28 August, 2015

The music industry was simple but then....

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday August 27, 2015

In 1999 the music industry as relatively simple. An artist or band found a manager who persuaded a record label of their worth. Money was invested in producing an album and if it hit the spot millions of copies were sold making everybody rich.

But then along came Napster. Suddenly artists found that everyone was playing their music but noone was paying for it. Needless to say they were upset. Prophesies went out about the death of the industry. Not just the artist but the disk pressers, producers, album designers, promoters.

Big music studios shrank once every musician could run a full, multi-channel production board from their lap top and mix and prep their own music. The whole industry had to find a way to adapt, or die.

The legal battle with Napster was lengthy and intriguing. While some like Dr Dre and Metallica claimed their work was being stolen, others like Dispatch sold out three nights at Madison Square Gardens, and had world-wide success even though they had not been picked up or promoted by a major label. They claimed it was all thanks to Napster.

Eventually Napster was defeated and went bankrupt. But it severely dented the "make an album" pattern of music launching. So has the music industry really died? Well open your ears and you'll hear an awful lot of music that puts a lie to this.

In fact around the world anxious surveys have been carried out and figures analysed. It seems those faring the best are the creatives. Performers, musicians and writers have found their income today is much in line with the past, allowing some growth for inflation.

Taking US Census data, musicians are earning more for themselves than average. Much of this comes from the growth of live music. Performers are spending less and less time in dark studios recording, and much more out on stage playing.

Songkick books live concerts world-wide and they have calculated that between 1999 and 2014 live music income has risen from $14 billion world-wide to $42 billion. Today, touring provides artists with 80 per cent of their income.

The splintering of the record companies has seen a huge growth in musicians' self-employment. This group has grown by almost 40 per cent, while their total revenue has grown by 60 per cent. Taking an overhead snapshot, this shows that the industry itself has not changed a great deal in finance flow, including inflation. What is changing is who gets it and how.

The major capital requirement was always cash for the pressings and marketing. This required a big company, factories, sales force, distribution trucks.
But technology has blown this necessity away. Sure you can have a huge production with a symphony orchestra and Quincey Jones and massive expenses. But at the other end of the scale I can look at my own daughter, Justine Electra, an indie musician covering Europe and the US from her home base in Berlin. While the kids eat their dinner she's in the home office / studio surrounded by instruments and computers, compiling her next album.

From the same computers it goes out to a world-wide fan base on the internet. Recording, manufacture and distribution from a Berlin apartment.
The big EMI stores have gone, replaced by iTunes and streaming. But there are still talented people out there creating the music and playing to a vast world audience, including you and me.


09 August, 2015

Are there harbingers of failure in every market?

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday August 6, 2015

I’ve always had a leaning to orphans. I’m not alone in this - you may even recognise yourself here (or swear you are the exact opposite) - but I hate buying things just because everybody else does. For example I still drive my old Mazda Eunos. Is there anyone else still drives that marvellous car? I’m sure you could count them on your fingers and toes. But I love it and cling on even as the age becomes increasingly obvious.

But then I’m not one of those who queue for days for the latest Apple. I don’t even possess an iPhone or an iPad.

But I find there’s a whole marketing category that shares my oddness. They seem to unerringly find the product that nobody else wants, in the long run. They were pinpointed in a report in the American Marketing Association’s Journal under the title Harbingers of Failure. In other words, those who keep taking the road less travelled and can be a ready indicator of disaster.

The researchers, Eric Anderson of Northwestern University and three colleagues from MIT, claim that they found, “Some customers systematically purchase new products that flop. Their early adoption of a new product is a strong signal that a product will fail - the more they buy, the less likely the product will succeed.

“Firms can identify these customers either through past purchases of new products that failed, or through past purchases of existing products that few other customers purchase.”

To put a positive spin on it, he adds: “We discuss how these insights can be readily incorporated into the new product development process. Our findings challenge the conventional wisdom that positive customer feedback is always a signal of future success.”

This is a real torment for a marketer. Usually we carefully watch for early sales and then jump up and down and party when they materialise. But this can be quite the wrong reaction. If our vastly expensive new product launch depends on its success on the word of these Harbingers, we are marching our baby into the valley of Little Big Horn.

These remarkable findings were revealed after the analysis of tens of millions of purchases by 127,000 customers in 111 US stores. The criterion was that a product should be launched and eventually disappear from the major purchases section within three years. We have long known that 40 per cent of products will fail this test - and only a small number will survive into the future. But how could they pass through the thorough market reseach tests before then?

It could be that these Harbingers are a reason. They respond enthusiastically at the newness, the creativity, the niche placement of the product - whether it be a grocery item or a major piece of software - and the marketers rub their hands with glee. We’re on a winner! Yes, but, the rest of the market quickly climbs off this wagon and the expected triumph never happens.

What’s lost is not just the flopped product, but the precious shelf space it held through its death cycle - hugely valuable and denied to some other product in the queue that might have been a hit.

The good news is, say the researchers, that by identifying products that appeal to the Harbingers, you can avoid them and find more of the future winners.

30 July, 2015

Between couch and cruise there are a million holidays waiting for you

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday July 30, 2015

In the depth of winter there's no better recreation than planning the summer holiday. As the chilly wind blows outside, a sunny stack of brochures, magazine articles and maps create a certain glow.

The hotel and travel trade are well aware of the season and now is the time for a deluge of advertising for cruises, sandy beaches, German river tours or Asian adventures. The world's travel and hospitality industry is a trillion-dollar business where competition is intense.

As a rough split, you get the Baby Boomers - well heeled with mortgages paid, nests empty, and either well-paying senior jobs or fat super income. They're the ones who fill those massive floating palaces that sail the Mediterranean - and have dwarfed Station Pier in Port Melbourne.

Mums and dads with kids are a lower price category. I can still remember when colleagues of mine would pack the tribe off to Rosebud for the summer, and drive down to join in at the weekends. Do they still do that? These days they are more likely to buy a packaged fortnight in Bali or Vietnam.

But the group that has most recently attracted attention from the travel world is the millennials. Born in the 80s and 90s, they are now financially into their stride. Like the boomers, they make good money and have no kids or mortgages (surprising how many still live with mum and dad). One thing they love is to spend and have fun. Exactly what the travel industry exists for.

So take a look at hotels and you will see a lot of them working on their decor. Making them trendier, putting in contemporary restaurants, opening their bars late-night with powerful loudspeakers; they're extending gym facilities and even giving yoga classes.

These tech-savvy guests naturally expect free wi-fi, but also use apps on their smartphones to check-in, open doors, order room service and concierge bookings. They scour Facebook, Instagram, and the social media for opinions and reviews. Consequently, all the big hotels and chains have their own media specialists making sure that opinions stay nice.

The millennials have now started to overtake the baby boomers in numbers world-wide. Here in Australia Morgans counted their numbers at 26 versus 23 per cent. And of course the millennials are on a growth curve, while the boomers are beginning to shuffle off the page.

You get cheaper holidays at the younger end of the scale. Airbnb is only seven years old yet it has more than 1,000,000 listings in 34,000 cities and 190 countries. Current evaluation is $20 billion. Not bad for a business started in 2008 with three air mattresses in Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia's San Francisco apartment. Airbnb can cost from $80 a night.

But what about a holiday where the accommodation is free? Another post-millennium phenomenon, Couchsurfing International was formed in 2003. Ten years later it numbered 5.5 million registered members and you can suppose that growth has been exponential since then.
Here you (often literally) sleep on the host's couch, enjoying their friendship and hospitality - and hopefully making them delighted with their new friend from Australia. In my twenties I surfed many couches as I travelled India and south-east Asia, making some wonderful friends and discovering life in a foreign world from the inside. It was one of life's founding experiences - yes, I'd recommend it.

