Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush. Colleen McCullough, Nevil Shute, Morris West. And let’s not forget Olivia Newton-John. A lot of talent for a country of 20 million. A new bilateral Australia-U.S. Free Trade Agreement has focused more attention on our exceptionally close ally. Australia, with one of the world's strongest economies, welcomes over 400,000 Americans a year.
In this issue, Bridge features an interview with Sonia Rendigs, founder and director of Media Moguls Communication, a new PR firm in Melbourne, on public relations in Australia. The firm offers strategies for hospitality, food and lifestyle businesses in Australia.
Bridge: How does the vast open interior of Australia and its other unique geographical characteristics affect PR in the country?
Sonia Rendigs: From a client base perspective: the low population and lack of very wealthy individuals make the opportunities seem slim compared to the U.S.A., where I lived and worked from 1999 until 2004.
Australians in general are very adventurous and inquisitive. They are hard workers, but also love to holiday. We have four to six weeks annual vacation, enjoy the outdoors and love to see the wonders of the world. This translates into a very active travel and lifestyle PR industry here with many glossy magazines, trade publications and broadsheet [newspaper] columns.
Bridge: In developing a PR strategy for Australia, what big overriding issues does one need to keep in mind?
SR: We work in the field of luxury travel, spas and high-end food products, and therefore we carefully assess the demographics of the audience to select effective media targets. Our travel clients receive most of their revenues from the domestic market.
Boomers are a huge market and still read broadsheets and magazines. Gen Y love the internet and virus marketing tactics. We have even done some grassroots work with school newsletter editorial. Controlled content is going to be a huge trend in TV over the next ten years. At the moment we have four prime-time travel shows on free-to-air TV, so TV is a key outlet for travel clients.
The domestic market is then ranked state by state by our clients. We focus on the media outlets that will generate the most effective results in each domestic sector. Sydney is the location for the national editorial offices – as New York is in the U.S.A. Therefore we do pay special attention to the media events there.
Sydney and Melbourne are the key markets; however, national campaigns cannot afford to restrict themselves to these cities alone. Particularly with travel and leisure, there are regions all over Australia which must be included (i.e. Tasmania, the entire Queensland coast, Adelaide and surrounds and Perth and surrounds). Outback Australia, particularly the Northern Territory, is also a major growth area for tourism – especially on the luxury and 'gourmet' level.
We pay special attention to Brisbane and the North East coast of this continent, which is the Florida of Australia. To target this market, we are working to create special 'Boomer' packages.
Bridge: How would you compare the way journalism is practiced in Australia to the U.S. and the U.K.? Is it very similar? What are the differences?
SR: In all three countries, the role of the PR professional is to present relevant information in an accurate and timely manner. The key news angles must be thoughtfully presented so the media are informed in a way that makes the information newsworthy. It's a subtle process and good faith will build over time.
However, major media outlets in the U.S. and the U.K. have much stronger cultures of editing and fact-checking than in Australia. With a population of only 20 million, perhaps there is not the talent pool to draw from, nor the money available to pay for a huge editing staff, and therefore the PR professional here has less opportunity for media coverage.
Bridge: How well does the average Aussie business person understand PR?
SR: Throughout mainstream business in Australia, there is a fundamental lack of knowledge about what PR involves. A lot of businesses won't budget for it because they aren't sure what it is and how it can translate into dollars. It often gets confused with advertising or human resources.
Bridge: Compared to New York, how expensive is it to hire a PR agency in Melbourne or Sidney?
SR: Our rates are just about the same numbers as New York City rates, except ours are in Australian dollars, not U.S.$ [Note to readers: $10,000 US = $13,200 AUD, so a $10,000 AUD retainer is a lower amount than a $10,000 U.S. retainer.] At first I got shocked responses accompanied by rejection, but the business model demanded those fees. With some research (and courage) I found a core of good clients who understand and value PR so the fees are accepted as fair and reasonable.