to your email inbox.

Mr McCullough told AWI shareholders at the AGM the company is building a database of information on them. As well as the usual wool production information such as property and flock size, bloodlines and farming mix, the AWI chief said the company wanted to know shareholders’ employment information, their use of AWI research and development, and publications. Wool growers’ website search preferences, topics of interest, key brands of interest, devices and platforms of choice are also on the list.

His AGM overheads indicated the AWI database already contained wool growers’ names, home phone numbers and addresses, as well as mobile phone numbers, email addresses, family member details and dates of birth. But he wants more.

‘We don’t want to rely on media at all’ – McCullough

Mr McCullough told shareholders that AWI’s monthly website users had jumped from 45,000 in 2014-15 to 115,000 in 2015-16.

“Database members have grown by 60,000 to 105,000 database entries, which is good, which is very good.

“This is where we are putting a huge amount of energy, human energy and dollars as well, because I see this as the key to communicating with not only our shareholders, but our customers,” he said.

“We want to talk to wool growers directly – we don’t want to rely on the media at all – we want to communicate with them directly and we want to tailor content directly with them.”

Mr McCullough said current information on AWI’s database, such as a shareholders’ levy number, their name, address and their home phone number was “interesting, but not that useful”. He said AWI was now working on obtaining data to build customer profiles, including personal profile, property and behavioural data.

“We want a lot more profile data on them – we want to know what is happening on their property and once we get that, we want to understand how they are behaving, what websites they are using and how they are interacting with that.

“As time goes on, I expect to come back to wool growers with ticks all the way around this circle.”

Mr McCullough said once he had all the required data on wool growers “then the power of that database and the ability to communicate directly and tailor content directly to (for example) Kim Henderson, or Marty Moses or Marius Cuming, is the game.

“We want content directly to you and your interests,” he said.

“So that’s what we are going after we are going to continue to invest in that, we think that that offers the best opportunity to communicate more broadly with our shareholders and our stakeholders.”

AWI can control social media – McCullough

After the AGM, Mr McCullough told Sheep Central he regarded social media as different from the traditional online, print and radio.

“Social media we can control.

“It’s controlling the message – we want the facts and all the facts to be produced; we don’t want stories to be told that are convenient and don’t really tell the truth because they omit little things,” he said.

“Deception through omission is a real problem.”

When asked if he and AWI could fall into the trap of omitting things as well, Mr McCullough said “here I am mate, talking to you.”

“We believe that we can communicate to our wool growers through a sophisticated database in a more sophisticated way than what mainstream or rural media can.

“The aim of what we want to do is to communicate with our wool growers and have them understand the things that we are doing and put in their hands the best tools that we can,” he said.

“On that scale, if you got all that data from them and started tailoring content to their needs and sending it to them, the first thing that comes up is an ‘opt out’ clause, privacy laws are pretty thorough.”

When asked why he had been unavailable at times to answer questions from journalists, Mr McCullough said there was a very good reason.

“We would just prefer to get on making money for wool growers.

“If we are seeing a journalist or a publication even, that we are not getting a fair go in, then we just push them aside and we disengage, and we get on with dealing with the things that we are meant to do; our job is to make money for wool growers, not to talk to journalists,” he said.

“Even though we are happy to do that and I’m sitting here with you right now, we are more than happy to do that, we would just prefer to be doing things for wool growers and communicating with them directly.”

No ‘fair go’ can mean ‘isolation’ for media

Mr McCullough said if AWI did not get a “fair go” with any particular publication irrespective of whether it is rural, mainstream, upstream or fashion, they would be put into “isolation.”

“If we don’t get a fair go with a particular journalist or a particular publication, we will just put them into isolation,” he said.

“And isolation is a very powerful thing.”

Mr McCullough was not concerned about AWI isolating itself.

“Don’t worry about that, we’ve got a good database” he said, quoting various online developments, including ‘The Yarn podcast, the Wool magazine, Beyond the Bale and digital messaging.

“We’re not isolating ourselves, we might be isolating ourselves to you, but we are certainly not isolating ourselves to wool growers.”

At the AGM, Mr McCullough showed what AWI wanted the world to see about Australian wool growers and their treatment of animals by playing a ‘The Source’ video, developed to counter “waves” of overseas talk about farming in Australia.

“We feel that is relay important to demonstrate how these people are living and how they are treating their animals.”

Mr McCullough confirmed that Sheep Central had been denied access to visiting overseas wool designers and brands to avoid them being asked questions about their quality assurance policies pertaining to mulesing and animal welfare. But he rejected suggestions that mulesing was an obstacle to increasing demand for Australian wool.

“Wool prices are going up, not down.

“Since 2010, we’ve added $900 million to this market, does that look like a market that doesn’t have demand?” he said.

GDP figures point to improved demand

At the AGM, Mr McCullough said the wool industry’s contribution to Australia’s gross domestic product was about $2 billion in 2010 and $2.9 billion in 2016 – a $900 million improvement.

“Every kilogram (of wool) off every farm in Australia is sold every year and every kilogram is converted into garments every year and every garment is sold every year – our wool market is going up mate.

“We will continue to get pressure from animal welfare and animal rights groups in the northern hemisphere irrespective of whether it is mulesing, tail docking, castration or shearing shed behaviour or yard behaviour.”