23 July, 2015

Which washes whiter, advertising or journalism?

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday, 23 July, 2015

I'm asked how I find the difference between working in advertising and journalism. Don't I find that advertising is much more deceitful, that you have to lie for a living? My response is, actually it's the other way round. In advertising you are much more tightly bound in what you can say or do and what you can get away with.

When journalists are dragged before a tribunal it's usually for a pretty serious business. With advertisers, it's so often for a ridiculously petty business.

For example, last month the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) tried Publicis Mojo for a Nestle Condensed Milk ad which showed a man in a kitchen cooking up a table full of cakes and biscuits. He's only wearing an apron which is just as well as he's making an awful mess of the kitchen around him. The cakes look good though.

The accusation was that the ad was "very sexist". It was using a man in a sexual manner to promote a product, which, had the roles been reversed, "would not be acceptable". Now wait a minute, because this was a bloke cooking in an apron, he's doing what we would never show a girl doing ...d'you think? And this is politically incorrect. Well I would have said it was fun, or silly - but sexism wouldn't enter my mind. Fortunately the tribunal were equally pure-minded and dismissed the case.

To be dragged before the Press Council you must by accused of much more serious issues than a man making cakes in an apron. If you look through adjudications over the past year you will find some truly serious questions. Like The Weekend Australian being taken to task over a front page photo from the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17.

This is always a difficult question for editors. You want to register the seriousness of the tragedy. But can you show bodies in the picture? In this case there were two or three clothed figures in the foreground. One was apparently female and lying on her side with an elbow in the air. Another figure appeared to be partially covered by plane wreckage, but the nature and colour of their clothing was distinct.

It reported: "The Council considered the graphic depiction of bodies was likely to cause substantial offence and distress to a significant number of people, especially as many victims were Australian.

"It also considered, however, that the nature and scale of the disaster, including many Australian fatalities and the controversy about its cause, provided a very strong justification in the public interest for powerfully conveying the tragic consequences.

You can understand the difficult choice and why, "the Council did not consider there was a clear breach of its Standards."

Advertising to children is on a particularly tight leash these days. Coca Cola have just fought a battle over a campaign which compared drinking Fanta to an "awesome ride", a "bubble explosion" and "busting out to my favourite beats".

The ASB found that the commercial breached industry guidelines by advertising the fizzy drink to children. Coke responded that no, these aren't kids they are 17 year olds. "The Fanta Crew are visually depicted as older teens by their body shapes, hairstyles ...body language, gestures, accessories and ‘tools of play' (such as electric guitars and skateboards). They have 15 – 17 year old appeal."

The ASB didn't buy this and the commercials were pulled. There's no wriggle room for deceit in advertising.

16 July, 2015

Touch up Helen Mirren at your peril

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday July 16, 2015

Helen Mirren is a beauty who has been admired since she first started acting, in her teens. From the early days at the Royal Shakespeare Company to the West End and countless movies like Excalibur and Gosford Park, even as the grim Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect, and more recently as the Queen on stage and screen - she always carried herself glamorously.

Then she made some commercials and ads for L'Oreal's Age Perfect moisturising cream - and was accused of being retouched. She was unhappy with the call, her employer even more so. They insisted that it is the real Helen there, but skilfully made up by a top make-up artist as you would expect for any photo shoot.

A viewer complained to Britain's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) that the actress's wrinkles, specifically around her mouth, had been airbrushed. L'Oreal responded with four red carpet images, demonstrating that Dame Helen's appearance was consistent with the commercial; and said no post-production techniques had been applied.

The advertising watchdog upheld the company's claims: "We considered that the ads had not altered Ms Mirren's appearance in a way that would exaggerate the likely effect that could be achieved by consumers' use of the product, and concluded that the ads were not misleading," they said.

It comes as a nice birthday gift for next week, when she turns 70.

In the ad she strides the streets in a leather bikie jacket and cool blonde bob, even sliding a sly look at a much younger man at the parapet. This girl sure ain't shuffling to Centrelink.

Her attitude is reflected in the consistent growth of the $4 billion Australian cosmetics market, and the rapid emergence of "anti-aging" products like the Age Perfect range.

A recent Roy Morgan survey found 13 per cent of respondents searched out anti-aging properties, and as you would expect, the interest starts with the over 35s. And of course the competition can be harder for women.

Twin sisters Lexie and Lyndsay Kite are both PhDs and they run a Web program called "Beauty Redefined". They talk about "Invisible Women Over 40", the age when women can disappear from view. Those age problems like wrinkles and sags and spots are so important to them, but not to men, it seems. Grey hair that looks "distinguished" in a man is vetoed in women by cosmetics companies, they say, because "Grey hair doesn't make anyone any money".

Hollywood clearly makes this distinction. Digital magazine Vulture.com surveyed ten top stars and their movies. For example, when Liam Neeson was 18, in a movie Darkman, his love interest was Frances McDormand aged 33. At 42 he had Jessica Lang and Meryl Streep, both 46 (in Rob Roy and Before and After). Then just this year - he's 63 - his lover is Olivia Wilde, aged 29, in Third Person.

Virtually the same graph is repeated for the other stars: Denzel Washington, Harrison Ford, Johnny Depp, George Clooney, Richard Gere, Steve Carell, and Brad Pitt. Most are 10 to 20 years older than the girl. Tom Cruise had three early years as the young ingenue to be seduced by an older woman but by the time he met Nicole the Hollywood balance was reasserted. In Far and Away he was 29, she was 24.

So let's be grateful that there is a stable of strong female stars and entertainers who still command audiences though they are over 40. Salute Meryl, Nicole, Gwyneth, Julia, Cameron, Madonna, Kylie, Cate, Toni. And of course, "Happy Birthday Helen".

09 July, 2015

Sunny Australian causes commuter protests - how the world has changed

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday July 9, 2015

If you happened to have travelled the London tube in recent months you would have been confronted by an outstanding example of Australian beauty. Wearing a teeny yellow bikini, against a yellow background, the head to knees image of Renee Somerfield asks, "Are you beach body ready?" Lined next to her is the Weight Loss Collection by Protein World.

You would have thought that the Aussie girl's fresh looks would brighten up the morning of Londoners in the cool early Spring. But not all of them. An angry campaign developed on social media protesting against the ad for its showing an "unhealthy" female body.

The case went to Britain's Advertising Standards Authority, which received 378 complaints on a range of issues including that she was a “very slim, toned” model. They called the headline controversial because it implied other body shapes were inferior, and called the image promoting a slimming product as "socially irresponsible".

The Authority dismissed the claims, though not totally approving the ad. But already the campaign had moved to the US and caused another grand protest when the poster displayed on Times Square. Once again there was an outcry and demands that it be pulled down.

The image brought back another photo that you will remember whatever your age, even though it appeared 53 years ago. Statuesque Swiss actress Ursula Andress stepping out of the Caribbean surf in a white bikini, in the first James Bond movie, Dr No. Way back then, the image helped make the movie such a huge success. Ursula became a world star and the poster went up on every schoolboy's bedroom wall.

Side by side the two shots could be identical. Yet one was praised, the new one is loathed - what has changed in the world?

Ursula was an icon of her age: the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beach Boys, Carnaby Street, Haight-Ashbury, free love and youth power. Today it's more yoga and vitamins, whole foods and organics. Metaphorically we have circled from the cavaliers to the puritans.

I'm afraid I can't see what is offensive about a beautiful girl on a billboard. Handsome young men in a poster don't leave me feeling upset or inadequate. I feel no urge to cover their pecs. I decided many years ago that I'd never make a candidate for the Chippendales, so there Is no void in my heart.

I enjoy the Dove "real women" campaigns, but not to the exclusion of ads that show aspirations for perfection. In the big world of advertising there is room for both.

Some of the American protest tweets get very aggressive. "Get your sharpies out. Deface the ads you see on the subway." says one blogger.

