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May 1, 2009

Sell Tons of Travelers on Your Destination When No One is Traveling: Quinn PR Campaign Shows You How

By Frank Zeccola

Many travel and tourism companies find themselves in a similar quandary right now: No one is traveling. Even big deals and budget offerings are not enough to entice consumers to get out and see the world during these harsh economic times. And with X-factors like the Swine flu, it's even worse. Tourism advertising and PR firms therefore must go the extra distance to stand out and attract travelers.

One company that's doing an extraordinary job under these conditions is Tourism Queensland and their PR agency Quinn & Co. And while the focus on their PR campaign is destination travel, it's a case study for all companies and PR agencies struggling in the current economic climate.

The Challenge: Attract travelers to a far-off destination when no one is traveling. Tourism Queensland and Quinn, in a partnership with Queensland's ad agency, CumminsNitro, are running a minimum-investment promotion for Australia's Islands of the Great Barrier Reef as an aspirational destination. The genesis of the campaign was inspired by a previous Quinn campaign, covered a few weeks ago in this column, in which Quinn masterminded the "Chief Beer Officer" campaign for Four Points Sheraton. The idea was that Quinn and Sheraton held an online competition to find an ambassador for Sheraton's new premium beer offering program. That person would be known as the Chief Beer Officer, and would be in charge of creating new beer menus and being the "face" and spokesperson of the program.

Queensland and their ad agency, CumminsNitro, tweaked this premise a little and developed a campaign for "The Best Job in the World." And they hired Quinn to generate the media exposure: "They saw [the Chief Beer Officer campaign] and were inspired to come up with something that would draw attention to Queensland," says Quinn's executive vice president John Frazier. "They're competing for a share of business with traveling consumers—but consumers are not traveling right now. They wanted to do something that went big."

The Strategy: A YouTube Competition for "The Best Job in the World" as caretaker of Hamilton Island. The Queensland campaign had already been in the works for about a year before Quinn jumped onboard, and "We were brought on specifically to make it a media phenomenon," Frazier says. "Our role has been to make the story go worldwide."

The campaign that Queensland came up with was a job competition to become caretaker of Hamilton Island on the Great Barrier Reef. The caretaker would also blog about his or her experiences and adventures there, and would serve as a spokesperson of sorts.

"The idea was to have people apply for the job—which is a six-month gig that pays about a hundred thousand dollars U.S.," Frazier explains. "If you get the job, you hang out on Hamilton Island in a luxury house and blog about exploring the Barrier Reef and other adventures."

Aptly, they called it "The Best Job in the World."

"And it's a real job," Frazier stresses. "The winner would be an online personality who would speak for and represent the brand and destination. We were looking for someone who's media-genic and has those kinds of skills."

The only initial requirement was to submit a one-minute video explaining why you should be chosen as the caretaker of Hamilton Island. The videos were judged by the team at Queensland, and those contestants who made it to the next round would have to submit additional materials and take part in telephone interviews. "They were asked to demonstrate their knowledge of islands and their skills as a communicator," says Melissa Braverman, Quinn & Co. account supervisor heads of the Tourism Queensland account.

The finalists have been chosen, and they're all set for a final series of tests, which will take place in Australia beginning on May 6, 2009. And the competition is stiff: "Most of the finalists have online video shows," Braverman says. "For example, the finalist from the U.S. runs a blog called 'Geek Brief,' where she reviews consumer-tech products like iPhone apps. And several of the finalists from other countries are experienced TV journalists."

All contestants will be scrutinized by Tourism Queensland: "The finalists are judged on certain criteria, and while they're down there in Australia, they're taking part in interviews and activities," Braverman says. "It's a chance for them to meet the Queensland crew, and for the Queensland crew to get the chance to see how adventurous they are. The finalists will be taking part in a series of activities and exercises while they're down there blogging."

More great strategy: A press trip with a twist, integrated traditional and social-media tactics—and rapid response. Media outreach for the campaign was strategic and sophisticated: "We launched the campaign in January, and we wanted it to go global," Frazier says. "From a traditional PR standpoint, the best way to do that is to go for a wire hit—which is what we did. We offered the exclusive to Reuters. We underscored that it was an exclusive in the U.S., but it's a global story."

In addition, they offered a press trip to select media, but they did not tell them anything about the contest for the best job in the world. "We organized a global press trip with journalists from around the world," Frazier says. "We didn't initially tell them what they would be doing. Beforehand, we just told them it was a press trip to visit this destination." Then, during the trip, they announced the contest. "The journalists were first taken to the luxury quarters where the winner would live—and their jaws dropped. This reveal was beautifully constructed and orchestrated. The media could see all the activities the caretaker would be doing."

The invited media included "editors from Marin magazine, Best Life [which ran in Men's Health since Best Life folded], as well as an Atlanta-based writer, a freelancer, a blogger for GoNomad.com, a Quest magazine editor, the photo editor for Islands and an editor with Vacations," Braverman says.

The exclusive was under embargo with Reuters, but "fourteen hours early, a blogger from England wrote about it. The minute it ran, Reuters jumped the embargo."

The story instantly went global. "All of a sudden, Australia was buzzing about it," Frazier says. "When the rest of the world woke up, it just caught fire. By the time it was morning in England, for example, the AP had a video crew out interviewing the tourism person in London. Then, all the U.S. morning shows ran it."

