This interview with Justin Coghlan (JC) on nonprofit content was originally published on

Justin Coghlan (JC) is one of the four co-founders of the Movember Foundation, a men’s health movement that began in Australia in 2003 and is now a global charity raising money and awareness to fund breakthrough research and support services for men’s health. To date, the Movember campaign has inspired over four and a half million mustaches, raised over $618 million in donations and funded over 800 programs in 21 countries.

JC is speaking as part of the Innovations And Thought Leaders track at Adobe Summit EMEA, alongside Clare Turnbull, Genomic Research Leader and Medical Doctor, The Institute of Cancer Research. Their session is called “Making The Complex Simple: Why Stories Matter More Than Ever In The Technological Age.” caught up with JC recently, and began by asking about the principles of engagement that have enabled the Movember Foundation to attract such a huge audience worldwide.

JC: It all comes back to storytelling. Movember started in a pub with 30 guys, and the conversation we had was all about social connectedness – that’s what we’re really interested in. It’s about guys talking to other guys and sharing their stories, opening up about their health and sharing any concerns, whether in the pub or on a sports field. If every man started to do this it would be a game-changer for health.

We started this journey with the simple idea of growing mustaches and after 30 days of growing guys were getting into all these new conversations and starting new stories that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. We wanted to harness this for good and became determined to change the face of men’s health. With the mustache men became instant walking, talking billboards for the cause. The concept instantly gave them really key tools.

They would say, ‘I’m not growing this mustache for a fashion statement – I am growing it for men’s health. Did you know more than one man dies every hour from prostate cancer?’ It would start that conversation.

From that holistic story, millions of other stories emerged. A classic example is a 21 year old called Michael who found Movember on Facebook. It prompted him to check himself out and he found a lump. That saved his life. Within such stories knowledge gets transferred. Facts get passed on, such as ‘if your father has prostate cancer you are 2.5 times more likely to get it’. At Movember we wholeheartedly believe knowledge is power and prevention is everything.

We are doing a really big play this year with MOVE to encourage men to get more active. Moving can reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer by up to 50% and lower your risk of early death by up to 30%. For us, when we talk about storytelling it is about getting those conversations going in a fun way but with a really serious proposition behind it. What is key in engagement is taking people on the journey and into the ‘why,’ and creating clear pathways for people to take action. You mention the power of Facebook.  What part has social media played in Movember’s success to date?

When we started Movember in 2003, Facebook was just being born in a small college campus and that helped dramatically to get us where we are today. We’d still be pretty big but there’s no way we would have a reach of 5 million people, or be creating billions of conversations across social media every year. Social media is where you can really start to change the conversation and get populations to change behavior, which is our ultimate goal.

Social media and technology have also allowed us to play with information in different forms and deliver it in different ways to maximize engagement. Understanding our audience is a key point. It’s about thinking about how different groups of people want to hear the information – that knowledge translation is really important.

You just have to look at who is sitting on different channels and what sort of information they want. For example, we had [professional surfer] Stephie Gilmore, who is a Mo Sista, doing a campaign for us with her Dad, and that really resonated with the surf industry. We have also done a video piece with [professional surfer] Tom Carroll talking about his struggle with depression and what he has been through. That hit the sports industry and got people talking.

Last year we set up a social media spot for Jack Dyson, a UK survivor of testicular cancer, who had pledged to recreate the famous photograph of Burt Reynolds on a bear skin rug if he raised enough money from Movember. He did it and he looked uncannily like Burt Reynolds! We put that story online and it got people talking about checking their testicles, and the image ended up on outdoor ads and billboards. It was an incredible photo that resonated across the social space. They were very different pieces – one really serious video piece about a guy’s struggle with mental health, and an incredible photo that gathered real momentum across social. How will Movember continue such strong momentum going forward?

A big shift in strategy for us this year is Movember 2.0. We have always sensed that Movember is a bit like a one-night stand – we go out once a year with a big roar and then we go completely silent until the next year. A lot of our supporters say ‘you are about the whole man and we want this all year round’.  So this year the Movember Foundation will engage more with the community throughout the year. Part of this will be the launch of Movember Radio, an online podcast which we are looking to launch later this year. No-one else is really doing that in the charity space. It will interview different researchers and ambassadors and it will hopefully continue to educate and entertain our existing supporters as well as reaching a new audience. What lessons have you learnt about successfully maintaining the interest of your supporters?

Don’t try to be all things to all people. You just can’t. You just get vanilla. Everyone is obsessed with getting millions of hits – who cares? Know who your audience is and talk to them, that’s who cares. You don’t need millions of people to like you. Repetition is another major factor. A big message won’t land overnight – sometimes you need long-term commitment. When we first started Movember, getting people to actually talk about their health was so foreign. It has taken 12 years for us to break that stuff down.

We have also learnt that there is no silver bullet. You need depth. The ice bucket challenge [which raised money for the disease ALS], for example, was a brilliant fundraiser– it raised a hell of a lot of money but it brought up a hell of a lot of questions. There was no depth – what is the end-game? At Movember we have a programs division, we have 850 different projects on – we know it’s all there so we can have fun at the front end and robustly support it at the back end. And Dr Clare Turnbull, Clinical Lead for 100KGP Cancer Programme, Genomics England will be talking about some of the back end projects at Summit.

Clare will be on stage talking about how the work we have done has enabled us to invest in one of the largest testicular cancer programs in the world. She will be discussing the advent of big data into the world of healthcare, specifically in genetics. Clare has incredible intelligence yet can translate that intelligence down to a level that I can understand and take that to market.

It is a fascinating area. There is a massive shift going on as healthcare begins to use big data. We’re on the cusp of a huge data revolution and it can change health systems and change people’s habits and the way they look after their health.

If our work at Movember can engage everyone to own their own health and own their data then the incredible ‘Clares’ of the world can use this data and say ‘Okay, here is what your genome looks like’. But the infrastructure has to be set up to handle that, and there has to be an education process. It must be a team effort globally – health systems, governments, and entrepreneurs like us working together. That is what we have worked hard for 12 years doing. We are getting the smartest people in the room to talk to each other, to fast-track research, and this is why we are seeing such success.

The Movember Foundation is all about living in a world where no man will die of prostate or testicular cancer.  If we can get everyone interested in the preventative health space, and in presenting any symptoms earlier, we will save billions in healthcare – and we will save billions of lives.

Click here for more articles from Adobe Summit EMEA 2015.

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Nicola Smith is a contributing writer at

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