This is the thinking of the ISIS terrorists destroying Syrian monuments, or the Afghan Taliban blowing up the Buddhas at Bamiyan. Would the protesters take their hammers to the Venus de Milo or boxcutters to Botticelli's Birth of Venus?

Let's get real. Some people are born more beautiful than others, and are a joy to watch and admire. Enough of the bitch slaps!

Of course advertising always wins in the end. The controversy has raised months of media visibility and Protein World sales have soared around the world. In fact the company claimed that the UK controversy made them enough to pay for the US campaign. As PT Barnum has been credited: "There is no such thing as bad publicity."

02 July, 2015

Too much TV can turn your tummy

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday July 2, 2015

Not a day goes by when you are not dazzled by a billboard or commercial or magazine insert or newspaper wrap-around promoting the show-biz joys of the pay TV and video channels.

From Stan and Foxtel, Netflix and Presto, the services are growing in number, offering more, and charging less. The new season's shows and movies are dangled at us, the magazines filled with gossip about the stars, the release dates of shows, the romantic entanglements - it's all full-on.

The choice is overwhelming. So many programs, these days featuring stars you would have only seen at the movies, like Kevin Spacey or Danny de Vito, or Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. In fact the new season of House of Cards has just been released on Netflix, available complete - so you could binge on it all in one session. Better make that a long weekend, though, there are 13 episodes.

Actually the thought of watching a whole series in one go makes my tummy twitch. Too rich, too rich.

However, this is a growing trend in the US which is now becoming available here with the advent of new broadcasters.

The TV folks are clever, though. They watched on the sidelines as the music industry was torn apart by piracy and failed attempts to control it. Millions were spent in the law courts against Napster and the multitude of pirates, yet the industry is still crippled and artists too poorly compensated.

Piracy is rife in TV as well of course. But for the most part, the broadcasters have played it smartly. They looked at their customers. What do they want, rather than what do we want to give them?

They want to see the TV shows here at the same time as in the US. OK that can be done. They want to be able to binge. All right, that's the way it is moving now. They do appreciate that content must be paid for - the actors have to eat - but at affordable prices.

This is why you are now seeing Stan at $10 a month, Foxtel offering bargain basement deals, Netflix putting out high quality, freshly minted shows with star actors for $8.99.

Pay TV has changed considerably in recent times. No longer do you have a score of channels with nothing worth watching. You don't just have The Brady Bunch and M.A.S.H (though they're still there) but fresh new content that people actually watch and in classic TV-speak, "talk about around the water cooler".

Of course there is a reason why they have lifted their game. Last week saw Parliament pass its anti-piracy law, forcing the eventual blockage of the popular pirating sites like Pirate Bay and KickAss Torrents. ISPs like Telstra and iiNet will be stopped from allowing their customers to access the sites.

As, gradually, more pirate doors are shut, the broadcasters are waiting with open arms for the customers to turn to them. And the sharp programming and affordable pricing should make it a painless conversion.

Of course, not having much faith in our regulators, I expect that some sites will be excluded which are perfectly legitimate and there will be lots of shouting over the borderline cases.

But I do believe our creative industries should be protected, and like the ad says at the start of the DVD movies, our actors and program makers deserve to be paid for what they produce.

25 June, 2015

I coulda bin a contender!

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday Jun4 25, 2015

Do you have a neglected, half-forgotten skill littering the attic of your mind, long ago discarded but still there? Perhaps once you were a hot shot at the bowling alley, or a crowd-stopper on the dance floor? Maybe there were a couple of summers when no-one in the family could beat you at table tennis or you held all the top scores in the beach cafe's Space Invaders machine. That brief time when you were the king or the queen in one ability.

Then life and studies and home building got in the way and those skills passed into neglect. But you look back and think: "Gee, I coulda bin a contender!"

I was reminded of this while I was trawling the internet and came across a Pitman's Shorthand site. I struggled to read the first few lines written in the dashes and curves and squiggles, but quickly it came back to me and I started to read it fairly easily. Some of the short forms and contractions slowed things down, but even those I began to remember.

So I should. I have certificates in it from the time when you couldn't do your journalism cadetship till you'd achieved at least 80 words a minute shorthand. For several years I covered courts and lord help you if you ever miss-quoted a statement. But where did it go?

Perhaps you spent years trudging through all weathers to piano lessons, or ballet classes. Perhaps you developed a passion for photography and spent hours in darkened rooms processing and printing film. That knowledge is still within you, just jammed into a trunk and covered in dust.

Like my shorthand. I've always used scrappy bits of it when in meetings or taking notes at a client's table but I could never cover a full court case as I used to do easily when I was 20.

Your skill is an old love that has faded away, and maybe it's a symptom of the things that aren't going right in your life. Have you lost touch with the basics that used to make you happy?

Tell you what I've done. Followed it up on the internet - all the answers are somewhere there - to bring myself up to date with the shorthand world. I haven't seen my stenographer's pen for 30 years so I bought a new one, and am delighting in fiddling with it. The internet sites have hours of dictation practice and an on-line Pitman's dictionary. So with any spare minutes I'll put in a bit of practice.

What about you? It might be too late for break-dancing but how about zumba? Or visit Allens and find some modern pieces of piano music you'd like to learn and could impress the kids. Visit some of the thousands of photography sites on the web and learn how to shoot great portraits, or sports, with the thousand-dollar camera you never really leaned how to use.

Maybe in the back of a wardrobe there's a half-finished Spanish galleon that never got completed or painted. Probably the tiny paint pots, half of them never opened. Or the forgotten sewing machine and that bag of fabric that was the start of a new dress. The skill's still there in the back of your head and depth of your fingers - why not revisit them to pass the long winter nights?

18 June, 2015

The world's most complex problems can have simple solutions

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday 18 June, 2015

Many of the world's greatest problems don't need vast investments to solve them. Sometimes relatively simpler, cheaper solutions are faster and more effective.

Take communications in the third world. If you've travelled some of the backblocks of Asia you will know how unreliable the phones can be. The rich world spent a century and countless billions in cash creating the telephone network we have grown up with. It's a world grid built from telecom pits and billions of tons of copper, to satellites and trans-ocean cables. How are the poorest countries in the world, like Haiti or Samoa, ever going to catch up?

Well I wrote about the answer seven years ago, and now I've taken another look to see whether the ideas have proved as brilliant as they appeared. Yes, they are working.

Fourteen years ago controversial Irish communications entrepreneur Denis O'Brien bought the mobile phone rights for Jamaica. He immediately built hundreds of phone towers throughout the island and virtually gave away mobile phones to any peddler or farmer who asked. In 100 days he had distributed 100,000 phones. He then played the same routine on Haiti, Grenada, Barbados and most of the Caribbean islands, then Fiji, Tonga, Papua New Guinea and across the Pacific.

All these countries could never afford a conventional telephone system. Yet mobiles jump right over the copper mountains and now every yam farmer or reef fisherman could afford the few dollars a month for their phone cards. They are now in modern business.

Take this unconventional attitude to our many other pressing problems. How is the world going to defeat deadly carbon pollution and climate change? Well a few months ago I started writing about Elon Musk and his better battery. Suddenly the other papers and TV stations have picked up the news. Eventually even our politicians may listen. You don't need millions in nuclear power plants or coal generators. Panels on the roof, windmills on the hills and batteries in the homes and sub-stations, will do the job. It just needed time for science to notch up the capacities, but that's happening now.

More public transport is the answer to our slow traffic and jammed roads. We don't want diesel buses or more freeways creating pollution. But solar roofs and Tesla-type battery technology can simplify trains, trams and buses and get rid of the smog and those overhead wires.

