29 October 2012

Putting the CAN in Canberra - addressing the cynicism toward #humanbrochure

I am starting the week very happy with the memories of the Human Brochure weekend. It will be hard to get back to reality. We certainly have been living it up. And I miss my fellow foodies already.

I met wonderful people who are all interested in food, culture and Australia's history, and of course, being connected. They just *got* social media. It was ok to carry on a verbal conversation while having another conversation on Twitter. It was ok to take photos at the table and delay the eating process! I think I have made some great friends. And I was impressed with the organisation, service and attention to detail we received. The hotel, wineries, restaurants, gallery, botanical gardens, and Human Brochure staff - all so impressive.

It was not all about getting free stuff and cash for comment as many perceived (by traditional media and also perhaps the non social media savvy?). The written and pictorial narratives on social media was genuine. While the very large majority was positive, there was some criticism of service. Which reinforces the authenticity of the participants in the initiative.

It was about working with government, food and wine providers, national icons and tourism bodies to create awareness about our capital city.

It was about breaking down stigmas about Canberra being boring and being the burden of Government decisions that some may not agree with.

It was about learning through experience, and subsequently teaching. I learnt about Indigenous art, wine making, Canberra's history, food and our country's participation in war. I also learnt about the lives of my new friends. They are passionate, intelligent, funny and interesting.

It was about appreciating local produce and hearing the stories behind these producers. They are passionate. We all indulged. But the food and wine was good quality. And we also saw where some of it was grown - right in the garden of the winery!

It was about getting humans to connect face to face - bringing loved ones, online friends and strangers together for quality time - and FUN! It was so great to see families, couples, friends and strangers having fun together! My new blogging friend turned travel buddy Tash got to know eachother better too. when was the last time you took time out from your lives to have fun, and essentially play?

And it was about engaging in a groundbreaking event of experience-based social media marketing. I would like to see this initiative run in other cities.

Australian Capital Tourism could have spent $1 Million on getting a celebrity to spruik Canberra. They could have spent it on a TV or newspaper ad. But they didn't. They chose to get real people from a range of ages and backgrounds to experience what Canberra can offer, and share their experiences on social media. Australian Capital Tourism is a government agency. I think this initiative is so progressive and edgy for the government. It is also a risk - what if the exposure on social media went wrong? What if the service or products we experienced were poor? The impact on tourism following this initiative is yet to be seen (and there is another tour in February), but I saw fantastic reactions from the Humans on the tour - both in person and on social media. I also saw Canberrians loving that we shared their city with the world. How courageous of Canberra's government to take this risk.

We all knew what we were there for - to promote Canberra - but we could do so as balanced, frequently and across as many social media platforms as we chose. There was never any pressure from Australian Capital Tourism to share our experiences, but I believe that we loved it so much that we wanted to share it with our networks. It never felt false from the inside.

Personally, as a blogger, I always feel 'on'. Observing, photographing, note taking, talking, listening, storytelling and promoting. Everything is a story. I was chosen to take part in the Human Brochure initiative, and I wanted to do it justice by sharing the best of Canberra with you in an honest and exciting way. The trip was fully paid for. The very best was showcased, an this was to be expected. I also thought there was a difference between what we spruiked - local family owned businesses and government assets - compared to big corporate multinationals. This made me feel more comfortable about promoting what I saw and experienced. I wasn't remunerated to be there, but I worked as though I was. I don't take opportunties for granted. Tash and I both provided honest balanced feedback to the team, but on the whole, our experience was positive.

I feel so proud and privileged to be a part of the Human Brochure initiative.

Ian Hill, head of Australian Capital Tourism left us with a quote from Benjamin Franklin.

"Tell me and I'll forget
Show me and I might remember
Involve me and I'll understand"

This quote sums up our weekend. We did stuff, we learnt new things, we enjoyed it and so we shared our experiences. And our opinions were valued.

The Human Brochure is a new way of marketing. It's not much different to a sponsored blog post or conference. It's not much different to a travel review. It is a lot like a blogger receiving free stuff for review - though it's not just a dress given to one blogger and then promoted once with a blog post. This was a holiday given to hundreds, as a prize in a competition, and promoted en masse. It's social media that partners with face to face experiences.

Disclaimer: All of the commentary on this post and future posts about Human Brochure are my own thoughts about the city. This trip has been paid for by Australian Capital Tourism. I was chosen to participate in the Human Brochure initiative because of my strong social media presence.


