Have you noticed that not a day goes by when you find you are being assaulted by wine deals – brochures which offer a dozen unknown reds for $99.99 drop out of the Weekend Australian every Saturday morning; phone SMS messages alert me to deals of the week; and Wine Market tells me droll stories of export shipments that didn't make it and now represent sensational bargains. If you're like me you're probably wedded to your favourites bottles based on price and quality, and rarely buy promiscuously - but millions of people do.
A lot of this wine marketing is the work of a company called Cellarmasters, which was a very clever idea by a bloke called David Thomas. Long before on-line retailing, David was bemused by the Sunday Times Wine Club while visiting London and came home to Australia and started his own mail–order wine company in 1982. In 1996 he sold it to Fosters for $160 million, and being a very nice man, established The Thomas Foundation which gives away millions a year to conservation and the environment.
Like everything else in Australia that is not securely bolted down, Cellarmasters has since been purchased by Woolworths and now represents one of the largest door to door delivery networks in the country alongside Australia Post. It is also the perfect example of vertical integration as Cellarmasters/Woolworths now has its own vineyards, its own winery (in the Barossa) and alternative marketing outlet through Dan Murphys, Australia's largest wine retailer.
Anyway it was interesting to learn yesterday in Smart Company that Cellarmasters has been pinged $110,000 for not having an Unsubscribe button on one of its wine newsletters.
I have no wish to gloat – Cellarmasters and Wine Market provide a valuable service to consumers and are extremely important marketing partners to many of Australia beleaguered wine companies who would quite possibly have gone broke (or drunk themselves to death) without them.
But it acts as an important warning to every business which is embracing e-newsletters as a tool of communication. The Australian Communications and Media Authority take a very dim (and expensive) view of unsolicited spam and it behoves all marketers to devote adequate resources to managing their databases and monitoring newsletter responses. It's all part of having a strategy to integrate your e-comms into your overarching brand communication plan rather than seeing it as a last minute blast before you go to the pub on Fridays…which of course you could talk to us about (the strategy, not the pub).
Anyway to add an element of humour to the parting of the ways, you might even like to try this latest unsubscribe video from HubSpot. Clever…and you could just change their minds.
- Peter Fuller.
It was that day in April when SA food producer Spring Gully announced it had gone into administration.
I can't forget the ABC TV News headline. Sitting on the right shoulder of the cherub-faced anchor, alongside a photograph of a jar of the familiar yellow mustard condiment, were the words "In a Pickle".
This flippant insensitivity about the potential demise of a long standing South Australian company might have led to the ABC sub-editor having his ears boxed, but it was a fairly predictable media response in a punch drunk economy which is seeing small businesses bite the dust on a weekly basis.
However, who could have foreseen the sensational turnaround for the multi-generational company, largely the result of a well orchestrated and sublimely managed PR campaign waged on Spring Gully's behalf.
Normally cynical morning radio jocks started tearily calling for the community to rush out and buy a jar of cocktail gherkins (whether you needed them or not). The daily paper ran recipes using Spring Gully products (oysters kilpatrick?). Local retailers took full page advertisements proudly showing off their loyalty to Spring Gully and slamming the big two food retailers.
The result – a level of consumer hysteria which has not been seen in this state since Baileys Irish Cream was rationed in the 1980s.
Now no-one feels sorrier than me for the Webb family of Spring Gully and their financial problems. I can think of few more captivating meals than a slash of that golden pickle across a slice of lamb enfolded in fresh Tanunda Apex Bakery bread and Farmer's Union butter.
But when a business says that it had no idea how much people loved its brand until it was on its death bed; when it is using a label that is so old fashioned that it is almost retro-contemporary; when it started a Facebook page only days before administration; then such disasters can't be blamed entirely on Coles or Woolworths or the Australian dollar or Julia Gillard.
The way Spring Gully has pulled itself back from the brink at the eleventh hour will become a case study in public relations for many years to come.
But it is not advisable as an effective marketing strategy unless you have a strong heart.
Compare Spring Gully's previous brand strategy with fellow Adelaide Hills food processor Beerenberg's decades of consistent PR appearances, consumer tastings, constantly tweaked label and package design, proactive social media and online activity and targeted advertising. Same duopolised retail market. Same consumer challenges (a population that hasn't embraced pickles since World War II). Same Australian dollar. But very different story.
