All publicity is…good? – Gerry Harvey is that Uncle you wanted when you were ten. The one who’d fly in from carving out a gold mine in New Guinea on Christmas Day, give you a shot gun wrapped with a greasy red ribbon and say ‘Hey Junior, want to try it on those pigeons? He opens the window, shoves in two shells, grabs you by the neck, thrusts the stock against your shoulder. You close one eye, take aim, start to squeeze the trigger and your mother faints and hits the floor. Fantastic.
True aussie bloke. Rugged leathery skin, ocker accent. Wide-open personality and absolutely no concern about consequences. Genius in his boldness. But also dangerous; a bus going downhill without a driver, smashing into anything that gets in it’s way. Could never get a job in corporate Australia, but employs thousands. Just goes to show you how out of touch the corporate world is with the realities of smelly, people-oriented retail.
He literally makes the news worth watching. He’s guaranteed to say something wrong/ controversial/funny if they just leave the camera running.
But his recent exercise promoting the implementation of a tax on off-shore, on-line purchases, generated a whole lot more publicity than the rag mags’ latest expose. Tenth most tweeted person on the globe. And almost all of them negative. Angry about him wanting to push another tax on us.
I can understand why he’s frustrated that off-shore purchases don’t get GST lumped on them. It must give retailers the shits that they have to compete on the world stage against nasty companies who have cool websites that pull money out of our pockets quicker than one of Gerry’s bogan recliners can get your feet higher than your bulging stomach.
I can understand why they think it’s not a level playing field – they have to pay tax, you have to pay tax. Why should overseas items be instantly 10% cheaper?
And here’s the rub. We don’t care. Australians have been ripped off for years by big retail. We know products are way cheaper overseas. We go on holidays. We shop on line. We talk. We know retailers just flip off to China and get stuff. Why shouldn’t we get that stuff from an American or Japanese company that is prepared to make only a 30% margin, than an Australian retailer who wants 100% or more on the same product?
And most of us are grimly aware this is just a tiny part of the bad behavior of big retail. Big retail have made no friends for years, screwing everyone from telco to product supplier – no favoritism – everyone is treated as the enemy by big retail. How many of you readers have been into their head offices, with your new marketing plans, having worked for months, only to have all your hard work spat back in your faces? “I can see you’ve put in some work Bob, but we’re rejigging the category, so you’ll have to wait until we announce that. Oh, and I think you’ll find there’s actually three U’s in Fuck You.”
Or Coles and Woolies beggaring small food /FMCG manufacturers by their Private Label junk pushing smaller brands off the shelves. So Mum’s Special Pudding (or whatever) doesn’t taste the same cause the main flavor ingredient went out of business.
We the people, having been at the nasty end of this rich brat behavior, have zero sympathy for big retail.
Gerry has learnt a very simple lesson. That the people are not stupid and that if a billionaire cries out about losing some money, we the poor are not going along with it. We’re not going to say ‘Oh, you’re right Gerry, we should pay more tax and higher prices’. So he’s publicly backed down.
January 2010 Gerry Harvey beats a retreat by Mathew Murphy. Mr Harvey goes on to say “because of my profile, I then get all these threats and people home in on me … billionaires, greedy, ugly, old, out-of-date, c—s, and the people writing this seem to think we have been ripping them off for years and that we deserve this”.
And this gets me around to the subject of this article – publicity. Is all publicity good publicity? I used to go along with Oscar Wilde “The only thing worse than people talking about you is people not talking about you”.
But technology has caught up. Technology gave birth to social media. Social media may kill or fertilize at the whim of the public. Where an issue blows up – we talk & get excited, business, especially retail, either blossoms or fades. Millions of us giving our opinion with massive credibility – true word of mouth at its finest. The consumer, the people, us, now get our opinions heard, thank God, or higher – Bill Gates?
It’s about you – your career
Lets put our motivations on the table; publicity is personal. A perfect life and more profit and power are produced by perceived prowess and professionalism, which are polished and promoted by publicity. That’s the 12 P’s of publicity.
Publicity is usually fabulous for R.O.I.. You can do it without any real budget, so it’s the first cab off the rank when you start anything. But you’ll need to advertise one way or another, to continue to get sales – to remind the public of why you exist and why they need you now.
And it works for sales, often despite the story
David Jones had a little PR problem during the year. Something about a court case? The CEO Mark McInnes had to fall on his sword, and it generated very negative publicity for the company and the brand. But would you be surprised to know that David Jones has posted 7.3% increase in sales for the 4th Quarter of 2010, as compared to the same time in 2009?
Damages the big guys more
There’s been a wave of catastrophe engulfing high-profile corporations over the last year – Toyota endured recalls, as did GM. BP now confronts the future with a new identity: progenitor of the worst oil spill in American history. So it can be tricky for big business. Big companies often don’t understand the critical nature of publicity. They have awareness and a brand personality by default. Even if it’s not one they want, and they employ people like me to tweak their brand’s positioning, they are still already way past the problem little guys always suffer from; obscurity.
Small Businesses need publicity most
If no-one has heard of you, they can’t put you on their shopping list. Brand positioning, CRM, media efficiency, the whole she-bang of marketing management is totally irrelevant if you have no awareness.
Awareness is the name of the game
Most companies, most people in Australia, are invisible to the rest of us. This has been the case since we stopped living in a village where we knew each other because we shared the same water well. There are now too many humans on this planet for us to know/remember more than a few thousand at a time. But for many marketers, but particularly Gen Y, it’s frankly, fame or death.
