"The Best Job in the World" & Beyond in a Brave New Marketing World

"Not since Willy Wonka and the golden tickets hidden in chocolate bars, has something come along like this." Editor, The Sunday Times, United Kingdom

IT seems almost incongruous that the most recognisable natural wonder of the world, the planet’s largest reef, and earth’s only identifiable object from space, would need any more publicity.

But by 2007, the mounting dilemma facing the team at Tourism Queensland was this; while the Great Barrier Reef was undoubtedly the leading lady, her supporting cast, some 600 islands and associated experiences, had somehow become the understudies.

The challenge was to convey to the rest of the world, in an already saturated global travel market, that surrounding this vibrant living organism was tangible product and a new tourism story for Australia.

Think Queensland; think Great Barrier Reef.  Think Australia; think Reef, Rock and Opera House.

The mission was to make the international stage think again.

Hence the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef campaign was born and "the best job in the world" campaign conceived.

What nobody imagined was just how big "the best job in the world" would become, not only catapulting Queensland into the international spotlight for its creative marketing, both inside and outside the tourism spectrum, but scripting an entirely new business model for savvy organisations across the globe.

Stage one of the three-pronged campaign began 12 months out from the 2009 launch and involved working with Tourism Queensland’s 13 international offices and Queensland’s regional tourism organisations to establish the "story" of the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef; an international holiday destination to rival other island paradises such as the Greek Islands or the Caribbean.

For the campaign to work, we needed to convince the Queensland tourism industry to include this new "destination" into their brochures; that there was something to sell.  Australia is a remote destination, so to introduce a new message was hard work.

By the end of 2008 the groundwork was laid, the tourism regions and operators along the 2300 kilometre of the Great Barrier Reef had come on board under the "Islands of the Great Barrier Reef" banner, we had agreement from our international travel partners to start including Islands of the Great Barrier Reef product into their packages and marketing collateral had been produced.  Now all we needed was an idea or a "hook" to sell the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef to the world.

Stage two was the big idea itself.  Brisbane-based creative agency SapientNitro was given a brief to devise a campaign to promote the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef.  While several ideas were floated we realised that "The Best Job in the World" was The One; a dream job offering one candidate something priceless, the role of Caretaker of the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef with six months to explore the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef while based in a luxury house on Hamilton Island for a pay cheque of AUD150,000.

While the caretaker’s duties, cleaning the pool, feeding the fish and collecting the mail, were tongue-in-cheek, for the campaign to work, it needed to be a real job.

We were pushing it uphill as it was the worst possible travel time following the global financial crisis and swine flu, but the promotional timing could not have been more perfect.  People had just come back from Christmas, it was cold and miserable in the Northern Hemisphere and many people were facing an uncertain financial future as the global financial crises took hold.

Then on a cold January morning they opened up the newspaper or turned on the television and were hit by a ray of Queensland sunshine; an advertisement for "the best job in the world" with the initial criteria of "anyone can apply".  The application process simply asked people from around the world to submit a one minute video of themselves telling Tourism Queensland why they deserved the best job in the world.

In order to get the global publicity machine rolling, Tourism Queensland also invited select journalists and bloggers from around the globe to a secret announcement on Hamilton Island, in the Whitsundays, where the story would unfold.  Many had flown from a cold Northern Hemisphere winter into what was a far cry from where they had come; a balmy tropical climate, a media conference held on the balcony of a luxury villa overlooking the Whitsunday Passage and interviews with a Tourism Queensland Chief Executive Officer dressed in shorts and bare feet.

We knew we had a great idea but the day we launched a virtual media tidal wave hit us.  With more than 200,000 website hits in 24 hours, we exceeded our key performance indicators almost overnight and the interest just kept growing.  At one stage we had around 100 people of our entire head office of 120 people working on "the best job in the world" to some degree.

This was the ultimate example of having a strong project management approach.  It touched every part of the organisation, from the receptionists receiving 2000 emails and telephone calls to our IT department; we went from having a simple hosting solution of one web server to a solution which included 11 servers and would have been able to host major news network websites.

During the six-week application time-frame, 34,684 people from almost 200 countries uploaded their video applications onto www.islandreefjob.com and Youtube, providing an independent promotion for the Great Barrier Reef and Queensland viewed by more than 8.6 million people.

The campaign was not without its challenges and controversies; some of which threatened to discredit the entire project.  Among them:

•    The "fake video"; a promotional video we used of a girl getting a tattoo which we should have marked as a "sample" on the website.  In a social media world where transparency is king, the so-called "fake" video threatened to discredit the legitimacy of the campaign.