Then there's the other leading condiment producer in South Australia, Maggie Beer. Maggie produces the same pickles and jams and sauces as Spring Gully albeit with a twist of preserved lemon here or sprig of thyme there. But it's her commitment to the brand and brand communication which has made Maggie Beer Farm Products famous, not the Barossa quinces and quail livers.
In her mid 60s Maggie is an impressive dervish of 30-something bubbling energy, constantly travelling, smiling, laughing and pausing to have conversations with people, touching, kissing, signing autographs, sharing recipes. She is across the brand from tasting the latest trial recipes to tweaking new packaging concepts and labels designs and commenting on adventurous advertising concepts. She is a walking, talking marketing machine and she deserves her 30 years "overnight" success.
Whether the sudden re-kindled interest by consumers in Spring Gully's range of products is sustainable, is now up to the company's marketing team. When the love affair wanes, the national thirst for worcestershire sauce will not have changed and in this extremely competitive niche food sector proving their ongoing point of difference with a consistent brand strategy will be the only way to avoid another pickle.
- Peter Fuller
Is it already a month since our Government launched the new brand image for the state? Now that the madness of March is over and Renniks are wondering how to achieve cash flow for the rest of the year and the pop-ups have popped down and we've enjoyed another couple of public holidays, it seems the red and grey doorway has settled on our shoulders like a meandering autumn leaf.
Despite the state brand process being a model of typically South Australian consultative hand wringing (not surprisingly every second loose cannon in the state tried to shoot it down) I thought it came up with a nice, neat, uncomplicated icon with which to locate us in the world (the brief after all).
But brands are not logos or images. For a mindless radio announcer to suggest that an art competition amongst the state's primary school children could have come up with a better, cheaper brand, irritatingly misses the whole point.
Brands are stories…and they only work when they are honest and authentic and true, and are told from the heart over and over again.
For most of the last six months our agency has been involved in a parallel branding exercise for the state's wine industry. Like Premier Weatherill (who was introduced as the Premier of NSW in London last year) our winemakers have always struggled to gain an awareness internationally of where the bloody hell we are? Being confused with South Africa was also unhelpful.
So rather than trying to brand our wine industry as South Australian (which is not ideal for our mainly premium output when the vast majority of under $10 beverage booze comes from the irrigated regions known generically as South-Eastern Australia) we chose to focus on our prettily-named city Adelaide, positioning it quite rightly as the Wine Capital of Australia.
We have created a brand identity – a typographical reflection of the name which we will use with an application of the state brand identity.
But the real Adelaide Wine Capital brand activation will come from the story – that we do irrefutably produce 72% of the country's premium wine; that great wine discoveries were made here by people like Max Schubert and Ray Beckwith and Wolf Blass; that we have about 200 cellar doors within an hour of Adelaide; that we have been the educational, economic and political headquarters of the Australian wine sector since the late 1800s.
After a successful launch in Leigh Street in late March to explain the story to the media and opinion-makers, we will now start distributing a range of cellar door marketing materials including colourful drink coasters and stickers. We have also created web based YouTube promos and a tenacious Twitter, Instagram and Facebook campaign.
And we have launched that most ubiquitous of modern storytelling devices, a Smartphone App 365 DAYS OF WINE AND FOOD which lists wine and food events for every day of the year.
Out of the nearly 2 million iPhone and Android Apps out there in the ether, ours is certainly not the most complicated. But then our company is not into making Apps for short attention span teenagers – we are utilising this technology (where once we might have used homing pigeons or hill-top fires) to convey a message and create positive communication outcomes for an industry we care deeply about.
It's easy enough to say that Adelaide is a world wine capital, like it is easy enough to say a brand of car is the most prestigious.
But the real branding comes from proving that premise – in our case that every day is a wine and food day in South Australia.
Before that new State brand icon gets too comfortable, like a two month old cardigan, the state's marketing experts would be well advised to get on with the story telling if they want to change the way we are seen…and the way we see ourselves.
- Peter Fuller
For makers and marketers of wine, beware - the first major shots in a strategic new communication war of attrition have been fired.
