Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Andrew McEvoy had the “balls” to be different

There was a moment in a presentation by Tourism Australia Social Media Director, Jesse Desjardins, at the Australian Society of Travel Writers AGM when I wasn’t sure whether I was being conned.

The very smooth-talking Jesse had just revealed that the infamous kangaroo-genitalia “cover up” had not been a case of political correctness but in fact a clever tactic to get the world’s media to talk about Australia via its most recognisable symbol – the kangaroo.

 “The censored image of Big Baz caused outrage on Facebook when it was posted by Tourism Australia,” said the Daily Mail in the UK, who obviously didn’t get the joke

While Aussie radio shock-jocks railed against the PC and nanny-state implications of the move, the images went viral and TV was covering it from one corner of the globe to the other. The common theme was that people were talking about Australia, something that traditional campaigns can rarely achieve.
Of course, ten years ago “Where the Bloody Hell Are You?” went global but for all the wrong reasons, where as kangaroos – whether they are fluffy, cute creatures or rather well-endowed bruisers – are quintessentially Australian and resonate with just about everybody.

Jesse said that the cover-up had been a deliberate strategy to attract viral social media attention, but more importantly he said that Tourism Australia MD, Andrew McEvoy, was in on the strategy and fully endorsed it.

It is that refreshing “bravery” and conviction that makes Andrew McEvoy’s departure from Tourism Australia disappointing. After the organisation had stumbled through much of the 2000s in a relatively directionless fashion, McEvoy recruited tourism experts who knew their field and then trusted their judgement to get the job done.

“Collaboration” was the hallmark of his four-year tenure. He knew that with limited budgets he needed private enterprise and state/regional tourism associations to be full partners in tourism promotion. That was put into practice when they followed-up Queensland’s remarkably successful “Best Job in the World” campaign with their even bigger “Best Jobs in the World” promotion that covered the whole of Australia and attracted 600,000 applications and more than 45,000 videos from nearly 200 countries..

It’s fair to say that much of the tourism industry hasn’t embraced social media successfully. In fact, many still see it as potential for negative comment and therefore use it only in tokenist fashion (“put the press release out on Facebook” is a favourite phrase of marketers who don’t get the medium). On the other hand, Tourism Australia was prepared to take a risk with their strategy, and the numbers from this promotion, as well as even-grander enterprises such as Oprah Downunder, proved they knew what they were doing.

I left Jesse’s session convinced that a once tortoise-paced organisation had begun to display gazelle-style stealth and rat cunning. The whole kangaroo episode was a result of a fortuitous opportunity from Featherdale Wildlife Park, who sent through a photo of Big Baz that would normally have been just another (good) photo on Tourism Australia's Instagram pages, but the social media team thought that a little pixilation in the right place could arouse considerable more interest than the naked photo, so to speak. And it did - in buckets.

That confidence of action only comes with a confident and pro-active MD who understands that attracting attention in an incredibly crowded media environment means taking risks.

He is heading off to Fairfax to head off their Events business, and if anyone needs entrepreneurial and cutting-edge acumen it’s Fairfax (after all, I persuaded my wife to buy shares in the company and they’ve lost 75% of their value since then, so I have a little self-interest in Andrew's future success).

Events are at the heart of Australia’s tourism future and anyone who was in Sydney during the recent long-weekend would have seen the impact of hosting major events. The Fleet Review, rugby league grand final and One Direction gave tourism and hospitality the ideal direction, with the city booked out in record fashion.

On these occasions you often hear people say “why don’t we have more new hotels built?” Well, there is a simple answer. Unless there is demand, there is no incentive to build, and Tourism Australia – under Andrew McEvoy – has understood this very clearly. He made Tourism Australia’s priority to drive business by encouraging major events and media buzz across all platforms.

“Under Andrew’s direction, Tourism Australia concentrated heavily on opening up new markets, attracting new airlines, stimulating tourism investment, encouraging an events-based tourism culture, and embracing new innovative, digital communication channels which have had demonstrative benefits for the industry,” said Tourism Accommodation Australia (TAA) Managing Director, Rodger Powell.

“Australia's tourism profile has changed dramatically in the four years that Andrew has been at the helm, and it must be remembered that for much of his tenure, Australia has had to cope with a very high Australian dollar, intense international competition and a persistently depressed world economy. Throughout this period, Australia has been able to build up inbound tourism from the rapidly emerging Asian economies, while also consolidating its presence in traditional markets.

“He has really driven a major cultural change in the way Australia pursues its tourism objectives, and with Chairman Geoff Dixon, this has led to major growth in air links with the rest of the world, and that is crucial for the longer-term development of the inbound industry.

“While we are sad that Andrew will leave the organisation, his successor will have the benefit of his hard work and foresight. Tourism is in excellent hands as a result of his dedication to the role.”

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