Mr McCullough said he looked at “the facts” when assessing wool demand.

“I look at the facts of the amount of wool that we’ve got and the amount of wool that sells and the price of the wool, every year – it’s pretty simple, it’s macro-economics at its simplest point.”

Sheep Central has written regularly about the issue of transparency and traceability in the wool supply chain, which has included articles around mulesing. AWI officials have often refused to answer questions about the issue.

In response to some wool trade interviews concerning traceability and mulesing, AWI corporate affairs manager Marius Cuming told Sheep Central’s editor he was “entitled to remove you from AWI communication.” After interviews with Jeans West and Adidas about their wool traceability policies Mr Cuming accused Sheep Central of “disgraceful behaviour” and attempting to ‘inflame the issue and undermine AWI’s work and harm the wool industry’. When Sheep Central asked if National Wool Declarations should be made mandatory so all producers would declare their flock’s mulesing status, AWI chair Wal Merriman referred to Sheep Central’s editor as “an agent of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals”.

AWI trying to protect its image

Former AWI director and AWGA director Chick Olsson said AWI was trying to limit negative press that could damage its image and jeopardise the two-percent levy it received from wool growers.

AWI’s attitude to media statements on animal welfare and mulesing was a case of “don’t talk about the war”, he said.

“Once they solve the mulesing issue, if they can, you will see wool prices go up hugely – it is the only thing holding back the market for Merino wool.”


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your comment will not appear until it has been moderated.
Contributions that contravene our Comments Policy will not be published.


  1. BARBARA HYATT, November 30, 2016

    AWI must be joking. They are not listening to the markets and are destroying the Australian wool industry. Consumers are king and they do not want mulesed wool. AWI needs to stop pushing pathetic pain relief that does not work for such an invasive procedure and to look at plain-bodied sheep that require no mulesing. Then and only then will the Australian wool industry take it’s rightful place as the world’s most desired wool. The government needs to step in and take control before AWI ruin the industry beyond repair. And what a great strategy; we just won’t talk to the publications that don’t say good things about us. How is that going to help the Australian wool growers?

  2. Peter Small, November 30, 2016

    The arrogance of Stuart McCullough’s AWI AGM presentation is breathtaking, as is the acquiescence of his chairman and board.
    Is Patrick Francis the only representative of the media prepared to express alarm? Is every other rural journalist in the country so cowered by AWI that they remain mute? Is it a fear of being left off the AWI Christmas card list, or what?
    What it most certainly is, is yet another abrogation by the rural media to probe, test and report effectively so their readers are informed. How can we develop a modern, vibrant luxury fibre market when those at either end of the wool pipeline know so little of each other. And AWI sitting in the middle, filtering the information and knowledge, to their advantage.
    Patrick Francis asks the question “Is the next step to stop people (AWI) doesn’t agree with including its own levy payers from attending field days, seminars and scientific conferences?” Hallelujah Patrick, we are there already. I am one such levy payer who is blackballed by AWI. And what is my sin? I am fortunate to know something from the selection of the ram to join with ewes for next years lambing and their wool through the entire pipeline to Europe and China and back. I am old enough to have watched the antics of our statutory wool bodies from Bill Gunn to today. The culture never changes, it has never changed; it is always the wool-selling system that is at fault, never the incompetence of the wool body, what ever might be its current name at the time.
    Today I see it all again with the Wool Exchange Portal. I fear the trade think if they go along with the idea it will eventually hang itself. With the bucket of money AWI has at its disposal and with an interventionist Minister sitting in Canberra, this is a very dangerous strategy. This whole thing could develop legs of it own and be impossible to stop. Every one who knows the history should nip this most recent intrusion into the wool-selling system in the bud before it is too late. Wool grower leaders, brokers, exporters take note!

  3. Patrick Francis, November 29, 2016

    If AWI thinks it can control communication to wool growers and the wider textile industry then it is living in cuckoo land. Is the next step to stop people it doesn’t agree with, including its own farmer levy payers, from attending field days, seminars and scientific conferences it is involved in? Has AWI become a dictatorship? It’s time wool growers stood up for themselves and their industry and elected a board which is prepared to accept that sheep production and management, farm environment improvement, animal welfare improvement, and textile quality and marketing can be addressed in many different ways. Farmers, processors and consumers will support the approaches to these issues which they are comfortable with and will not be dictated to by the AWI board and its CEO.

  4. Edward Wymer., November 28, 2016

    Jane, of course Australia is a free country, unfortunately that gives groups like PETA the opportunity to tell outrageous lies as they have for years. We have been through it so many times in the past. Just Google PETA, that should educate you about them.

  5. You have to be joking. AWI is now going to start controlling the media so that only good news stories are featured. I thought Australia was a free country that enjoyed a democratic view of the world. AWI is only being told what to release via their board of directors who are so scared of the international reputation throughout the wool buyers eg don’t source Australian wool. AWI cannot continue to treat their members like this and keep their heads in the sand over the animal welfare issues associated with mulesing. Australian farmers were told 10 years ago to change their ways, but only a few innovative farmers took any notice. I just wonder who will have the box seat when this gets out in the mainstream. Peta are going to have a field day. Full names required in future for reader comments please Jane, as per our long-standing comments policy: Editor.

Get Sheep Central's news headlines emailed to you -