•    Website overload; in the first day we received 200,000 hits which crashed our server.

•    A 30,000 cap on applications which we lifted in the last 24 hours.

•    An application from an alleged Russian porn star.

•    A man purporting to be Osama Bin Laden applying for the role.

•    The premature leaking of the successful candidate’s name around 30 minutes before the announcement.


One of the most crucial things of which we were aware of on a daily basis was the tight rope we were walking.  There were a number of things that we did not anticipate, including errors we made.  The most important thing we learned was to admit our mistakes and quickly fix them.  This is the golden rule of working in the world of social media.  If something goes wrong and you try and cover it up and bluff your way through it, people smell it a mile away and your credibility is gone.

Some of the other challenges we faced included picking the final 50 applicants who were given one month to gain attention for themselves and the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef campaign through media interviews, stunts and social networking while not excluding any market and maintaining interests in our key markets.

This group was then narrowed down to a final 16, which included two Australians.  The final event was held over three days in the Whitsundays where the 16 applicants, along with more than 60 media from around the world, converged on Hamilton Island for the final selection process.  During this time, we set up a major media centre on the island; no small challenge for a remote island location more than 1,000 kilometres from a capital city.

We attracted coverage through BBC, CNN, Good Morning America, Canada TV, Sky News London, The Times in London and The Sunday Times, plus a contingent of domestic media.  We had a huge challenge for those three days but we had things planned for all contingencies.  We had a lot of overlay footage; the pretty pictures even though the weather went against us at one point.

We were also very good at packaging footage in a way that media wanted.  News journalists at the launch said it was better organised than a G20 Summit or an Olympics.

Our team ignored the temptation to acquiesce to requests from at least 50 production houses from around the world to film a reality television show based on the concept and instead, asked companies to tender for the job of following the successful candidate and selling the story.  Australian-based Beyond Productions made a six-part series which they sold to National Geographic.  This series was aired around the globe.  Additionally we employed our own television production team to run the media centre, organise the live-cross points and produce a daily video news release that was distributed globally through Thomson Reuters news wire service.

Tourism Queensland also appointed its own stills photographer and enabled free, easy downloadable photos to be used by media.  We knew this was a real job, we knew it was a news story and if we were to sell ourselves to a reality television type show, we would lose our credibility.  We had to make sure we kept it real.

On 6 May 2009, Ben Southall, a 34-year-old British charity events organiser, was announced as the successful candidate for "the best job in the world".  In the first 24 hours of his announcement as the successful candidate, Ben undertook more than 100 media interviews and featured in news stories around the globe.

Two months later on 1 July 2009, Ben started his role as the Caretaker for the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef.  During his stint he visited almost 100 Queensland destinations, fielded more than 450 media interviews and posted more than 60 blogs of 75,000 words, 2,000 photographs, 47 video diaries and more than 1,000 tweets.

Dealing with the very public feedback of who we finally picked was also a challenge.  You pick a Brit then the argument is; "well Brits spend more money than any other market so you were always going to pick them".  Pick a New Zealander; "well more New Zealanders come to Australia than any other market so you were always going to pick a Kiwi".  Pick a Chinese person; "well China is your fastest growing market".  Pick the American; "well you are just pandering to the market".  With social media, you have no way of controlling the message.  The best you can do is monitor comments, correct inaccuracies fix major problems and believe that the network will moderate itself; that the disgruntled complainers and detractors will be overridden by your supporters.  The key is to be open and transparent, to be flexible and adaptable in addressing issues, make changes where necessary and seize new opportunities that may not have been part of the original brief when they arise.

For example, after the selection process concluded, we realised that while we had one Island Caretaker, we also had 15 talented, energetic and passionate people who had become global ambassadors for Queensland.  We made the call to appoint some of these individuals as Queensland Tourism Ambassadors in their home countries to perform a range of promotional roles over the next 12 months.

We also had to convince other parts of Queensland that they stood to benefit from a campaign focused around the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef.  Our message here was that "the best job in the world" elevated global awareness of Queensland to new levels, which would have flow-on effects to other parts of the state.  Since Ben Southall finished his stint as Caretaker of the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef on 31 December 2009, we have re-employed him as a Queensland Tourism Ambassador, taking his experiences to the world.

The estimated publicity value of the campaign topped AUD430 million and penetrated almost every country on earth.  Not bad for an investment of around AUD4 million over the three-year life of the campaign.

So what have we learned from "the best job in the world?

Steve McRoberts, Executive Director Marketing will take up the rest of the story at BrandMAX.

This article is from Harvard Business Review Corporate Case Study: Tourism Queensland