You couldn’t move anywhere this morning without hearing something about Ben Southall, the British winner of ‘The Best Job in the World’ and the string of idyllic desert islands along the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Queensland, Australia, which will act as his home and office for six months. Not surprising, when the job is more like a paid holiday and earns him approximately £74,000!
The campaign, run by Tourism Queensland, is 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. And you don’t get a much more glowing, positive light than in Australia, thanks to the ‘can do’ attitude of the Australians and the sunshine. The story behind this job spread virally throughout the world with a little careful placing on YouTube and Facebook – ‘The Best Job in the World’ was a fantastic hook to take advantage of social networking with.
“This is probably the first time that a campaign has achieved this sort of reach with so little advertising spend other than a few strategically placed job ads around the world,” Australian marketing analyst Tim Burrowes told the Daily Mail. “This has all been about the power of people passing things on, largely through YouTube. The main lesson to be learned here is that if you have an original, exciting idea that gets people talking you don’t need to spend huge on advertising.”
He’s absolutely right, but there are still too many people with great talent of great products out there stuck in relationships with advertising men who just don’t get this or who think that PR is ‘easy’. These are people who will hang on to a client by hook or by crook, telling them what they want to hear and not letting the story out to run free.
It’s amazing what free-thinking PR can do: Borkowski’s award-winning campaign for Wispa won Cadburys huge, nationwide coverage for the return of the iconic 80s chocolate bar and created a conversation with the people who actually bought the bars and wanted it to come back. Through social networking, they were able to be a part of the process. The same is true of the ‘Best Job in the World’ campaign – it spread virally because people felt they were part of it.
The final 50 candidates even competed to gather more followers on the web and interact with them, dressing in Scuba outfits and filming themselves walking through cities being one of the popular stunts. It’s appropriate, given that part of the job remit is to communicate with the world from the island. This, then, is a PR campaign that will just keep on unfolding.
If the ‘Best Job in the World’ campaign had stayed in the hands of advertisers who felt they could manage a little easy PR on the side, however, the story would have been far less likely to have the enormous impact it has had in a little over four months. PR needs to be let free to do what it needs to do – if the ‘Best Job in the World’ story had stayed in the hands of Machiavellian advertising men who are most skilled at managing a client’s expectations and keeping the client in a hole, who claim knowledge of PR when the client knows nothing of it, then it would have faltered at the first.
The campaign could also have easily faltered under the weight of stories about the other islands near to Hamilton Island, where Southall will be taking up residence as caretaker for six months. On the Today programme this morning, Chloe Hooper revealed the darker side of Australia’s relationship with the islands; she talked about Palm Island, founded in 1918 as a prison island for ‘misbehaving’ indigenous Australians – misbehaving meaning speaking their own language or asking about wages.
This is not an island the tourist industry would want known about, especially as indigenous Australians are still beaten and murdered there – Hooper related an incident from 2004 a drunken indigenous Australian swore at the white officer in charge of Palm Island and was found beaten with his liver cut in two some hours later – and the life expectancy is 20 years less for the indigenous population than it is for a non-indigenous Australian.
This story could well explode in the tourist commission’s faces – there is a curious dichotomy between the ‘can do’ attitude of the Australians and the institutionalised racism that survives in the country still. But, by allowing the positive story free reign, they have kept the negative angle at bay for now.
If they can use the waves of unleashed positivity to help address this negative aspect of the Australian psyche – and break down the barriers contained by the barrier reef – all the better, but it’s worth realising that, in the hands of an advertising agency which thinks it understands PR, there would never have been the vast positives in the first place, nor the room to address the darker side of Australia and its relationship with the indigenous population in a constructive, transparent manner.