Just a couple of years ago, my colleagues would be ringing the funny farm, for writing such science fiction in a serious newspaper. But already you have seen so much rapid progress and development that you know you can't laugh it off any more.
Stand in the supermarket queue. Do you realise that less than half the customers ever pull out any cash? And by the way, the card they flick across the terminal has a chip on it that will - before long - carry your biometric identity (eyes or fingerprints), all your club, credit, and computer cards, your Medicare including your full health history, your blood group and foot size and passport - oh and it already has your financial history. All in one little plastic card.

In your business, look out for the simple solutions. Like the changes that Uber and its like have made to the taxi industry. Or the way that Airbnb has transformed the travel-and-hotel business. They are spin-offs from the computer and mobile phone advances - simple. Yet revolutionary.

12 June, 2015

How to use being famous to make yourself even richer

Melbourne Herald Sun, June 11, 2015

In our competitive marketplace it's so hard to give your product a strong identity, so that customers will recognise it immediately, even seek it out. How much easier if you are already known by the public.

Which is why some of our very smart entertainers are also first-class business brains. Launching a coffee brand is as competitive as it gets. When Hugh Jackman met coffee grower Dukale in Ethiopia he was moved by the quality of the coffee - and the back-breaking work and small reward the farmer earned. So in New York he started a company, Laughing Man Coffee, and a café in the Tribeca quarter which has become hugely popular.

Now Jackman has taken it a step further and partnered coffee company Keurig to sell the products world-wide.

Aussies have proved particularly good at parlaying celebrity for business success. Look at Elle Macpherson (it's hard not to). Quite apart from the huge earnings as a supermodel for 34 years, her Elle Macpherson Inc controls calendars, TV programs, workout videos, her world-ranking Intimates range, cosmetics, sun creams, and when she was breast-feeding her second baby she designed maternity bras.

Last year saw the end of her 25 years' partnership with Bendon Ltd, including chief marketing officer and creative director. She's not just The Body - when she started modelling she was studying law.

Another successful businesswoman in her own right is Gwen Stefani. Apart from her three-decade career on stage, she put her knowledge of brilliant costumes to good use, creating the clothing label L.A.M.B. She also became a spokesperson for L'Oréal Paris after creating a successful perfume range, and licenses toys to Mattel. The last Forbes income list put her at over $30 million.

I've previously marvelled at the marketing powers of Simon Cowell, and his numerous Midas-touch adventures like One Direction and Il Divo, spin-offs from the X-Factor franchise he created, besides the America/ Britain/ Australia's Got Talent spins. He's a money machine on legs.

But the star entrepreneur is not a recent phenomenon. At the end of the war, Herb Alpert created his Tijuana Brass and made millions, which he used to create A&M Records.

Robert de Niro looks always comfortable in a restaurant (except when the Mob's coming for him). Maybe that's why he has been so successful with his Nobu sushi restaurants - there are now 24 of them around the world.

Another to combine work and play is Clint Eastwood. He created his luxurious Mission Ranch Hotel in Carmel California. And later proceeded to become mayor. Amongst many other business interests, he also owns two golf courses and makes an income of $40 million a year.

But ultimately there's no beating the velvet crooner Bing Crosby. As the fee for making radio commercials for Minute Mail Frozen Orange Juice, he took shares - which eventually were worth millions, and he became distributor for the entire western United States.

Having an interest in sound technology he followed the Americans' work on magnetic tape inventions taken from the defeated Germans. Soon he was distributor for Ampex Corporation. This led him to explore the development of tape - so he was an early investor in 3M.

He bought into television stations, real estate, oil exploration. Even his ranch in Nevada turned out to have oil in it. All those quips Bob Hope makes about Crosby's huge fortune? They weren't jokes; when he died in 1977 he was said to be worth close to $100 million.

04 June, 2015

FIFA soccer girls play in real life and on screen

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday June 4, 2015

FIFA, the International Football Federation, is grabbing the front page headlines right now, with 14 of its committee members and sports marketing executives indicted by the FBI. Then there has been the storm over the re-election of Sepp Blatter as president, against the votes of the association's biggest backers - and his subsequent resignation.

Yet in the midst of this comes a ray of positive news. At last we will have women in the EA FIFA 16 computer game. Even an Australian women's team.

In case you are not aware at how earth-shattering this is: over 13,000 petitions have bombarded FIFA from all over the world. The EA Sports soccer is one of the most successful video games of all time. It has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide, in 51 countries and 18 languages.

The video game industry is bigger than the music industry. It is also pretty pirate-proof because to play a game like FIFA on your Xbox, PlayStation or smartphone, you need to be constantly in the flow of the game as you trade players and challenge other teams. It's a very complex world and if you want to fully participate, you have to play straight.

The FIFA Women's World Cup - the one played by real live girls - starts this Saturday 6th in Canada, while our virtual computer girls will launch in September along with the newest FIFA16 edition of the game which is expected to sell 20 million units.

If you have never played this game you would be stunned by the detail and reality of its animation. The characters, and their moves, are created using the most modern digital graphic techniques. Actual moves are shot with key points on the body marked by reference lights mounted on black costumes. These enable the animators to capture the utmost subtlety of movement as the player runs, kicks, saves, tackles, dribbles, shoots.

From each team the players have digitally-mapped faces that shout, call, smile, groan - in response to the action. The Matildas' superstars, Samantha Kerr, Lisa De Vanna and Kyah Simon, have spent hours in front of cameras being digitally recorded to make near-perfect avatars.

If you remember my piece on "run like a girl" - well the way these girls run, you can only wish you had the energy. The release will feature 12 women's national teams, including the US, Canada, Germany, UK and of course Australia.

While the women can play against each other, and players can be moved to create "world's best players" teams, they cannot play against the men. Why not? "Keeping in line with how women’s football is played in real life at this level, women’s national teams can only compete against each other," said an EA Sports spokesman.

This opening to girls was inevitable. The fact is, gaming is no longer the sport of teenage boys avoiding their homework. The Entertainment Software Association has stated that 47 per cent of players are women - twice as many as boys aged 17 or under. In the US, 40 percent of soccer players are girls. It's a preferred sport in many schools, being perceived as less physical than grid-iron.

So it is being hailed: "Bringing some of the best women's players and teams in the world to our franchise is a massive event for us," said David Rutter, vice president of EA Sports.

28 May, 2015

The market generations keep moving on

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday May 28, 2015

So you're having problems connecting your product to your market. Everything you try doesn't quite seem to make the link, what's wrong with you?

Well the problem I'm afraid, is not you. It's the market. Or the diffuse nature of it.

Remember all the stuff I talk about generation this and generation that? And how you have to alter your message, and the medium, accordingly? Well if you think it's complicated - yes it is. It's not just a matter of one approach for the kids and one for the adults; one for the men, one for the women; one for the affluent, one for the battlers.
Nowadays all these categories are fractured too, and it's all the fault of our modern world. It's moving too quickly and every time you think you have a fix, blink and you'll be wrong.

Once you could control things. By the TV station or newspaper you chose to broadcast in. Then along came the internet which carved up what used to be predictable "linear" time: any night of the week you knew which programs were coming and whether they would appeal to your market. Well that simplicity has long gone.

Google and Facebook have carved up a great quantity of this time too. Generation Xs are not so easily caught by TV, but you can find them on the social media. But wait a minute - "the Millennials" have arrived, those born a couple of years before and after 2000 and they have already moved on. You'll find them on Instagram, Snapchat or now Periscope. And they are totally different to their older siblings. (Not to mention their parents - they're not even visible over the horizon.)

They dress more exotically, eat more adventurously, shop by their phones as much as the shops, treat life as a moving feast. Just wait till they grow some more and start having real spending power, then you will see movement.