The first howitzer was a mid February Sunday Mail story with an impressive graphic postulating that wine bottles will have cigarette type labels in the near future. It flushed out a few predictable Adelaide wowsers tut-tutting about the demon drink, and fortunately quite a few defenders of an industry which generates more than 10,000 jobs in this state stood up to be counted (including the CEO of Business SA, Nigel McBride). But the image was disturbing and the argument for draconian wine labelling effectively publicised.
Last Monday the second cannonade screamed across the bow - a Four Corners investigation into the cost (financial, emotional, medical) of alcohol fuelled violence.
It's hard to argue against a wheel chair bound, brain dead young lad who was king-hit by a boozed thug a few years ago. It's hard to take exception to a concerned doctor who has to pick up the pieces of a night on the tiles...or an exasperated judge whose time is wasted with petty violence.
But was the thug a product of a national alcohol culture or a family culture, which he acknowledged, had encouraged him "never to back down from a fight?
Were the disgraceful scenes of drunken fighting a product of alcohol or a product of a society where a wrestle is not enough. Thanks to a pre-school diet of computer gaming and an addiction to stylised media violence, a "street scuffle" is now a king hit followed by a head stomping.
The Australian wine industry is not a purveyor of violence.
For more than 20 years it has boldly advertised its position on alcohol consumption by voluntarily calling for moderation on every single bottle label. Nearly every producer suggests that their wine should be enjoyed with food - often recommending dishes and recipes. Most cellar doors provide food and water to enjoy with their tastings so that the overall experience wineries offer is one of sensory enjoyment rather than guzzling.
Wine is certainly grape alcohol but it is much more than that:
- it is an industry which has been one of the greatest saviours to many parts of regional Australia in the last 20 years and managed to keep threatened rural communities alive and strong;
- it is a youthful primary sector with a future - while the average age of grain farmers is 56, the average age of a winemaker or grape grower is the late 30s;
- it is our state's second biggest income earner after copper and uranium mining, and adds more than $4 billion a year to our not exactly flush national economy;
- it is one of the world's greatest value added industries providing jobs and small business opportunities in everything from barrel cooperage and bottle and glass manufacturing to smart manufacturing and precision agriculture;
- it projects a contemporary, sophisticated and global brand image for our tiny state of 1.6 million people down here in the Antipodes;
- it is the single most important tourist attraction in South Australia (next to Kangaroo Island), ensuring internationals and interstaters actually come here and part with their cash;
- and finally it is healthy. Not only does red wine contain proven components which protect against heart disease but it also helps improve one's mental attitude and pre-disposition to stress. In fact even the most ardent non-drinkers have "taken" a glass of red wine (at their doctor's recommendation) for centuries.
Australia in general (and South Australia in particular) has few enough smart industries enabling us to export value added products northwards, and share in the Asian century.
Wine is one of the very limited arsenal of products which we do as well, if not better, than the Europeans and Americans. And our close proximity means newly-westernised Asian wine lovers will flock to our cellar doors and B&Bs rather than the fusty old vineyards of France - and the yuan they leave behind will stave off the likelihood of becoming the white trash of the East.
So all I ask is that the earnest temperance campaigners who gather to plan the anti-alcohol lobby's future salvo please consider this:
Enjoying a civilised glass of a natural beverage which has been around since Egyptian times with a meal, is not the same as tossing down a row of shooter glasses filled with 40% proof spirit, or emptying a dozen stubbies of 5% beer down one's throat at the cricket- or for that matter smoking a packet of 20 carcinogenic tubes of tobacco.
Balance and common sense please.
- Peter Fuller.
My brief astrological research for this article suggests that having a snake in the house is a good omen in China, because it means you will never starve. While I imagine the appreciation of domestic reptiles diminishes the closer one gets to Burnside, here on Fullarton Road we are all set for a year where the symbolic snake-like attributes of intelligence, attention to detail, focus, discipline and scientific-style evaluation of opportunities prevails.
The first opportunity many SMEs need to evaluate this year is sitting in front of you right now - the magical ether contained in your PC's couple of kilos of diodes and processors and disks. Those who fail to embrace the business opportunities offered by society's addiction to smart phones, tablets and the World Wide Web do so at their own peril.