The timing of the story was perfect: "It landed in the last quarter of last year, at a time when there were a lot of job losses and the stock market tanked," Frazier says. "And here's this shining star where anyone in the world could luck out with a one-minute video and have the chance to wind up with a huge salary at a great job for six months."

It all made for a media phenomenon—and led to an enormous response for applications and web hits. "In their wildest dreams, Queensland thought they would have to cap the number of applications at 30,000," Frazier says. "But the videos were flowing in, and they wound up accepting more than 34,000 applications."

Better, the contestants began promoting the story themselves: "Contestants started using their Facebook profiles and Twitter accounts to generate buzz," Frazier says. "The viral nature of it took off, and it ended up being so successful that people have logged onto the campaign from nearly every nation in the world."

Suddenly, they were overwhelmed with media interest: "It blew up so big that our job changed from pitching to vetting," Frazier says. "It was an overwhelming reaction. There was no way to predict it, and the site kept crashing and we had to come up with more and more robust computer systems. The videos were flying in at the last minute, and they had to extend the deadline and plow through the entries.

"The biggest challenge here," he says, "was keeping up with demand—just keeping up with the monster. The second day was wild. They got a millions hits to the website and it crashed the site. They put it back up with 10 servers to support the bandwidth. Everyone thought this campaign would work—but it worked outrageously well."

It was almost too much to keep up with: "The public at large responded so well, and it was a case of just managing it all," Braverman says. "Everyone was coming to us, so we had to be meticulous in making sure all the interview requests could be handled."

The Results: Nearly 700 million media impressions and massive hits to the website. Quinn & Co.'s work promoting "The Best Job in the World" campaign in North America continues to produce powerful exposure in the significant broadcast, print and online media, with total U.S. audience impressions equaling approximately 647 million and a growing total publicity value of about $12 million.

In addition, as of March 18, 2009, the Web site for the "Best Job in the World"(www.islandreefjob.com) had a total of 6.7 million visitors, with 26 percent or 1.7 million visitors logging in from the U.S. Global interest also sparked increased visitation to all Tourism Queensland Web sites and doubled monthly registrations for TQ's Image Gallery online.

A social networking frenzy began with 336,000 Facebook-referred Web site visits, more than 3,170 @Queensland followers on Twitter and over 338 members on the campaign's Wiki (islandreefjob.ning.com). By March 18, a total of 423,000 people (including 210,000 from the U.S.) had voted for their favorite top-50 finalist.

And about 34,684 candidates from more than 200 countries posted one-minute video applications explaining why each should be chosen as island caretaker.

"The keys to success here were timing and a great idea," Frazier says. "You can't get a better combination than that when it comes to PR. The timing hit the zeitgeist of uncertain economic times and the fantasy of the greatest job in the world. It was a great idea that hit at the perfect time. And it continues to be so."

The finalists will head down to Hamilton Island the week of May third 3-6. The winner will be announced on the 6th, and the job starts in July.

To follow the rest of the campaign and find out who gets selected as for "The Best Job in the World," check www.islandreefjob.com the week of May 3-6.

Secrets for success: Read on as Frazier and Braverman offer more tips and explain why this campaign has been so successful:

1. Get inspired and influenced by other successful campaigns to create your own original work—but don't outright steal the idea. "Don't play copycat," Frazier advises. "We've seen a number of copycats of this idea—for example, an airline tried to hire a pilot once—but none of them took off." The key: "It has to be original and relevant to the client," Braverman stresses. "For example, if you think of Australia, you associate it with exotic adventures. And they came up with an idea that exemplifies that. People dream of going to Australia—and this is all about experiencing that dream. Any campaign must speak to the client. A desk job would not have gotten people excited about this one. But if you're going snorkeling and exploring the barrier reef—that's why Australia is legendary."

2. Don't snub traditional PR in the social media craze: Foster a symbiotic relationship between on- and offline outreach. "When you're trying to get your message out, social media is equally as important as traditional media," Braverman says. "But you have to be really authentic in your messaging for both mediums." And while social media created the viral buzz that kicked off this campaign, "Traditional media is what made this really big," Frazier says. "Our traditional outreach landed on TV, as well as on AOL.com and CNN.com—which in turn kept the social media ball rolling."

3. Look to the wires to quickly and efficiently expand the reach of your story. "You can't beat a wire story," Braverman says. "I come from a broadcast background, and you can't beat a wire exclusive when you want to get your story out quickly and picked up by broadcast. Whether it's the AP, Reuters or any other wire, your story goes everywhere from the tiniest to the biggest."

4. Build your campaign's crescendo to a big reveal that offers a huge payoff. "Never underestimate the value of the big reveal," Braverman says. "I was there watching the response from the journalists when they heard what was taking place with the job contest. They were amazed. A well-orchestrated campaign that has an element like that—when you create an experience like that—you encourage the media and the public to tell that story. It gets people excited and engaged."

WINNER'S PROFILE: Quinn & Co. is a NYC-based public relations firm that specializes in the real estate, residential hotels and resorts, travel and food, wine and spirits industries. We produce result-oriented work that is both strategic and creative.

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