The smart marketers are already starting to accommodate their exotic tastes. Brands like H & M and Zara turn over their stock fast. If you don't grab it this week, probably next week it won't be there. But nor will the customer. They are used to instant action and if they don't get it, they will just turn away and call up your competitor on the mobile that lives in their hand.
Don't ask me why but they've taken to spice. Have you noticed Pizza Hut, these days promoting "El Scorcho" and "Blazing Pepperoni"? Nandos have built their empire on chillies. Now the spices of Szechuan, the tom yum of Thailand, the jalapenos of Mexico have created a passion for flame throwers. Even McDonalds have a jalapeno burger now.

Our Millennials have a new set of heroes. Some months ago I wrote about "vloggers". Well these stars of YouTube and Blogger are the touchstone of this generation. Their influence is very strong but if you can link through them, the effect is exponential. Through their constant social interaction, there is no such thing as telling just one person. If they like it, the news is broadcast to their wide circle of friends. But of course, it can also work the other way round - bad news also travels fast.

Sorry to make life harder for you, but if you want to be successful you'll have to keep up with your fast-moving, ever-changing customers.

21 May, 2015

Even downunder, we knew the Madness

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday, May 21, 2015

Who would have thought, eight years ago, that viewers could be enthralled by the doings of an advertising agency? Sure, for years we watched dramatisations of cop shops, newspaper and TV empires, even law firms. But an advertising agency?

Well this show put the spotlight on the renaissance in advertising of the late 60s, especially at its spiritual heart, Madison Avenue. The home of the Mad Men.

As a young blood in a colonial outpost, New York did not feel so far away to me. Besides, the thrills and spills of Mad Men the TV show, that played its final episode this week, were more than matched in distant Oz.

Remember the time when Stirling Cooper won the John Deere account, and celebrated by driving a mini tractor through the office? It took me back to a day at the all-conquering Masius Wynn Williams, Melbourne, when a motor bike was offered as a competition prize. It was brought in for photography, shiny and new, and our most ardent motor bike lover, the chief writer, jumped on and roared around the agency office corridors. He could get away with it because he was our star writer - Peter Carey, now a New York professor and two-time Booker Prize winner.

They joked you could become a passive smoker just by watching a few episodes of the TV show. Well that's how it was. Every typewriter and drawing board had a spent volcano of cigarette buts beside it and I could name (but won't) some agencies where the smoke was more exotic.

Mad Men conveyed well the feeling of the era. Compared to other young people on the business ladder, we were well paid, well dressed (suits for the 'suits', 'trendy' for the creatives) and could afford flash cars. All the beautiful girls wanted to go to the ad parties or be a secretary in front of an account executive's office just like Joan Harris. This was before Twiggy, and girls still had curves.

The serious fact was that agencies had many more major roles held by women. A smart girl could progress faster and further in advertising than in industry or banking. When faced by sexism, ad girls could hold their own.

Enormous time, effort and money went into 'the presentation'. You could spend much of your time working on speculative campaigns that would never see the public. Mock TV commercials were filmed, research was commissioned, elaborate strategies planned - only to have the client decide on your opponent's campaign, which of course you then told each other could not be as good as yours.

Mad Men captured this mood well - the disappointment of waiting for your campaign's approval only to read in the trade press that the opposition would be appointed. Or the ecstasy of getting that phone call telling your team 'we've won!'

A lot depended on the presenter. Someone like Don Draper could capture the client and thrill him into giving you the account on the spot. Remember when he invented 'Carousel' as the name for Kodak's new slide projector? The presentation and campaign almost ignored the technical features but homed in on the audience's emotional response to their family memories.

Here in Australia there were a number of creative chiefs as powerful with their images, and they were the winners in the advertising race. They were first and foremost salesmen - John Singleton, Philip Adams, John Clemenger, Bryce Courtenay. And they made themselves millionaires with the skill.

14 May, 2015

Keeping your work and life in balance

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday May 13, 2015

Do you think your working has become harder, that keeping a work-life balance has become more difficult? Well join the club - around the world 40 per cent of managers claim that they work over 40 hours a week, and their jobs are now harder than they were five years ago.

In fact, one third of full-time employees claim it is harder to manage their work and family lives, disclosed in a survey by EY - the umbrella organisation for the global giant you'll know better as Ernst & Young.

They wanted to know if people were satisfied with their jobs, what they were seeking, what they weren't getting, what would keep them settled. So they questioned 9700 full-time workers in the US, UK, Germany, Japan, China, Mexico, Brazil and India. The survey has just been released. Even though Australia wasn't on the list, I'd be surprised if our results would be much different.

For instance, one of the main complaints: "My salary has not increased much but my expenses have," shortly followed by "my responsibilities at work have increased." Then of course, there is the added burden at home, working long hours - and having children. Parents definitely found keeping the balance was hardest.

As Millennials (aged 18-35) move into positions of responsibility as parents, workers and managers, they nudge their sibling X Generation and push the Baby Boomers towards the drop-off end of the working scale. So attitudes to work and gender have changed. Would you believe that in the US 67 per cent of men were willing to change jobs to achieve a better work-life balance, against just 57 per cent of women?

Women are also much less willing to change a career, give up a promotion or move to another location for the sake of the family. If they find a good job they stick to it, regardless. So much for "following the husband around the country". He'd better be ready to follow her.

As our workforce gets younger, the old nine to five attitudes break down. Both employees and managers are looking for flexibility. With modern technology and communications, it is perfectly possible to work without being in the office. And one of the major demands from the survey was the desire to work flexibly - without losing your place on the promotions ladder.

Three quarters of the respondents called for this, and for workers and bosses who would support them in this. The present kafuffle over parental leave plays right to the heart of these modern attitudes. Australians want a sensibly designed, politics-free system of parental leave. The attitude is global.

One in five employees encouraged their spouse or partner to return to work after childbirth. These days, an affluent lifestyle is quite easy - if you both work. For a single supporting parent the weight can be crushing. No wonder 25 per cent of partners agreed not to quit or reduce hours at work. In fact, 23 per cent of workers decided not to have more children while one in five delayed them.

Mutual support was essential for marriage to survive. One in six workers blamed the economy for their divorce or separation.

This has seen the rise of what Americans call "The Daddy Track". Father stepping back from his career to raise the family. Karyn Twaronite is EY’s Diversity and Inclusiveness Officer, she sums up the findings: “This is example of how traditional gender roles are shifting, with men and women taking on more equitable roles.”

07 May, 2015

You can't tweet an educated mind

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday May 7, 2015

Talking with an 18 year old I noted she had a Russian surname, and yes, her father's family came from Russian stock. "You must get the video of Dr Zhivago". Her look showed she had no idea what I was talking about. I explained the movie - Omar Sharif and Julie Christie meant nothing, either - and then gently probed whether she had read any of the great Russian literature.

She'd heard of War and Peace, though not read it, and vaguely recalled her father talking about Crime and Punishment. Her English literature was not a lot stronger, but she is an intelligent, educated girl. And much like so many of her age, has huge gaps in her general knowledge. So what has gone wrong?

Between the ages of 13 and 20 is a time when knowledge should have a huge expansion. There are all the school and exam topics of course, but also the child's self-discovery.

These are the years to discover Russian literature or fall in love with Bathsheba Everdene from Thomas Hardy's Far from the madding crowd. For the girls there are the romantics and rotters of Jane Austen and, currently, the scheming courtiers of Hilary Mantel.

For some it may be the awakening to the magic of numbers and mathematics, for others, discovering great artists nobody ever told you about before. Maybe it's pulling cars apart and rebuilding them, or getting to understand what makes a great cook, or discovering what's so special about Beethoven and Bach.

But can all this happen in the midst of a hundred tweets and Facebook postings a day? Is education now in two-minute grabs on YouTube? Or do we have any more need for general knowledge with Google constantly at our fingertips?

Kim Williams, former News Limited CEO, warns media that don't respond to the "on demand audience" of the digital age will not survive. None is more aware of that than those of us still working with ink on paper.