What to do?
- Failure to at least experiment with Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram this year means you will be a generation behind when the next big thing comes along in 2014.
- Strategy is just as important for digital communications as it is for all other areas of your business. Seek good social media advice from an acknowledged expert.
- Consider a website refresh, keeping in mind that it is not a static communication medium and should be reviewed for effectiveness every couple of years. Lots of businesses put their website low on their list of priorities because they don't look at it…but everyone else does.
- Talk to our new web strategist Gavin about about making your site help clients achieve their goals ie support, help, new resources. Maximise the customer web experience.
- Optimise your online retail site for smart phones and tablets, which will take over from PCs in 2013 as the preferred method of browsing and purchasing.
- Segment your database to know who you are marketing to…especially by e-newsletter. Email has been around for nearly two decades, but how many managers can honestly say they capture every email of every customer?
- Take Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) seriously by contracting someone to explore and analyse your web hits, then work out with an expert how to improve your chances of being found by giving them content they desire.
- Embrace video as a communication tool, but keep it short and sweet. Now that every phone is a video camera and you can buy bloggies for less than $200 there is no reason why you can't introduce testimonial interviews with clients or technical presentations by your sales staff to your website via YouTube
- Explore opportunities to improve your communications and systems through an App. Look at these great suggestions for small business.
- Look good on LinkedIn and meet the world. The planet's biggest professional networking site is the place to meet new people, drive business relationships and seek out new employees. And it is so much easier than those dreadful speed networking events over cask wine and soapy cheese.
- Peter Fuller
In the mid 1940s when General Douglas McArthur and the US Pacific Fleet introduced the profession of public relations to Australia (along with Coca-Cola and nylon stockings), newspapers were the dominant form of media communication.
Newsreels and radio certainly provided immediacy, but it was that weighty morning (and yes evening) paper with their omnipotent proprietors and crusty editors, that delivered the news in black and white credibility every day.
At that time there were literally tens of thousands of Australian newspaper journalists with rounds that ranged from shipping news to pigeon notes to society gossip, and by comparison only a handful of PR professionals (who we assume looked something like the characters from Mad Men), who pitched stories about the US Marine's exploits in the Pacific without much difficulty.
Fifty years later in 1998 David Michie's seminal book The Invisible Persuaders launched the term "spin doctor", in a revealing expose of the way business and political news was being "manufactured" in Tony Blair's New Labour United Kingdom.
Michie estimated that in the UK in 1997, the year Blair became PM, there was one PR consultant for every two journalists (25,000:50,000) and in the US (where the profession was invented) it was incredibly one for one.
Fast-forward to a post-GFC economy and the balance must surely have swung even further, with more PRs than journos in most advanced economies. Why? It's due to a double on-line whammy where media owners have not only had their classified advertising "rivers of gold" (and hence their payrolls) removed from them by the likes of E-Bay, but their relevance as an up-to-the-minute supplier of news has also been made redundant by everything from RSS Feeds to Wiki-Leaks.
According to former scribbler Malcolm Turnbull in a speech to the Advanced Centre of Journalism in December last year, 13,000 journalist jobs were cut in the USA between 2007 and 2011, largely a result of the consolidation of press ownership and the loss of advertising revenue to on-line media. In Australia it is estimated that more than 1000 journalist jobs have been lost in the same time.
"The Canberra Press Gallery for example has gone from 283 journalists in 1990 to 190 today. A decade ago the Sydney Morning Herald and Sun Herald had an editorial staff of 500 – now it is less than 300. The Age's newsroom has shrunk by a quarter over the last five years," Turnbull said.
This trend - from independent, paid media journalists to on-line "people's journalism" - is not just a vexation for Rupert Murdoch.
For professional communicators, who are either paid in-house staff or retained outsourced consultants and whose major KPI in the past has been getting column centimetres of coverage, this worldwide media phenomenon provides both opportunities and threats.
The opportunity is that as the number of journalists shrink in media outlets and resources are slashed, their time to hunt down stories, research them and draft articles of quality decreases, which means that credible, well researched media releases and news tips from PR people, are more likely to be published. Michie said 14 years ago that 80% of what appeared in the business pages and 40-50% of general news of UK tabloids had been either produced or directly influenced by PR practitioners. That figure can only have increased since the tightening of belts after the GFC.
