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The Glen Stephens (monthly)
My column seven months was an open letter to organisers to start beating the drum for 'Pacific Explorer'.
I stated in my September 'Stamp News' column that there was no VIBE or 'Buzz' whatever for this show that I could detect, and unless organisers and Australia Post addressed this problem fast, I predicted the show would be a monumental $3+ million flop.
I hoped it would not be, I really did, and with 7 months of time to turn around the already listing ship there was a ton of time to change things if there was a will and a vision to do that.
A LOT of folks - mostly volunteers, put their heart and soul into helping this show succeed. They deserve great praise and the thanks of all. However like troops on the field, you are doomed if the Generals and Field Marshalls up on high are not performing too well, and make tactical errors.
The buck stops ...
The buck has to stop somewhere and I suggest it stops squarely at the feet of Amber McDougall, Manager Australia Post Philatelic Group, the division responsible for this event - and Vice President of this 'Expo'. These senior folks are paid an AWFUL lot of money to get results.
I bet not many stamp dealers in Sydney have ever spoken to her in person or on phone or by email, after a few years in the job. How can that apparent lack of interest in the stamp trade in the largest state, and host of this big show be good for Australia Post Philatelic?
Her predecessor David Maiden would fly to Sydney regularly and host dinner meetings (at dealer's own cost) outlining the next 6-9 months new issues, ideas, designs, plans and ideas, and actively seeking dealer feedback. David was direct, informative, and answered nearly all questions candidly as long as they stayed strictly off the record.
David Maiden's personal enthusiasm largely made 'Australia 99' a success, as much as McDougall's lack of it to the trade and presumably collectors might well be a reason 'Pacific Explorer' flopped so spectacularly. Enthusiasm is contagious.
I bet if I could peruse the Philatelic Division $$$ takings for 'Australia 99' for 3 months before and after the show and the takings for the same period for this disappointing show I'd be flabbergasted. Success is measured in dollars for Post Offices.
A European dealer who manned a stand at 'Pacific Explorer' penned a well-written letter to this magazine criticising the show, the low attendance (he claims under 8,000), and most especially Ms McDougall's role.
This dealer later withdrew his letter to 'Stamp News' due to unspecified external influence placed upon him.
He did however publish his letter in the current June edition of UK 'Philatelic Exporter' saying in part - 'Ms McDougall has made great efforts behind the scenes to put extreme pressure on me not to publish in any form. Ms McDougall demanded that no reports be given to any newspapers in Australia.'
He claims Malcolm Groom and Ms McDougall: 'insisted that they spoke to 78 dealers, all of whom were exceptionally happy with the show, yet I couldn’t find a single one to whom they had spoken to other than committee members. Let the truth be heard.'
Quite a contrast to the situation at 'Australia 99' where David Maiden and Danny della Bosca were familiar faces to nearly all in the halls, and were not involved in any press censorship pressure I ever heard of. And right there is possibly the difference.
Presentation to NSW Governor Bashir by AP CEO Graham John
I must say no-dealer of the good number I have spoken to had the pleasure or opportunity of airing their views to either Mr Groom or Ms McDougall at the show. Or had sighted either at their stands at any time. Seeing 78 dealers was about 75% of those there, I must say I have grave doubts about that figure's accuracy.
I was introduced separately to both these folks at Her Excellency, Professor Marie Bashir, Governor of NSW private viewing of the Court Of Honour. Australia Post CEO Graham John had just presented her with the stamp plaque seen nearby.
We swapped pleasantries, and both seemed like charming folks - don't get me wrong, I have nothing against either as a person. I am simply outlining here the reality that the buck needs to stop with someone, and it must stop with those who were in charge. For us to pretend this fiasco did not occur will get philately in this country nowhere.
What I said in September was:
Sadly the general "vibe" for this Exhibition has been very low-key to my ears. So low-key it is almost inaudible. Seven months out from "Australia 99" (“A99”) the trumpets were blowing and the buzz was amazing. I bet a lot of readers of this column have no clue "Pacific Explorer 2005" is even occurring in Sydney? Unhelpfully, the most recent APF newsletter announced it was being held in Melbourne.
After the astounding success of "A99", I personally am disappointed to see the direction this international is heading. The jungle drums are not beating loudly at all. However this boat CAN be turned around.