Social media is a voice for the millions who could not be heard before. We who didn’t either have the time, the story, the contacts or the position to be of interest to the rest of us. Andy Warhol quipped that we’d all get 15 minutes of fame in the future. Now, 50 years later, some six million Australians are on Facebook alone.
Comments about Gerry, from Linked in:- Paul Chappell: The positive take-out from this is that no business leader will ever underestimate the power of social media to tribalise and empower consumers. Gerry made the sort of mistake the retailer in Pretty Woman made when Julia walks into the store to spend up big. Presumption and ignorance has been his undoing.
Control is impossible
There’s a downside. Publicity is a raft without oars or rudder. When the wind blows fair and the seas are smooth, it’s a great journey. When things blow up in your face, you’re on your own. Even your best journo mates will turn their back on you – Prime Minister down, no-one is immune to being directly attacked or ‘taken out of context’.
Comments about Gerry, yes, taken ‘out of context’ from Linked in:-
Jennifer Bishop “As far as damaging the brand. Wholeheartedly agree. If one of the franchisees had made such comments I’m sure they would be swiftly whisked off to court in breach of TPA and contract law.”
How to do it nicely
It sounds like it could be fun to have an idea at 7 am and on the news by 8, but does it fit how we want to be seen? Is it a subject we should know about? Can we vaguely control the story? Will we be helping us or our opposition? Any of these questions would have been really good for Gerry to have considered.
Make it someone’s responsibility
Set tasks, deadlines, budgets etc and chase them up ruthlessly.
Journo’s and bloggers love and believe numbers. I can’t fathom why.
Anybody who’s work you like reading, who’s interviews or stories you like, is only an email or phone call away and they all need stories every day.
Use great photos
If you’re ugly, hire a really good photographer and stylist. NB. A factory is not beautiful, neither is a widget. 14 tones of mercury pouring into Botany Bay could be gorgeous if you’re the EPA and need to get the Minister on the 6 pm show.
Always take the moral high ground
There has to be a good reason. This is often not stuff you find exciting or that helps you make more sales or more money. It’s stuff other people find interesting or vital to know. The inability for most companies to remove themselves from talking about the self-serving and look at things as an outsider, is the chief reason the PR industry exists.
Get your timing right
Better to be in the news, ill-prepared, than to be well prepared with yesterday’s story, cause you won’t be there at all.
Get others involved
There’s always another girl or boy in the office who has a good idea, or for that matter, another company you could pick on for a war (my fav) or buddy up with.
Be witty and well-worded Being boring and badly worded just means you’ll send out a lot of press releases or tweets and not have any effect.
Be consistent in values
Like keeping a brand’s persona on track, it’s critical to keep to your values. Gerry Harvey normally takes the role of the ‘small businessman/ battler’, though he’s not been one for a very long time. ‘Small businessman/ battler’ implies ‘consumer’ and ‘fair-go’ cause most small business people are closer to consumers than corporates. But in this last pro-tax action, he jumped over and was seen to represent ‘big business’, so he lost his decent values and was instead covered head to foot in corporate scum, which is close to ‘rip-off’ and ‘don’t care’.
Ride the wild horse
Once you’re up and running with a story, you can’t try to steer things much other than with sensible leaks, quality rebuttals and well-timed bits of fact. Really, you have to let it be a debate with all the messiness that involves. Good to contact the major producers /journos/ bloggers/ editors with useful information too, but philosophically, you can’t dare look like you are trying to hold the reins, or the whole thing will throw you, like it did Gerry.
When the shit hits the fan, fess up and tell the truth. It is the only strategy that is always effective. Some other tactics work sometimes, but to quote someone – Teddy Rossevelt? “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time”.
From a blog, somewhere….on a product recall for James Boags:
“While we believe the risk to consumers is very low, we feel the only responsible action for us to take is to err on the side of caution and voluntarily recall potentially affected products in the best interest of protecting our consumers and customers, and maintaining our high quality standards,” Apparently, all affected beer can be returned to the place of purchase for a full refund or a replacement of ‘non-affected’ James Boags beer. My flatmate was watching at the time, and said ‘I’m just going to buy a heap of James Boags and claim that they are affected bottles. I’ll get heaps of free stuff.’ The fact that he was still talking about it ten minutes later, made me realise that it was far more successful than any advertisement could be. (And yes, I did see the glaring hole in his logic there; he’d had a few rival brews so he can be excused.)
Cover your bum
Every company has a bit of information they don’t want the world to know. If you’re going to shove your head above the rampart, and fire a few rounds at the world, for that nasty info you need water-tight data storage, excellent employment contracts and well thought through game plans for sensitive subjects, because they’ll eventually rise to the surface…oh, and good lawyers.
There’s never too much publicity
The line “You can never be too rich, too beautiful or too famous” was coined for publicity. It doesn’t matter how many shows, social media sites or newspapers you are on a day. The more, the merrier.
Push strengths – don’t whitewash weaknesses
Where many people go wrong is they generate a publicity angle about something they feel they need to fix. Say for example you’re a well-known, ‘flamboyant’ society doctor with a name like ‘Geoffrey Edelberg’ or similar. Better to turn a weakness into a strength with style.
The Australian Tourism Board’s “So where the bloody hell are you?” ad campaign was initially banned in the UK, but the publicity this generated resulted in the official website for the campaign being swamped with requests to see the banned ad.
Don’t believe your own publicity
Cause Gerry Harvey’s people said he was a ‘battler’ didn’t mean he could rely on always being seen as a battler. To have integrity, you have to live your publicity claim, not rely on it.