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A Life in Journalism and PR: 10

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In his book A Life in Journalism and PR, PRIA Life Fellow Geoff Holden recounts his career. Part 10 below follows his agency’s work with renown brands Mars, Coles and Independent Grocers …

Mars Confectionery
Mars Confectionery was the highlight of our association with International Public Relations Pty. Ltd. (see later heading) We worked with Mars to establish their own Australian presence after Cadbury’s, their international rival, purchased McRobertson’s, in Tasmania.

That company previously held the Australian manufacturing franchise for Mars. Cadbury’s executives obviously believed that Mars would be forgotten by the public as it would take several years to establish a new manufacturing and marketing operation.

we were invited to taste the various
Mars products on the board room table

Cadburys under-estimated Mars and its PR guru, Greg, a brilliant marketing man, who advised Mars on their strategy. He held the account personally and worked on it through IPR. On the first occasion we were to meet the client, he drove us to Ballarat. On the way he stopped to buy various confectionery bars (not Mars). When the meeting started, we were invited to taste the various Mars products on the board room table. Greg opened his packet of other goodies and proceeded to taste and to critique the products. The board room was one of three private meeting areas in the head office complex. All office staff and management worked in an open environment and everybody walking past was welcome to contribute to any discussion in progress. It was the first time I had seen this in operation. It certainly worked for Mars.

(An aside: We tried open office planning when we moved from Waymouth Street to larger premises at 100 Pirie Street but it did not work for us because of the need for confidentiality for diverse clients. We moved after 12 months because of the unsatisfactory air conditioning system (we were on the top floor). We went to 25 Peel Street, the former head office of our client, Adelaide & Wallaroo Fertilisers where we operated for about six years until the new owner decided to renovate the building and we moved to Franklin Street.)

Mars chartered aircraft to fly their products to Australia from the UK and the USA and launched them nationally. At the same time they purchased land at Ballarat for a manufacturing plant, and even before construction had started, advertised for staff to work in their new factory.

Adelaide was always the test market for new products for Mars.
If a product could gain five percent of the test market area
within six months it would be launched nationally.

Among the first 180 selected were former dairy farmers from the district. Passports were organised for them, and they were sent to factories in the UK, the Netherlands and the US where they were trained over several months in the manufacture of the various products made in those factories.

We were given unlimited access to a huge stack of Mars products to give away wherever we thought we could gain advantage or publicity. During this time, a Mars bar that sold for 30 cents cost more than 40 cents to get it to the Australian market! It demonstrates a brilliant marketing strategy because when the factory opened some 18 months later, it was already operating at full capacity.

Adelaide was always the test market for new products for Mars. If a product could gain five percent of the test market area within six months it would be launched nationally. Two products were tested while we were involved. One was “Opal Fruits” a chewy sweet which many of us liked but it only gained three per cent of the market and was never seen again.

Another was a chocolate centred sweet (“it melts in the mouth not in the hand”) and was given away by a team of white gloved young ladies at any public function we could find. This product was later reintroduced in a different format and is now very popular.

Coles was another IPR client with whom we had a great relationship in SA. We assisted in the planning of opening new stores, surveying potential customer bases and assisting in negotiations in some instances. I was involved in the opening of the Alice Springs store by the NT Chief Secretary, Paul Everingham. Chris Gellie handled most of the day to day work on the account.

National Mutual Life Assurance (NMLA)
The State office of this organisation was a good client and the State Manager was obviously impressed because he insisted on retaining us after IPR severed our relationship. Initially we had had a problem with the company’s liaison officer who thought our job was to promote him and rejected any proposal that would promote the State Manager or other executives. Because of this Chris Gellie (the consultant on the job) and I announced that we were resigning the account. However, we were told the problem would be solved. The former liaison officer disappeared and established his own business. Our new liaison officer, Peter Brown, worked closely and happily with us. He continued to deal with me as I kept this client until NMLA was taken over.

Independent Grocers Ltd. (IGC)
Independent Grocers Co-op. (now part of a national group) had approached me several months before our split with IPR (see later heading) but I informed their managing director that we were working with Coles, making any association impossible. The day we ceased work for Coles, we started on a major assignment for IGC.

Myer had established Target Food Stores throughout Australia in a bid to compete with Coles and Woolworths. However, Myer was facing difficulties in all areas and needed to get out of the food business. So Target food stores in the various states were put up for sale.

Myer had established Target Food Stores throughout
Australia in a bid to compete with Coles and Woolworths.

Myer wished to sell to IGC and we were not involved in those negotiations. However, a stumbling block was the contracts Myer had with the shopping centre owners in SA. These stated that if Myer wished to withdraw from food operations they must sell to a food retailer of equal status. Obviously any purchaser required those established sites.

IGC was not recognised as a retailer. However, it was heavily involved in supporting its own retail members (owners) with all of their promotional activities. This included Target Food Stores in SA (which we understood were the only profitable food stores then operating). IGC had specific staff advising and working with the SA Target food stores.

We produced a written submission showing how Target Food Stores were being promoted through the facilities of IGC. We also produced a video as supporting documentation. This showed the IGC team in action working for Target Foods. After a formal presentation, agreement with shopping centre managements came swiftly. IGC gained seven of the eight major Target food stores. The only exception was the store at The Avenues on Payneham road, where the owner had a personal relationship with a senior executive at Coles.

The Target food stores were rebadged as Arrow Food Stores for several years but eventually were sold to Foodland operators, mostly to Roger Drake’s chain.