I also wrote back then that the projected attendance numbers of 60,000 visitors was 'absurdly naive wishful thinking'. Blind Freddie could see that. Well, so I thought.
At almost this same time, both Australia Post's Kate Jones, and APTA President Tony Shields (also Exhibition VP) wrote dealers separately urging them to attend and book the very expensive stands. They further guaranteed them in writing there 'WILL' be 60,000 visitors to the show. Not 'might be' or 'could be' or 'possibly be' - but 'WILL BE'.
I do hope both have deeply funded liability insurance policies, as the crowd attendance was more like 10,000 - or 20% of their written '60,000' attendance guarantee that many dealers booked their very expensive $4,000 stands based upon.
A number of dealers are now grumbling that they only need pay 25% of their stand cost as these 2 senior organisers gave a separate written guarantee of 60,000 visitors. At a most generous estimate, maybe one quarter - 15,000 - of those turned up. They want $3,000 a stand refund. One dealer has approached the ACCC corporate watchdog.
Kate Jones jumped overboard from the lurching ship a few months before the Exhibition, and took other employment. That left Australia Post with virtually no-one in there at senior level that had a clue what went on operationally at 'Australia 99'. David Maiden, Russell Hick, Kate Jones and Danny della Bosca were not there to assist.
Why David Maiden was not contracted at a very handsome sum to grab the wheel and steady the ship we will never know. He was just back in Australia from a long term assignment in Athens assisting Greek Post Office ELTA plan their Olympic issues and 'instant' stamps. He would have been 1000 times better value than bus ads.
Ms Jones had chaired a dealer meeting in Sydney in latter 2004 and repeatedly told dealers there was 'no budget' for many sensible and well proven suggestions and initiatives put forward.
I put forward one suggestion that a series of six numbered, Limited Edition miniature sheets, such as a special print of a $10 stamp being issued via a random ballot one a month for 6 months before the show would do three things. (a) Create collector and dealer excitement (b) Create great demand from collectors who would badger dealers (c) Help directly fund a lot of important things that right now there appeared to be "no budget" for.
Only 5000 monthly numbered sets 6 of such $10 Mini Sheets sold is $300,000 right there. And would create (a) (b) and (c) rather nicely. And at the small 5000 set level the secondary market value would always be VERY good.
If balloted you'd need to go seeking the ones you missed out on etc to get a complete set of 6. Many phone calls. Much 'buzz'. NO special access for stock to dealers. Most would not succeed getting a full set, so only 1,000 or so full sets 6 would ever exist. And clearly be worth more than $60. A 'Win, Win' for all parties.
Brothers Andy and Richard serving a client
The Sydney dealer meeting was assured this kind of thing had been discussed and was NOT going to occur. Seems a shame to me, but I do not work for Australia Post or a Hot Shot PR company. I just have a Diploma in Marketing and Advertising and do know what stamp collectors like.
I got a long written response from my column by from Malcolm Groom, Chairman of the Organising Committee in the 'December' magazine.
Malcolm made some valid points, and of course pushed the party political line. I'd expect nothing different. However even months after my column he simply could not see the way things were heading, and wrote:
'It is curious that in light of Mr Stephens perceived lack of "Buzz" that collectors in Asia the UK and the USA are eagerly awaiting their opportunity to attend Sydney in numbers that will match those that came to Australia 99'.
Well they must have all missed their planes Mr Groom. They did not come. Almost no-one came except the die-hards .... and they would have turned up to a show atop Mount Kosciusko! Sadly we all know that.
If the Chairman of the Organising Committee, and the head organising person from Australia Post, and the President of the local Stamp Dealer's Association all had no idea within a 400% accuracy band what a hopeless attendance they were headed for, there was never a hope of it succeeding. The buck stops with them.
The advertising budget portion of $3 million poorly spent is just that - poorly spent. Ad agencies can happily spend $20 million badly. Or $50 million. No problems. It is not their money. I have a Diploma in Advertising, and have worked in National PR and Promotions jobs for major companies, and owned and published stamp and coin magazines, and do know a little about this area.
The ads STUNK!