But to claim to have a rounded education, you need the knowledge to join the dots that come on demand. Otherwise the world is a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing.

Where does William the Conqueror join Magna Carta, join Parliament House Canberra? A thousand years separate the events, yet they are one history. How did the Boer War create the most monstrous event of World War II? How quickly can you multiply seven times eight (without a calculator)? How did David Copperfield affect insolvency laws (not the magician, either)?

A mind fed on ample general knowledge, a curious enquiring mind, will skip and hop to connect the facts quickly from the pool it carries. Too often the Google search can be tedious and confusing - unless you understand the context, facts alone won't format themselves.

Do occasionally point your kids or even employees, to "good books". Talk about them, get them to see a time when kids asked "why", not "wii". As for you - well War and Peace is nowhere near as daunting as people like to pretend. Read it on Kindle and it won't even bend your wrist.

In case you missed one, the answers are 1 The British Constitution; 2 the British invented concentration camps to hold Boers; 3 56 (remember your tables?) 4 Mr Micawber landed in debtor's prison, as had Charles Dickens' father, and the exposure of the cruelties of the system, in the book, pressured for change in the way bankruptcy was handled.

30 April, 2015

The end of fossil power is in sight

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday April 30, 2015

For some years now I have been rather relaxed about carbon targets and pollution measures promised or denied by industries and governments. These figures, "5 per cent", "20 per cent", "50 per cent" - what do they really mean when we need to change the entire globe's choking pollution?

No, I'm relaxed because the solution is on its way, more quickly than we think. Because in a few decades' time our greatest problem will be gone: we will no longer be burning fossil fuels for energy and power.

Coal will continue to burn for steel making and other industrial purposes, but not to generate electricity in the inefficient and polluting way it is now. Oil will be used to make engines run smoothly, but not burned for fuel. What a waste.

For decades, already, we have been generating power with solar cells and wind and waves. Water of course has provided power from waterfalls and dams for a century and more.

Photovoltaic cells are gaining in efficiency by leaps and bounds, with thousands of research and development groups around the world pushing the percentages ever higher.

But the weakest link has always been storage. How do you keep an ephemeral force like electric power, in a box until you need it?

Batteries are bulky, heavy, expensive and slow to recharge. For the power needed to run a car, lead-acid batteries are inadequate. But in the past decade a lot of work has been done with lithium-ion batteries for cars and mobile phones. Huge amounts of money are being poured into research which is progressing rapidly.

The most publicised of the new batteries are those coming from US car manufacturer Tesla. Just this week, they will launch two new domestic batteries. That's right, the famous Tesla li-ion batteries, adapted for your home. So if yours is a renewable energy house, the gaps in sun or wind can be filled by the powerful, long-lasting battery.

Is this a serious threat to fossil fuels? Well when it speculated, last month, about making an announcement soon - Tesla's market capitalisation jumped by more than one billion dollars, overnight. So yes, it's serious.

Together with allied panel-maker SolarCity, Tesla chief executive Elon Musk is building a vast US "gigafactory" set to open in 2017. Tesla's lithium-ion batteries will be manufactured here. Plus the new domestic units.

These are planned as a package, which will give your home the PV units and a storage battery for around $18 a month. Your home will be fully powered, 24/7. Who needs a coal-fired station and skies full of power lines?

The race to build a better battery is going full-tilt. Here in Australia, a Monash University team is working on microscopic capacitors mounted on atom-thick graphene sheets. These they predict, will be able to hold many times more energy than even the li-ion batteries. It's been predicted that these two battery types, working in tandem, could give a car 900K range.

If you've seen the Tesla, and its performance figures, you'll know that it is a long way from a golf buggy. In fact once you're moving all you'll miss is the roar of pistons and the plumes of exhaust smoke. Who needs petrol?

I clearly see a fossil-free future ahead. Maybe not in my lifetime, but not long after. Meanwhile the benefits will flow in, incrementally. My only worry is our modern-day Luddites, out to smash the machines and cripple the horses. Unfortunately a lot of them are in the government.

23 April, 2015

Business was so much easier when your word was your bond

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday April 23, 2015

Walk through the City any day of the working week and you will notice how many of the countless little cafes have pairs or clusters of people with their laptops and smartphones, doing business. And funny enough, this takes us back to the very origins of modern business practice - to the turn of the 18th century when the newly-discovered drink was enjoyed in what became known as "coffee shops".

In these warm smoky shops, consignments of goods were sold and traded, ships laden with the output of the new manufacturing industries were insured against bad weather or pirates. Office and legal facilities were cramped so a standard of contract was agreed: "My word is my bond". In other words, when I make a promise I guarantee it.

For three centuries this oath was scrupulously kept. If only because, if it became known that a trader had shaken hands and then broken his promise, he would be so shamed and blackballed that his business would die.

So what happened to that simple form of business? These days, it feels, agreements have to be checked by teams of lawyers on each side, thick documents cover every possible contingency for error or duplicity. Lengthy contracts are signed and everyone looks for the flaws.

But basically a deal is, do you want to buy it or not? Do you want to pay this price or not? If the answer to both questions is 'yes', then shake hands and you have a deal. Who needs a lawyer?

The problem occurs in day to day dealings. We've all said "yes" when we should have said "maybe"; we've said "maybe" when we should have said "no".

"Can you get this to us by Tuesday?" "Yes." (Background thought: "This Tuesday - will it have left the factory yet...?") "So you've had experience with this type of engine?" "Oh yes." (Background: "Never seen one in my life, but they can't be that hard...") So a lie is born, not maliciously but because you want to please.

That of course is where so many politicians gather reputations for lying. They so desperately want to please, to win your approval and your vote - and they're pretty sure they can deliver on the promise, if something else doesn't get in the way. And it does.

Funny enough, the most honest place to look is in commercial advertising. Oh sure they have "puffery". Some product is "the best," "fastest," "tastiest," "freshest," all said with a sincere face. But you know you are not deceived, so do they. It's a puff of opinion, not a lie.

Real lies are tightly controlled by advertising ethics. There is a stack of regulations about what you can say about alcohol, medicines, cars, children, food and beverages, financial institutions. They are controlled by the Australian Association of National Advertisers, supervised by the Advertising Standards Board.

Any complaints are considered by the Board and rulings published. Most are trivial, a few are serious and widely publicised. But there is very little decline in ethics here.

The ethics that count, and can make a real difference in the way business is conducted, take us back to the beginning. The ability to do trade with another and feel totally confident that they will live up to the obligation they have taken on. That they will pay you on time, in full. That they will not recklessly squander the goods or money you have entrusted to them, so they come back to you saying, "Sorry I've gone bankrupt, your money is gone".

Worst still, then setting up a month later under a new name, with someone else's money, with never any attempt to pay you back yours. This seems to be a common event in business, some even think it's smart. I don't, it's dishonest. Good business should be able to take your hand and when you say "My word is my bond," you know it's the truth.

17 April, 2015

Help me, I'm stuffocating!

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday April 15, 2015

James Wallman is travelling the world promoting his stirring new book, Stuffocation. Wherever he goes - New York, London - people ask him what the title means. He looks at them, "What do you think it is?"

"That we're suffocating with too much stuff?" "You've got it."

We've all been there: the wardrobe that's stuffed with clothes but nothing to wear. When you dig through stuff that's "too valuable" to throw away.

It reminded me of one period when I rented a self storage locker for five years, then decided to take out what was valuable and throw the rest away. I got one office chair and a filing cabinet, the rest I dumped - it had cost me $6,000 in storage. I'd been stuffocated.

In his book Wallman points out that "more" was not the norm in the past. Up until the end of WWII, we had, hopefully, sufficient - if the depression hadn't wiped out the family's meagre possessions. Things were so much dearer too. If you calculated labour and material costs by today's standards, in the early 1700s a shirt would have cost $3,500.

