Global media flocked to the island
Some stories are as much about public relations as they are news. This week marked the culmination of one of the greatest examples, which has left the PR industry gasping in admiration, says Ian Hall.
In a blaze of publicity, more than a thousand media organisations around the world this week reported that the job of “caretaker” of Hamilton Island in Australia had been given to a 34-year-old ostrich-rider from Hampshire, Ben Southall.
Given that part of a PR executive’s job is to sell a product without paying for advertising space, then Tourism Queensland’s “best job in the world” competition has been a PR triumph that has left those whose day-job it is to devise such campaigns green with envy.
The marketing masterclass, conceived in Australia and being promoted in the UK by London-based travel PR company Hills Balfour Synergy, is now widely seen as odds-on favourite to win awards in the travel and PR industry.
What’s really clever about this is that it works as a global campaign and it seems to have very good spokespeople
Briton lands ‘world’s best job’
The initiative is already being seen as a case study in how to execute a PR – as opposed to advertising – campaign. PR guru Mark Borkowski has described the campaign on his blog as “a fine example of PR left to do what it does best – spread a positive story as far and wide as possible in a glowing light”.
Tourism Queensland ticked all the boxes, creating an ongoing narrative that would work globally and gather acres of free publicity.
Boasting a series of “hooks” that began in January, from the job-application process through to the X-Factor-style whittling-down of the candidates, the campaign harnessed social media to effectively create a worldwide reality TV competition that tapped into young people’s wanderlust and cleverly disguised a competition prize as a “job”.
One PR expert who has been watching Queensland’s acres of positive coverage unfold with awe is Debbie Hindle, managing director of PR firm BGB, which advises numerous travel-related clients.
Hindle admits: “I was actually asked for a ‘campaign I wish I’d thought of’ a few months ago and I said this one even then.”
She points out that the campaign is particularly impressive given that the product being promoted is a destination which, she says, tend to be conservative in the PR initiatives they are willing to agree to.
Margot Raggett, chief executive of Lexis PR, is equally in awe. She says: “What’s really clever about this is that it works as a global campaign and it seems to have very good spokespeople and, inevitably, pictures.”
Referring to the extensive coverage the campaign has garnered, Raggett says: “It just seems to have tapped into the zeitgeist – whether by accident or design – in that it’s a feel-good story in grim times economically. The media seem to have largely let it pass that this story is a marketing ploy. Perhaps that’s because it’s a tourism campaign and not one based around, say, a company’s new product.”
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1.2m people enter a competition to invent a new flavour of Walkers Crisps, won by Builder’s Breakfast
Meanwhile, Graham Goodkind – chairman of the agency Frank PR, which has offices in London and Sydney – observes: “The beauty of this is that it’s such a simple idea.
“The PR story is also intrinsic to the brand – it’s impossible to forget what this is promoting – and it’s been very well executed. What a contrast it is to so many PR campaigns that use old-fashioned PR techniques such as promoting the results of surveys – so often it’s impossible to remember what those campaigns are promoting.”
Goodkind points out, however, that the “best job in the world” concept itself is far from novel. He admits that his own agency once ran a campaign to promote a job as a “condom tester” – but largely treated it a “one-hit” story.
Moving beyond the current success of the campaign, PR experts counsel that it is too early to assess the stunt’s full impact.
As BGB’s Debbie Hindle says: “Promoting travel from the UK to places as far away as Australia tends to suffer a bit from people thinking such destinations are ‘place of a lifetime’-type destinations.
“The challenge is to convert media interest into real visitor numbers. But I imagine the people behind the Queensland campaign won’t now let go of it. I imagine next year we’ll get the second blogger being sent off there and it could all be repeated.”
Inevitably, too, the flak has started. Message boards contain comments such as “the high wage might be needed to cover the cost of living on Hamilton Island – a brief holiday there left me scratching my head at the ridiculous prices charged for some everyday staples” or “I’ve been to Hamilton Island – you’d be bored out of your mind within two days, seriously”.
£35m of publicity
But for now the champagne corks are popping at Tourism Queensland. Jane Nicholson, regional director of Tourism Queensland in the UK, describes the worldwide response to the campaign as “nothing short of phenomenal”.
She says: “The campaign has largely relied on public relations and social networking activity and has captured the imagination of the world.
“To date it’s generated more than $70 million [£35m] in publicity value through TV, radio and newspaper coverage, as well as special online discussion groups, bulletin boards, blogs and websites with applicants critiquing their competition, having detailed discussions and swapping ideas and tips.”
As Ben Southall prepares to head off to his “job” Down Under, he leaves behind a PR industry not only “wishing they were there”, but also wishing the campaign was theirs.
Ian Hall worked for PR Week from 2000-2007 and is now editor of Public Affairs News