The advertising STUNK for 'Pacific Explorer' in my view. Advertising was lavishly wasted on wish-washy trendy ads that looked like Australia Post new issue puffery, or a new brand of perfume. The half page ads in the Sydney Sunday papers the week before the show were a joke. Tens of $1000s of wasted money.
They looked like a failed AP house ad for a new stamp issue. With a huge red $5 to emphasise that image. In TINY writing at side it mentioned the name of the show. So what? That name meant nothing to Joe Public - even if they did bother to read that far.
The 3 proven crowd magnets that would have bought in the punters were absent - i.e.
** Come and see $100 million of rare and exciting stamps under one roof **
** Have your collection valued FREE by leading local and overseas dealers **
** Being the family to meet selected Australian Olympic and sporting stars **
This is not the trendy wishy-washy nonsense that AP dished out, but several solid REASONS for folks to attend. In large numbers. I walked past Olympic Gold Medal winners Giaan Rooney and Kerry Pottharst on the first day and a small handful of people were present. Why wasn't the general public told these stars were attending via the expensive ads?
These Olympic Gold winners would have dragged in 1,000s of the public
Exhibition VP Tony Shields bragged to me a week before the show in front of other dealers - 'every bus side in Sydney is plastered with ads for this show, Mate'. Well as Tony does not live here, he would not have a clue, but I can assure him first hand hardly any buses ever carried an ad, and even if they did, what a stupid and wasteful way to try and get folks to a stamp show.
Plastering the words 'Pacific Explorer' on the side of a bus is an extremely foolish waste of money. It could be a travel symposium for all anyone knew. Press ads with three or four compelling REASONS to come is the way these things work. Not trendy or 'cool' I agree, not glamorous, but effective. Tried and proven.
Anyone can waste money on ineffective advertising, especially if it is someone else's money. Bus ads might work for the Motor Show. They might work for a new beer, and they might work for Elle McPherson underwear. They were NEVER going to work for a stamp show.
If I handed a $50 banknote to 30,000 people in Darling Harbour and asked them to attend it would have got a crowd 3 times what the 'experts' did, about only spend half the $3+ million budget. But they are NOT the sort of crowd you want.
'Australia 99' as I pointed out in my articles attracted about 100,000 visitors over 6 days. Why? Because the superbly oiled, and street savvy Australia Post team led by David Maiden and Danny della Bosca KNEW what they were doing, and had it all well in place a year out. Exciting Australia Post new products, and a long built up "Buzz".
The same "Buzz" Mr Groom and others did not seem to realise was absent for Sydney. If the folks running the show are not aware it is not interesting collectors other than the 'old diehards' and 'usual suspects', there is no hope. If they never even contacted the influential overseas folks like Les Winick with publicity updates of ANY kind at ANY time, there is no hope.
No Les, No More
David Maiden had the brains and vision to fly out Les Winick from Chicago to see the venue, meet the team, be briefed on the products, AND pick his brain on what worked for Ameripex. And what did NOT. Les is someone I know well, and writes a weekly column in 'Linn's Stamp News' - which sells more copies each week than 'Stamp News' sells in 2 years. True.
Les also ran 'Ameripex 86' in Chicago - the biggest and best stamp show in the USA ever. Les went on to be the unpaid PR man for 'A99' for a year or two in his various columns, as he was enthused by what he saw. All for the cost of a Qantas ticket and smart and lateral thinking by David Maiden.
I am sure Les personally generated more awareness and (free) publicity for "A99' than all Amber and Tony's and Malcolm's silly and expensive bus ads and radio ads combined did.
Amber McDougall has probably never heard of Les Winick. I asked Les today what info he had received from her - 'never heard of her' was his reply about the Vice President of this 'World Stamp Expo'.
I asked Les what contact he had had from any organisers in the year or two lead up to this show: 'I received nothing. I even asked to be placed on their publicity list, since I do write a weekly 'Linn's' column, and an 'Exporter' column and I never received anything. ZIP.' he emailed me today.
So much for the accuracy of Malcolm Groom's testy response to my complaint the overseas "Buzz" was zero, with: 'all contacts on the Australia 99 mailing list as well as many new names have been receiving press releases for some time'. If the #1 free publicity machine for 'A99' was not on the list at any time, I rest my case. Someone was asleep at the wheel.