Now we can all afford a new shirt - $10 at the market if necessary. Or we can flaunt our wealth and spend a thousand dollars at a prestige name boutique at Crown.

Furniture was handed down through generations. Now a few flat packs from IKEA and your new home is furnished.

So are people becoming more mindful about their purchasing habits? Yes, says Wallman. "I think people will buy less, buy fewer but better. This is not the end of consumerism. This is not the end of spending money. We're humans and we all still want to buy shoes and cars and clothes and cellphones; it's not the end of stuff at all."

Speaking to Jessica Vaughn at JWT, he spelled out his vision of the clash between materialism and stuffocation: "This is going to be the defining problem of the 21st century."

Throughout our economies we see retreat from more. You don't need an encyclopaedia, Google's at your fingertips. A car? Call Uber. Need a girlfriend? Call eHarmony or a dozen other sites. You don't have to reject possessions - just be more thoughtful in choosing them.

James' preference he calls "experientialism". Getting the enjoyment and fun out of the experience rather than another car you can't find space to park.

The upcoming Generation Y is inclined that way. They aren't scared of a great depression or a world war. They are angry that their parents swept up most of the finance and houses. But they make up for that by staying home, living free and having fun. The experiential life style.

University of California Los Angeles carried out an anthropological survey - of 32 middle-class LA families with children. They photographed every space in the houses, catalogued every item, and were staggered. They took 20,000 photographs, every one packed from floor to ceiling with stuff.

Hey and these were people like you and me: teachers, firefighters, nurses, small-business owners, lawyers, tradesmen and contractors, among others.

The research found that we live in the most materially rich society in global history. That we have “light-years more possessions” than any preceding society. We’re coping with extraordinary clutter, we’re in a clutter crisis.

"My manifesto," says Wallman, " is that if you care about happiness, status, identity and meaning for yourself, you should be experiential, not materialistic. It will make you happier."

10 April, 2015

If it's not on TV can it be real?

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday April 9, 2015

Remember that wonderful Leunig cartoon where a family sits riveted before a TV set watching a spectacular sunset, even as the real sun is setting outside their window?

A lot of sports fans are like this too. They travel and queue to get inside the stadium, then keep a radio plugged into their ear to listen to a commentator's description of what is going on before their eyes. In recent years small portable TVs have replaced the trannies, so if today's game is being televised you can watch it in life and then get the replay on TV. Perhaps we don't trust our own senses, or certainly we don't want to miss anything, and maybe we don't believe it if it's not on the telly.

The smart sports promoters are well aware of this and want to keep their fans happy. This human need has now been fully catered for at Etihad Stadium. A new $10 million upgrade has created an 'embracing experience' for the spectators wherever they sit.

Seven hundred wifi hotspots will make sure no Facebook or tweet will be left unnoticed; 1500 digital TVs will ensure that not one kick or fowl will not be replayed again and again. Embracing experience? Or suffocating? But that's how the fans want it, snapping up the AFL Live Official App for their smart phones so not a precious minute or fact of the sport need be missed.

I remember the first Aussie Rules game I saw. In Darwin, played by a mixed team - some of the boys preferred to play barefoot. I found the fast, high-scoring game thrilling after a youth spent with the somewhat quieter games of soccer and cricket. To me, Footy summarised Australia - quick, loud, daring and determined on success.

So maybe, like our once knock-about suburbs Carlton or Port Melbourne, sport has become expensive and gentrified. It's all a bit too proper because there's so much money riding on it.

The AFL has declared this to be "The Year of the Fans" and has loudly promoted its attention to its fan base after a year consumed by doping cases and rows over ticket pricing and costs. In response, they have given fans back the $3 pie.

The trouble is that there are matters so important that they take away attention from the fans. Like the broadcasting deal that promises to exceed last year's $1.258 billion. A lot of distraction - but you can understand why the broadcasters expect the clubs to dance to their tune.

So a test of "Year of the Fan" is whether matches will be timed to suit footy-loving families, or prime time television.

Of course, despite the grumbles, the Etihad stadium is doing the right thing. The AFL's general manager of media, Peter Campbell, calls it "data-tainment". Fans want more than fit young men running up and down a field. "Gone are the days when putting on a scarf and beanie was enough".

"It's not just what's going on on the ground anymore," said Campbell, reinforcing the stadium's thoughts.

"It's what's on the big screens, the perimeter hoardings; the music over the PA, a fan's engagement with their friends and other supporters on social. There's just as much uploading at games these days as there is downloading."

So now it's an immersive, emotional, communal, multi-media, socially communicative experience. And you thought it was just a day at the footy.


03 April, 2015

We've lost Paris but let's keep Palace

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday April 2, 2015

Back in the early 70s I worked in "the Paris end of Collins Street", and it really did have the feel of the great European city. Out of my office window - next door to the Melbourne Club - I watched elegantly dressed ladies take coffee at pavement tables, and men in office suits slipping into the Ross Hotel for "a quick one".

But it seemed no sooner was I there than the excavator of progress moved in and I watched them dig the deepest hole you've ever seen. It seemed to take for ever, the beautiful 19th century buildings - housing the elite of Melbourne's medical consultants, it seemed - were gone.

Eventually the twin towers of the ANZ building took over much of the block down to Exhibition Street and I have never forgiven IM Pei, the great architect, for turning my patch into the Chicago end of Collins Street.

So much of Melbourne's character was wrecked by the indiscriminate constructions of the 60s and 70s. The brake was thrown when the public rose up to defend the Regent Theatre which, along with the Plaza Ballroom underneath, was threatened with the wrecking ball. Ironically the ones we have to thank for stopping the madness are the Builders' Labourers Federation. Inspired by Jack Mundey in Sydney and his "green bans", the Victorian branch responded to the Save the Regent Committee, and stopped all demolition.

The resolution of these stand-offs took years but we can be thankful to have a city with some superb theatres. Except that they are always under threat.

That energetic conductor-come-entrepreneur Greg Hocking pointed me to what was happening to the Palace Theatre in Bourke Street. The case is being fought in VCAT right now, with Melbourne City Council and crowds of supporters once again fighting to save a theatre from developers.

"Melbourne doesn't have many venues with that 1000 to 1500 capacity," he explained. "Nobody would pay the money needed to build theatres of that quality and size these days." So if they go, they are gone. He pointed to St Kilda's Palais, Flinders Street's Forum - all periodically under threat. We have to stay vigilant.

When I visit Paris or Rome it isn't swish new office blocks I want to see. Fortunately, through good management or the inability to ever agree, those cities retain much of their hearts intact. You can walk, after midnight up the Champs Elysees and feel the city as it had been more than a century ago.

Rome by night is a parade of delights. Every street is crowded with art and statues; circle around the Colosseum and you feel yourself transported back a millennium or two.

Melbourne of course does not have anything like this history. Which to my mind is a good reason for retaining what little we do have. This city does retain its old charms, in its lanes and cobbled alleys, its packed shops and varied buskers (last night I passed a concert pianist busking in Swanston Street. Wow.)

But the grand streets and boulevards that are the signature of this town have succumbed too much to glass and steel for my liking. My office is in Collins Street, in the building where General Douglas MacArthur ran the Pacific War. It's a beautiful sturdy place filled with brown wood furniture and the well-worn comfort of a century's habitation.

A few metres up the street, however, there's a building that's falling apart and in the process of demotion. The old National Mutual House, built in 1965.


26 March, 2015

What to do when the smoothie hits the fan

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday March 26, 2015

Just a few weeks ago I wrote about how to handle the PR when some disaster hits your company.

Well it seemed no time after the ink dried (which on a computer is a very short time), your morning berry smoothie turned very sour. Four cases of Hepatitis A were traced, ostensibly, to packets of Nana's Frozen Mixed Berries. They were imports from China and somehow had been infected.