Which leads to the major threat. Most senior public relations professionals in Australia are ex-journalists who have built their whole career on the aforesaid tried and tested formula of writing a story and pitching it to a mate, an approach which will rapidly become old hat in this brave new media landscape.
Our company has employed many former journalists over the years (indeed I am the last bastion of the Fourth Estate in our company) but these days we are more likely to seek out communications, psychology, sociology and marketing graduates who are good writers but who have also demonstrated skills in social media, design, web, copywriting and strategic event management.
Our approach has been to evolve our 19 year old consultancy from what would have been known in the early 1990s as a PR agency to an integrated brand communication firm today - a flexible, one-stop "comms" shop for businesses and government clients.
This has been a strategic decision enacted over a decade, and we believe we now have a structure and a service offering which not only meets today's communication demands from clients but is fleet of foot enough to adapt to whatever is thrown at us around the corner from a Silicon Valley nerd dreaming up a new Facebook or Twitter.
So what do we mean by integrated communication? An integrated strategy starts from the core premise of communication - building positive relationships between target audiences. The strategic process involves understanding more about the motivations and behaviours of those audiences (through research) and then refining the messages so that they connect with each audience.
At the essence of this message development process is an analysis of an organisation's brand - its unique selling proposition - and it often takes considerable discussion to get a client to recognise what that is.
It is only after the audiences and messages and brand values have been identified that an integrated communications professional will start considering tactics.
Naturally enough media will usually be one of the first tactics to be discussed - CEOs and Boards in particular like to see their photographs in the newspaper and they still have a predetermined view of what they think strategic communication is about in 2012...which is media.
A PR or media plan will identify: the most appropriate media channels to connect to the target audience (press, radio and TV); media types (such as trade journals, regional press and daily papers within the print category); the key journalists the client wishes to build relationships with and what sort of idiosyncrasies those journalists have when accepting media pitches; the likely story themes and topics over a six to 12 month period; the anticipated frequency of coverage; the expected geographic and demographic spread; and most importantly who will be the media spokesperson or "brand champion".
An advertising plan may also be developed to complement the "free" media coverage achieved through a PR plan and an event management plan is also usually created which will not just engage audiences at a face to face level, but also provide additional opportunities for media coverage such as launches and press announcements.
But as we have said, with the shrinking amount of media available, an integrated communication strategy in 2012-2013 doesn't stop there.
For example, there needs to be a complementary web or on-line strategy which starts with an audit of the existing website and a plan to update both the content and visual aspects which will support the messaging and attract the target audiences. Considerations such as easy navigability, the use of video (vodcasts) and audio (podcasts), complexity vs download speed especially for rural areas and e-business techniques to draw people to the website are all important.
A social media plan is also mandatory these days, extending communication from a one-way conversation to a two-way community interchange. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, iGoogle, YouTube, blogs and other media all have roles to play in engaging different audiences at different times and a specialist social media consultant will be able to advise on the most creative and targeted strategies.
In this era of iPads, tablets and SmartPhones, a contemporary communication strategy will also suggest ways of engaging audiences through SMS messaging or group buying schemes or even the development of a customised App which can provide vast amounts of catalogue type data at the press of a mobile button.
And even in this digital world there is still a need for printed marketing collateral - in fact many would say an increasing need for beautiful booklets, brochures, reports, even magazines, which can be touched, held and intrinsically valued by target audiences rather than trashed.
While this complex matrix of interlocking communication tactics does at first seem bewildering for clients, they need to be assured that not only will such an integrated campaign yield real behaviour change (not just awareness) but it will also be easier to measure.
Until ten years ago the success of a pubic relations campaign was measured entirely by the rather blunt subjective stick of newspaper cuttings.
Thanks to web and social media with its clearly defined metrics, measurement of success is now much more sophisticated and accurate.
Do you look after social media for your business?
Stop. Staring. At. Your. Computer. Right. Now.
Too often social media community managers spend time banging their heads on their keyboards thinking of their next status update, forgetting the very notion behind this digital kaleidoscope is about being SOCIAL.