Lets examine how the approximately 10,000 visitors to 'Pacific Explorer' compares to another show in the region.
Take for example Hong Kong which hosted 'Hong Kong 2004'. It attracted 150,000 visitors.
There were HUNDREDS of school buses a day bringing in children, a percentage of whom will become life long stamp collectors. David Maiden's team did the same for 'A99' - organised lots of schools to visit. Great planning.
As pointed out in my September article holding PE during school holidays was absolutely insane. Not only can't schools get involved, but families go away, and clearly will not attend.
Same with the MANY Jewish members of the trade and collecting community. Passover is a major religious holiday and kosher Jews simply do not engage in commence in that period. The largest dealers from New York like IGPC simply could not attend, much as they wanted to. These folks, as they did at Hong Kong, create exciting 'events' with media coverage to their stands via movie stars and celebrities.
Long lines for Rotary Imperf sheet
The lack of knowledge of the philatelic media by the PR folks was appalling. I had a girl phone me in early APRIL trying to organise a product giveaway 'before the show' for 'Australasian Stamps' - a magazine now defunct for years. The same highly paid 'PR Experts' never contacted 'Stamp News' at any time for the same project.
When I explained that the 'Stamp News' magazine being given away at the show was printed a week before her call, she was surprised. I gently told her the lead time of about 2 months was needed for such things. That giveaway is in this edition. Why wasn't this done six MONTHS before?
My guess is these highly paid 'experts' were using a media contact list from 'Australia 99' and the old 'Stamp News' phone number in Dubbo is now disconnected.
'What is APTA?'
I got invited to the opening Ceremony with Governor of NSW and CEO of Australia Post etc, and 'Stamp News' did not I understand. Go work that one out.
Another PR girl phoned me to invite me to several ceremonies. She did not seem to have a clue 'who was who' in stamps and asked me was there anyone I could think of to invite, as her list was not very comprehensive she said. I asked if she had APTA dealers listed there and replied: 'I don't know - and what is APTA?' ... you get the drift. (They were not, as far as I can see.)
These may seem like small things, but these PR companies that AP I am sure squandered $100,000s upon simply did not know the stamp business, nor the dealers. There is no substitute for real knowledge of an industry when organising a huge event like this.
I had young sounding 'Kylie-somethings' phone me to ask what was the highest price a stamp was worth. And later to do ABC radio interviews and so on, but they just did not know their stuff it seemed to me.
Kevin Duffy AO, three times Federal President of APTA/ASDA was invited to nothing, and needed to pay for entry to the show. I am sure the $5 did not financially trouble Kevin, but it seems absurd these little courtesy things were not organised via APTA or the highly paid PR gaggle.
Host dealer group APTA did nothing whatever for their members or visiting dealers. Not even a paid-by-attendees dinner or supper or drinks gathering. Many members were angry this great once-in-5 years opportunity to mingle and network and socialise with their international colleagues was lost, due to lack of organisation or will. One member at least is resigning over this apathy he tells me.
Indeed the official hosting by AP was positively meagre and penny pinching compared to the generous entertaining at 'Australia 99'. I guess those useless bus ads had to be paid for somehow. Why expend any effort or money on the dealers whose stands added $500,000 to the bottom line?
A STAR IS BORN!
About the only good thing about the woeful attendance is that Australia 's scarcest modern issue came from it, and even then did not sell out.
There was a Rotary International $5 sheetlet issued perforate and imperforate. The idea was the all dealers were able to buy a small number of these IMPERFORATES at face value and hence give them a wonderful profit boost if the price rose.
They needed to pre-order a $4,000 stand by September 30 and order these sheets 7 months before the show to be eligible for stock - and then ordering only 50 sheetlets was possible.
These imperfs would also be on sale on a limited basis at the show to the public - three a person maximum sheetlets was the firm rule.
The dealers largely yawned at this - I have no idea why. Almost none I spoke to bothered ordering any. The planned 15,000 issue was scaled back due to the apparent apathy from dealers, and only 10,500 were produced. Why not a neat 10,000? Who ever knows.
What no-one seems to realise was that all these were numbered on the lower margin. '0772/10500' etc. Even the Australia Post 'Pacific Explorer' website as I type this mid May does not show this numbering on the scans, or even say they are numbered.