For parent company Patties Foods it was a grenade tossed into a smoothly growing year. Suddenly they were under orders to recall the berries, and to their credit they also pulled out any of their similar products, like frozen raspberries.

But they had to act swiftly and decisively - at stake was their other range of more important products like Four 'n' Twenty pies and Herbert Adams pastries - pillars of the supermarket food aisles.

Remember my advice previously, about speaking quietly and honestly to explain what is happening? Because usually the truth is not as catastrophic as the media make out. But it is also difficult to admit there is a problem when already, behind you, is the sound of lawyers' knives sharpening. A lawyer's advice is always, as we know from the TV crime shows, to "say nothing". Because there's always another lawyer waiting to pounce on the words as a confession of guilt.

So we see these chief executives putting out a tortured, non-admitting statement that sounds like an apology, and then standing mute before customers or relatives. Like we've seen in the two recent Malaysian Airline crashes. You can't help feeling sorry for managers blamed for disasters they did not cause - and forced to wear the abuse.

Product recalls are easier to handle. If you look at the ACCC Product Safety Recalls site you'll be amazed at how many car recalls there are. Every make you can think of from Mercedes to Ford to Nissan has recalls - and that's only this year.

At least car dealers have records of their customers, tightly controlled so recall is swift and clean. Nevertheless it can be an expensive exercise. Five year ago Toyota's sticky accelerator pedals hit a whole range of cars in the US - including Corolla, Prius, RAV4 and various Lexus models. The eventual cost (it hasn't ended yet) is expected to hit $6 billion. What would that do to your bottom line?

Because of their vast variety of products, stores and supermarkets are regularly in the recall news and mostly they have developed effective procedures they call "crisis management". A lot of the money they pay PR firms is to have experts on hand whenever a boiler bursts.

They develop "crisis and issues manuals" for the client - lengthy wordy documents which in brief repeat what I told you the other week. Don't be sneaky, don't think you can hide anything, be frank and friendly but try not to admit blame. Not in a legal sense anyway.
Make your top executive readily available to the media.

In the case of Patties, they have not been as open as they might - their web site is perhaps too defensive and sounds more concerned with the well-being of Patties rather than the customer. But on the whole they have been open-faced so I'd give them eight out of ten. Fortunately the outbreak has been quickly stopped and nobody died. So there is not too much the lawyers can sink their teeth into.


19 March, 2015

When only the best is a girl called Nicole

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday March 19, 2015

When the world's richest people needed a spokesperson for their re-positioned airline, someone smart, elegant, sincere - they picked an Australian, Nicole Kidman. And all this week you will have seen her praising the magnificent new Airbus A380 fleet of Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways.

Richest, you ask? Well try this rough calculation: native population one million. Sovereign wealth fund - the piggy bank under the bed - one trillion dollars. So on that basis alone every native Emariti is worth one million dollars.

Etihad is described as the world's fastest-growing airline, being only 12 years old but currently in the process of increasing its fleet from 100 to 200 brand new aircraft. It has chosen the high road of marketing, featuring the quality and style of its operations.

At its helm is CEO James Hogan, a boy from Coburg and Ivanhoe Grammar. It also holds 24 per cent of Virgin Australia so you could say the bonds with Australia are pretty strong.

Hogan started his career on the ground floor at Ansett forty years ago, so he's your typical Aussie self-made man. Nicole, as we all know, was a Sydney schoolgirl when she first ventured onto the screen in Bush Christmas. So she's the self-made girl, though I have no idea if anybody thought of it when they were casting the commercial.

What I do know is how fiercely competitive the world aviation market is, and how important to carve a solid position for your brand.

The major brands are clearly stamped with their identity - Qantas, British Airways, Singapore (girl), American, Air France, Lufthansa - you know exactly what you are buying, have known them all your life.

Then there are the bargain carriers, Jetstar, Air Asia, Air China, Garuda, Brunei, Cathay - dozens of them. How can you make your new airline stand out?

Hogan has used the opportunity of his new fleet of planes to create an upper level of luxury. So the new planes have a seat called The Apartment - a room which contains a full-length bed and immaculate service; or The Residence, a three-room private apartment on your plane.

Aren't they expensive? Of course! The Residence from Abu Dhabi to London is $24,000. But then, this isn't made for us hoi polloi, this is for the flyer making a choice between the suite and his private jet. With its own butler and chefs, you're probably more comfortable on the big plane.

But by promoting itself as the classy airline Etihad will attract the business travellers, who don't pay their own fares anyway, and who are much more profitable than the penny-pinching rabble in economy. In fact I wouldn't mind betting they get a better class of economy passenger anyway, willing to pay a little extra for the perceived luxury of the new fleet.

Just last week we lost Stuart Wagstaff, who epitomised the line, "when only the best will do". All right, he was talking about fags, but the words ring true in marketing.

This is the strategy that Etihad are running. So they have put their name on our Docklands stadium, Twickenham rugby, and Manchester City's soccer ground. They put their name on the best to create an identity up against established airlines like Qantas and BA. They should be on a safe bet with Nicole, too.


12 March, 2015

Crowdfunding has become the mighty beanstalk

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday March 12, 2015

Three years ago I introduced my readers to the new concept called "crowdfunding". This was a novel way to raise funds for small projects and products. Well, what a surprise - this little idea is growing like Jack's beanstalk and is now looking at some very serious money indeed as it knocks on the giant's window.

One of the most popular funders is Kickstarter, which originally helped designer Scott Wilson market the idea of a wrist strap which would turn an Apple Nano iPod into a trendy watch. He put his designs on the web and in a day had raised $1 million.

Seeing a few more examples like this, thousands who had a good idea but would be ignored by the banks, followed this method.

The early enthusiasts had small investments for projects like music albums, painting exhibitions, independent movies and concerts. But it quickly grew beyond this to become a source of small-scale financing. There are now several hundred crowdfunder sites on the internet, which all need to be studied with care: Gofundme, Indiegogo, Teespring, YouCaring; Crowdrise and more, all slightly different.

At the start there is always an idea. The originator persuades his immediate circle about its merits and persuades them to invest a little of their savings in it. He or she then builds a prototype and promotes it on the web. They nominate a base amount of money needed to make it work. Hopefully others like the idea and invest a little of their cash in it.

If the donations hit the target, the project is launched. If not, the funds are usually returned (every source has different rules. It's important to read them first.)

The donors are paid in different ways. Sometimes they receive a copy of the product when it is finally made; other times they share the profits of a successful venture. Sellaband raises fans' money to pay for professional recording or manufacture or marketing of their adored artist. With the decline of music labels and their rivers of vinyl gold, bands have had to fend for themselves - not their strong point. But the enthusiasm and investment of their fans make possible that new album or big-city tour.

All the little contributions mount up. In 2013 the crowdfunding economy exceeded $5 billion and is rapidly growing. Just last week smart-watch maker Pebble launched its Time model on Kickstarter and raised $1 million in 30 minutes, $8 million in 12 hours.

In the UK, The Crowdfunding Centre promotes a diverse range of projects and targets like $140,000 to create a hand-held Geiger counter, to $2,000 to support a Green MP for Bristol.

Computer games are also favourite clients. An online game Star Citizen claimed to have raised $90,000,000, a world record so far.

But you ain't seen nothin' yet. The Chinese have discovered it. With 1.4 billion in their middle class - as canny a bunch of money managers as you'll ever find - they are taking to it like ducks to water. So much so that their government is already worrying.

So is the government of Brazil, where the crowdfunding ecosystem has planted roots. Both for the same reason - it is drawing people and money away from the carefully managed bureaucratic paths and setting them free in cyberspace.

Banks, governments, institutions, hierarchies - so much freedom threatens them all. Which is a good reason to applaud it.