[Editor’s Note: Erik is in the running to get that amazing job on an island somewhere in Australia: the one that you read about a few months ago, remember? Actually, he is down to the last 50. He seems like a nice man, so why not vote for him here. As Prospect’s official candidate, if he wins he’ll give us a reaction here on First Drafts. Below he explains why he went for it at all. So, go on, Vote for Erik!]
You feel a little beat up working for a newspaper brand these days. Every week, news of another paper’s imminent demise comes at you over the wire. Everyone wants to know: are you guys next? If not, then who is?
So I might have been feeling a little down about my profession in early January when the following message on Twitter caught my eye: “The Best Job In The World: http://tinyurl.com/8kj2h6”
I could have ignored it, but I clicked. Happily, that decision has landed me at the centre of social media’s most wildly successful marketing campaign to date.
The site where I landed flashed images of sugar-white beaches, elegant palms and clear, turquoise waters. Apparently, Tourism Queensland was looking for an “Island Caretaker”—someone to live in a three-bedroom beachfront villa above the Great Barrier Reef for six months, and look after cleaning the pool and feeding the fish. The pay was more than fair: $150,000 for the length of the contract.
There had to be a catch, right? Well, yes. The caretaker would have to partake in weekly outdoor adventures off the Queensland coast and report back to Tourism Queensland’s website via a blog and video diary. Curse the fine print.
Still, I cross-referenced the job qualifications with my own skills as online editor for a major daily newspaper. Blogging? Check. Video shooting and editing? Check. Writing ability? Arguable, but check.
There were, of course, more hurdles I’d have to clear before disappearing to an island in the southern hemisphere for six months. For example, how would my wife feel about staying in Vancouver, looking after two pre-schoolers and running her law practice while I buzzed about a subtropical island in a golf cart? I knew she loved Australia as a result of our 2003 visit, but enough to suspend her practice for six months, take our eldest out of kindergarten and join me down under?
I was prepared to call this a brief fantasy and return to my regularly scheduled duties in the newsroom, but first I emailed her the link with a simple three-word message: “Should I apply?”
Her three-letter reply came back: “YES.”
My task, then, was to create a 60-second video demonstrating my qualifications and knowledge of the region, that would somehow set me apart from the other 34,000 applicants. While many others used their 60 seconds to rattle off a long list of qualifications, I belong to the “show, don’t tell” school of storytelling—you don’t have to tell people you know how to make engaging videos; just make one and they’ll know. I came up with a simple concept: Erik, wanting the best job in the world but knowing little about the Great Barrier Reef, decides to do his research by spending every waking second watching Finding Nemo.
I sent it off and kept pretty quiet about it for four weeks, because I knew my odds weren’t great. But on the afternoon of 2ns March, Tourism Queensland posted the videos of 50 shortlisted applicants on its website. Mine was one of them, and everything changed.
The calls from media began at 6am the following morning and didn’t stop all day. I appeared on two radio shows, two television newscasts and in three print features. That was just the first day. In a surreal twist, I was interviewed by a guy who works about seven desks away from me.
The few people to whom I had casually mentioned it were as astonished as I to learn that something had actually come of it. Suddenly old friends I hadn’t seen in 20 years began materialising out of cyberspace, contacting me via email and Facebook to offer congratulations. They copied me on mass emails to their entire address books, urging contacts to go to http://islandreefjob.com/erik and vote for my video so I might advance to the final interview in Queensland in early May.
Some of them were confused: “What’s this I hear about you leaving a well-paying job to go live on a desert island? What about the career, the wife, the kids?” It’s a common misconception that the island caretaker will be wearing rags, spearing fish, and surviving off the contents of whatever Fedex packages happen to float ashore. The reality is that Hamilton Island, the home base, is a popular resort with a grocery store, driving range, and population of about 5,000. And Tourism Queensland will be whisking the winner away every week for assignments on the neighbouring islands.
Only the top online vote-getter among the shortlisted 50 will get a free pass to the final interview, and as I write this a woman with the entire country of Taiwan behind her is 85,000 votes ahead of everyone else. However, Tourism Queensland picks the other ten finalists and has made it clear that candidates’ ability to spread the word about their videos will be a factor in the decision, so every vote counts.
Any candidate with an ounce of media savvy understands we are being used by Tourism Queensland to generate free publicity for the islands of the Great Barrier Reef. I suppose we ought to have more dignity, but every time I look at that website and the job description, I feel like asking TQ, “Are there any pins or bumper stickers you’d like me to hand out at our St Patrick’s Day parade?”
There’s a long way to go, but I hope for at least a chance to visit Hamilton Island for the final interview—several days amid the sugar-white beaches, elegant palms and clear, turquoise waters sounds awfully good to me. And if any newspapers were to shut down while I was there, I’d wait until I got back to read about it.
Vote for Erik Rolfsen here.