Friday, 26 June 2009

Probably the Best PR Stunt in the World...

This week, Ben Southall, the winning candidate for the Hamilton Island caretaker job, aka the ‘Best Job in the World’, will be saying his last goodbyes to friends and family and making final preparations for his six month stint as the Queensland Tourist Board’s most high profile employee.

Meanwhile, in a perfectly-timed coincidence, the team of geniuses at Brisbane based creative agency CumminsNitro just picked up an eighth international award for the campaign which managed to capture the imaginations of newsrooms and consumers the world over.

And the plaudits, it must be said, are seriously well-deserved. This has to be, hands down, one of the greatest PR stunts in recent memory (let’s gloss over the fact that it was an ad agency that came up with the idea). What could have been just another all expenses paid, ‘holiday of a lifetime’ competition prize was transformed into an utterly original, totally compelling media story which has continued to run and run – simply because it was packaged in the right way.
You only need to note the success of The Apprentice, which this year pulled in more viewers than ever, to understand the appeal of the ‘ultimate job search’ format. And by compiling a shortlist made up of candidates from across the world, the Tourism Queensland team ensured they had a tailor-made story for every nation on their hitlist.

But what I love most about this campaign (and yes, I am sick with envy and wish I had come up with the idea myself) is that its timing was just impeccable. When the story broke back in January we were slap bang in the middle of a crippling global recession, the all-pervading sense of doom and gloom inescapable. In the UK in particular, we were in the midst of yet another cold and miserable winter: short, chilly days and long freezing nights still par for the course. Quite frankly, who wouldn’t want to escape the drudgery of their day-to-day existence by buggering off to an all-expenses-paid island on the Great Barrier Reef, where our only stress would be deciding which palm tree we should hang our hammock from? The genius of the ‘Best Job...’ campaign is that it appealed shamelessly to the escapist and dreamer within us all – and crept up on us at a time when we were at our most vulnerable.

The response was, not surprisingly, phenomenal. The organisers were swamped, with more than 32,000 entries from all over the world – god only knows how they managed to sift through them all. But sift they did, finding their perfect candidate in English charity worker Ben. No coincidence that the winner (sorry, I mean chosen candidate) came from the UK of course – as Oz’s second largest tourist market and one which saw a decline in 2008, it must have been a no-brainer.

The challenge now is maintaining the momentum once Ben is in post. Will the story have the same appeal now the position has been filled? Will thousands be checking in every week to read the latest instalment in Ben’s blog from paradise island extolling the virtues of tourism in Queensland? I suspect not. The story worked because it held the promise of escape for everyone who read it. Now, it’s just another guy living the dream while we, sadly, are not.


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