Score That Dream Job!

by Julian Ryall
Ben Southall: Marketing is all about media Ben Southall on how to promote oneself

Leaving the “Best Job in the World” for a far less certain future would have many people lamenting the loss of the complementary jet ski and beach bungalow, and worrying about what’s next.

But even before he set foot on Hamilton Island as winner of the worldwide competition to be caretaker of this little speck of paradise on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Briton Ben Southall already had a future plan.

“Yes, I was sad to leave the house, the island and to say goodbye to all the really good friends that we had made on the island, at the running club and the sailing club, but I had always said it was going to be an experience, an adventure and I was planning the next thing before I had even started this one,” Southall told WIFM.

Southall’s world tour took in Japan last February The 34-year-old, from Petersfield in Hampshire, fought off more than 35,000 other applicants for “The Best Job in The World,” a marketing campaign devised by Tourism Queensland that became a global event and far outstripped the organiser’s wildest dreams.

Southall had previously rebuilt a Land Rover and driven solo around Africa for a year raising money for charity — climbing the five highest mountains on the continent and running in five marathons — so he was physically and mentally prepared when the judges whittled the number of finalists down to 15.

In what became a weeding-out process that was closely watched around the world, the finalists were required to go snorkelling in the crystal-clear waters around Hamilton Island, enjoy beach barbecues and a spa — before blogging about their experiences to promote Queensland as a tourist destination.

“Now that I look at it, the initial application video was really the toughest part of the selection process,” he said on a recent trip to Tokyo. “To get yourself noticed out of 34,684 other applicants would take something pretty special. Getting into the final 50 was the hard bit, but once I was there I knew I could let them find out about the real Ben Southall.

“My video really covered the last 10 years of my life in a nutshell: The crazy things I’ve done, the charity work, the hard work and the event management planning,” he said. “The most important part would be running the website and as I’d done it with my expedition the year before, I was more than equipped to do it for Tourism Queensland.” Based on the video, the shortlist for British finalists was whittled down to three people. Each had to get as much publicity to demonstrate that they could do the same for Queensland.

“I staged a stunt on the banks of the River Thames which involved giving out 2,000 daffodils, 20 bottles of champagne and 40 bottles of wine to mothers on Mothers’ Day, dressed in a white tuxedo and Hawaiian shirt while sitting in a paddling pool — in March,” he said. “The press loved it and, as a finale, I paddled an inflatable mattress down the Thames in an attempt to get to Hamilton Island first.”

Not all hard work Southall then joined the other 15 contestants from around the world in Queensland for the final. This took place over three days on Hamilton Island and involved all manner of things — all under the spotlight of the world’s media. There was everything from personality tests to swimming trials, blogging practice to relaxing in a spa while being interviewed.”

Southall, in his disarming manner, said he can’t claim all the credit for the subsequent increase in visitors — there was a 74 percent increase in Britons travelling to the islands of the Great Barrier Reef and Japanese numbers were up 60 percent, while Chinese arrivals rocketed 326 percent — but he admits to being recognised in the street fairly frequently.

“I’d only been back from Africa 10 days when I saw an article about the competition and we decided to just go for it”, he said. With girlfriend Bre Watkins, a stunt woman from Vancouver whom he met during his travels in Africa, Southall made a short video showing some of his adventures — but also underlining his can-do attitude and ability to get on with it when a situation becomes challenging. Just the sort of thing that Queensland’s marketing people wanted to see in their own campaign.

“I had an attitude of not expecting to win, but giving it my best shot — and, if it happened, it happened,” he said. “The trip was the first time I had visited Australia, so that was my prize really.”

Once the shock of actually winning had worn off, Southall said the six-month stay on the island was not all hot air balloon trips, skydiving and scuba diving.

“There was quite a lot of hard work, travelling between as many of the 300-odd islands on the reef — I think I managed 62 — keeping the blogs updated, continuing the publicity campaign and making sure that my employers were happy with what I was doing. But it was bloody good fun.

Ben Southall beat 34,684 others to land “Best Job in the World” “And how hard can marketing be when you have a product like that to sell?” he asked. “I’d gone from an agricultural supplies company in Hampshire, where I was selling mud and grass to pay for my Africa trip, to promoting palm trees, sandy beaches and sunsets.”

He is writing a diary-format book chronicling his time on Hamilton Island. “I just want to tell the story of my stay and make people jealous enough to want to go there themselves”. And he is planning an epic 10-week charity kayak trip along 2,575 kilometres of the Great Barrier Reef, with children taking part in educational programmes on certain stretches, and with celebrities and documentary teams also on board.

Nothing Ben Southall sets his mind to seems to be on a small scale.