Which to me sums up Australia Post's involvement, and lack of any market savvy - the one thing that was GOOD from the show they themselves essentially do not know about it seems!
Can anyone tell me of an official Australia Post items available for face value in a numbered form that has had less than 10,500 issued? I do not know of any.
As a comparable guide, the imperforate 'Australia 99' Navigator sheets sold well over 30,000 pairs and these sell for about $40 a pair - face value $2.70. They were not numbered.
Unique official issue since 1913
In fact my investigations reveal these are the ONLY numbered stamp items Australia has ever issued and sold at face value since the first stamps in 1913. Think about it. Either perforate or Imperforate. (The expensive 1970 'Anpex' sheet was not sold by Australia Post, nor sold at face value, and there were 50,000 sold.)
The only exceptions are the early 1990s Famous Women, Florey and Aviator sheets that were numbered and sold for $95 along with a Note Printing Australia banknote all in a fancy folder - clearly not at face value, and not solely from Australia Post, and not freely available to all who ordered them.
So being imperforate AND numbered makes these pretty hot stuff in my view. And being on open sale at face value from Australia Post means they will be listed and priced in all major world stamp catalogues. MOST important.
The huge bonus for their future is that masses of countries worldwide are also issuing stamps for the 100th Anniversary of Rotary. From what I can see the Australia Post numbered sheet is the 'Key' to the entire worldwide omnibus set.
Most other countries have just standard issues for this omnibus. One US dealer offered me treble face for my stock and I just laughed.
If only 10,500 blocks were issued - most to real collectors who bought them for their own collections, probably only a couple 1000 are in dealer hands. There are 1.3 million Rotary members worldwide, so if only .1% of them buy the stamp issue as a souvenir and it stays off the market for years, no more will be on the Australian market for future collectors at any price.
Mike Hill, Manager of Bexley Stamps/Davo (a standholder) told me today he is already selling them for $40 each and only had 6 left of his 50 allocation. 'It will be about the only good thing that came out of that disastrous show' he told me today. 'These could soon get to $60-$70 and maybe a good deal higher when album supplements come out next year. Rotary is also a strong Topical seller for us'
(2007 Footnote - these sheets have held up VERY well since the show and the price has risen strongly since - as predicted when I wrote this piece. They are on offer below:)
To me the absolute highlight was again drooling over Arthur Grey's Kangaroo collection in the Court Of Honour. Simon Dunkerley and I worked out that compact exhibit alone would sell for around $10 million if placed on the market today. The Tapling material I found rather flat and boring to be honest, and Arthur's collection was many leagues more interesting - to me anyway.
The BCOF King!
Arthur Woo's spectacular Western Australia with 4 x 1854 'Inverted Swans' was a real eye-opener! I bumped into a very old client of mine from Holland - Sybrand Baaker who exhibited his superb '1946 BCOF Japan' collection. And man, there is near NOTHING you could add to that lot. Quite an education to look at it again.
He met me at Amsterdam airport once and drove me to his home in the 'boonies'. I asked him why BCOF interested him so much and he did not really know. He had never been to Australia, or Japan, or had any family member contact with it, but just liked the stamps!
Great to see so many familiar faces among dealers too, and a tragedy APTA did not get their act together to organise a social gathering. A large number of APTA members echoed this view, it was unanimous in fact, but hopefully that too is a lesson others more inspired in future might learn from.
Australia Post support is essential for all large shows. We all know that. Clever choice of product releases will more than cover costs. They know that. Choosing the wrong venue, in the wrong state, on the wrong weekend, was just dumb. We all know THAT.
The same $3 million spent on another weekend would have seen double the visitors, and probably near double the take to AP - but the $3m cost remains fixed.
Some will say - 'it is easy to have 20/20 vision after the event'. Yes. However I wrote 8 months BEFORE the event sounding the warning siren, and was told to turn of the noise by the very souls who might have paid some attention to it.
It is gone, it was a monumental flop, and hopefully lessons will be learnt. Some have implored me: "do not write about this disaster as that will be bad for Philately".
Wrong. My responses to that are in the pages above. Sticking our collective heads in the sand is what would be bad for Philately in this country.
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