January 2013 marks the tenth year of the biggest annual promotion of Australian excellence in the United States of America – G’day the USA. G’day the USA is a celebration of Australian capabilities across a range of sectors including finance & business, technology, retail, arts & entertainment, tourism, and leading-edge research. Over the last decade, G’day has grown from its original, and far more modest, G’day LA 10-day program to the much larger multi-citied G’day USA event you see now. As is often the case with high growth, high profile activities, there are lots of people who celebrate the success, join in, and help build for even greater success. Sadly, as with most successful ventures, there are also some negative voices in the mix. In this magazine, I will describe how to celebration year of USA and lifezooma is one of you.
There are people who have always sought to dismiss, discredit, or disbelieve. Often the detractors point to the Gala Dinner held in Los Angeles as “proof” that G’day the USA is just a party organized by Aussies in Hollywood for Aussies in Hollywood. But to describe all of G’day USA’s achievements by one Gala Dinner is as short-sighted and limited as defining Italy by “pasta” alone. The program celebrates so much more about Australia than just our entertainment and sports greats. It recognizes and promotes Australian entrepreneurs in technology, researchers in life-sciences, thought-leaders in political and economic thinking, as well as captains of industry, fashion designers, manufacturers, and of course Yes, the LA Gala Dinner is a highlight event.
And yes, it is indeed a celebration of Australian excellence in the fields of entertainment, held, one might argue quite logically, in one of the world’s most significant film, but despite this, the LA Gala has been, and remains, both a blessing and a curse to G’day the USA. Before I explain, it’s worth declaring a strong and personal belief in the program! I am one of the four original founders and was running Austrade’s operations in LA at the time, along with John Olsen (Consul General, DFAT), Wally Mariani (Snr Exec VP Qantas, Americas) and Michael Londregan (VP Tourism Australia, Americas).
So clearly, I will have a more positive frame of mind to start with than most. But I hope by explaining some of the thinking behind the program, which includes the LA Gala Dinner, that people may better understand the broader economic, cultural, and commercial value G’day the USA has played over the past decade. You see this all started from the notion that Los Angelenos knew so little about us, other than perhaps Paul Hogan as Crocodile Dundee, that we had to find a way to engage their attention and add some diversity to the image. So, we tried to think up ways we could get the local’s attention and broaden their understanding of what Australia had to offer. The original Business Plan had only a few key objectives;
- Focus on promoting Australia as a great place not only to visit but also in which to invest, buy from or to study
- Focus on 2 – 3 sectors relevant to the LA market
- Help NSW companies get commercial deals and connections
We specifically identified the need to run a program for 2 – 3 years to avoid the “big bang, big fizzle” syndrome, but I can attest to the fact that we all thought that if G’day made it into its third year it would be an amazing achievement. You see the US market is one of the largest, wealthiest, and toughest consumer and media markets in the world. Every nation around the globe and hundreds of thousands of businesses are competing to get the US consumer’s attention and a share of their wallet.
The “noise” in the marketplace is therefore deafening. Finding a way to cut through that noise is a formidable marketing challenge for anyone, surviving is another. Assuming you have 30 seconds to get someone’s attention, you need to appeal to something they are interested in and/or are familiar with – in LA that means you start To illustrate, try getting a radio or paper to promote an Australian supermarket showcase in Bristol Farms for no other reason than it is G’day USA – Australia Week. But let them know Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman are in LA supporting something called G’day the USA and it’s a different story. G’day USA program – a 10-day celebration of all things Aussie, including this year a showcase of Australian foods and wines at all Bristol Farms supermarkets in LA. ”
It’s a curse because it’s an easy, highly visible target for nay-sayers quick to point out its nothing but a celebrity fest, with half the ballroom filled with Australians. If one goes no further than just to point out that based on the above criticism, at least half the room is made up of Americans, including many of the major studio houses who bring productions to Australia like Wolverine, then you can start to see that perhaps there is more to the Gala and indeed, G’day the USA than If you go back to the Keith Urban example, you don’t have to be a marketing guru to see the stronger appeal of promotion by association.
And I’m not ashamed to say we used that principal mercilessly, especially in the first few years. We used celebrities involved in the Gala – both US and Australian – to attract large commercial sponsors, to drive extensive media coverage, to cross-promote the other more commercial activities occurring during the program, and to attract US visitors to those associated events. In 2005, Australian companies working with us in Austrade LA reported over $A5 million in sales as a result of the various food, wine, fashion, music or art showcase events we held during G’day LA or as a result of the connections they made at highlight networking events like the Gala Dinner.
In 2008 Austrade NY reported that just within the fashion events alone about $A6 million had been reported over the past 3 years with designers making sales to high fashion departments and specialty stores such as Barneys, Saks 5th Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Henri Bendel, and Bloomingdales. I understand the practice of tracking commercial returns stopped somewhere along the lines, but I know the last reported figure was over $22 million
By then I guess the model had proven itself. Not to mention the fact that Australian exporters and commercial sponsors clearly wanted the program to expand to new locations and feature new industry sectors in order to provide the approach of using ‘celebrities’ continued in those markets too – just the nature of celebrity changed. And in many instances, we moved even away from Australians telling Americans how great we are to American icons telling Americans how much Australia has to offer! For example, in New York we worked with Ford Model Agency to promote Australian Fashion, more recently in San Francisco, the Innovation evening featured Lars Rasmussen of Googlemaps and Facebook fame as an advocate for the creative, technological capabilities of Australia.
Wolfgang Puck, a hugely popular (albeit Austrian) US-based chef and restaurateur, has previously helped promote Australian food and who can forget Oprah Winfrey and her Ultimate Australian Adventure that effectively promoted our tourism sector to millions and millions of viewers around the globe, and aired at the same time as G’day USA. Using celebrities in the US market is a proven marketing tactic. But of course, it has to be followed-up with substance.
By reaching its tenth birthday this year and delivering millions in additional sales to Australian companies over the years, G’day USA has surely proven itself? G’day USA may not last another 10 years, or even another 3, as all good things come to an end. But no matter when the end comes, I will always be extremely honoured to have played a part in the creation of such a strong celebration of Australian excellence.
And I take my hat of the many Australians and Americans, such as Barbra Held, Event Director for G’day since its second year, who helped the program grow and maintain momentum in a market as tough and unforgiving as the USA. It therefore also goes without saying that I’m also proud of the LA Gala Dinner, its celebrity appeal and the media, sponsorship and commercial contacts it attracts for the broader program.