  1. My pleasure to know about it and it seems like all of you are enjoying a lot. Keep up the good work.

  2. Looked like a lovely trip and having always been cynical of Canberra you have definitely provided me with a different perspective! I love foodie holidays, maybe Canberra will be my next mini-break! L xx

  3. Psychologically if someone pays all your expenses you tend to enjoy yourself more. Without the worry of "what will I choose to spend my money on" freedom is created. Which in turn creates a positive environment. There is nothing wrong with that, I just find it difficult to believe that everyone on that trip reviewed as they would if they were regular paying tourists. Not necessarily pinpointing you Carly, you're an intelligent and honest person, but some of the more impressionable amongst that list would be easily led in opinion just by the mere creation of a monitary free environment.

    1. Absolutely Cherie - and I was careful to disclose my reasons for being there and not just promote willy nilly. I do think there may have been people there who just tweeted every thought, relevant or not.

  4. I agree with Cherie above. While I do think that the 'human brochure' approach is definitely a novel and fresh approach to a tourism campaign, I don't know if it will have the desired effect on a wider audience.
    As someone who spent a few years living in Canberra I guess you could say I am 'qualified' to bag it.
    Since I left a few years ago, I have not been back except for work, and am happy to keep it that way. It's certainly not a place I'd choose to live and I guess now I have seen the main sights (some of which I do agree are impressive) it's not somewhere I'd choose to visit, or in all honesty recommend others visit either unless they had a specific interest in something like Floriade. In my opinion Canberra is dull, lifeless and soulless. Canberra locals don't seem to have any perspective on the real world, and lots of the suburbs are roundabout filled moonscapes devoid of character. I think that to really make Canberra appealing, they should move all of the government buildings and public servants out of there, because to outsiders, it’s just seen as a small town full of politicians and government people.
    There is a decent food scene - but while there are some great restaurants, overall it pales in comparison to Sydney and Melbourne of course, and even Adelaide, Brisbane and Hobart.

    1. Lived there for a *few* years and that qualifies you? How?
      I have lived here all of my conscious life (5yo+) and it is the complete opposite of what you have just outlined. Canberra does have a soul. It just isn't clumped into one heap like 'conventional' cities. It is spread. And yes this is a planning failure but it doesn't mean there isn't a soul in the city. "Roundabout filled" "Moonscape"? I'll give you roundabout filled for the older suburbs. But moonscape? no, not even Gungahlin is a moonscape. "A Small town" Well considering the qualifying population for a city in this country is between 25-30,000, I'd have to say you are wrong. And oh no! we pail in comparison to Melbourne! SHOCK HORROR! 380,000 people in a 99 year old city don't match a 200+ year old city with over FOUR MILLION people? Jeez. You have the same, stereotyped narrow minded view as everyone else. Don't compare Apples with oranges.

      I'm sorry if your perception of Canberra is bad because you didn't have the initiative to do something other than work, or sit inside out of fear of the roundabouts (!) Live here for more than your crappy public service posting, and get off your high horse and look for the things that make a city great. The person makes the city. And quite frankly, your opinion (although rightly held, true) seems to be as artificial as this city.

      My $10 is you're from Shitney or Melbourne.

    2. I agree with Tom, MissPriss you are a jerk and have just insulted the tens of thousands of people who LOVE Canberra and LOVE living in it, who find the beauty, the understanding of others, the community and the SOUL much more satisfying than the bright sparkly shiny things that you must lust after in life. Canberra might just have improved significantly since you left it.

    3. I'm going to join as one of the people to defend Canberra. If you were bored here it was only because you didn't try to be entertained. Sure you aren't going to walk into civic and find something fascinating happening every weekend, but there are amazing things in this city. Last weekend there was the Nara candle festival, the Tuggeranong festival by the lake and a jazz festival and that is just what I know about.
      As for being a city of only politicians and government people, well the pollies are only here a few weeks of the year and there are plenty of us who don't work for government. But since when has working for government made you dull and lifeless?
      Canberra has a fabulous community oriented soul. It is a warm and great place to live or visit. I'm sorry you didn't experience it, you must have tried very hard not to participate to feel like that.

    4. I have lived there and I found people very snooty and obsessed with what level APS you were.

      It's also freezing and frankly, boring.

      I couldnt wait to get out of there.

    5. hear hear with Anon above, I also used to live there (as a student, not a public servant but sharehoused with some) and found it really bizarre how everyone worked for the government departments and was focused on what Department you worked in and what level your title was.
      Also sorry but there is nothing to do there and its FREEEZZZINNGGGG cold in winter.

  5. Great quote. Such a fabulous initiative! I think it's great to see glimpses of places before you visit yourself, you might opt for places you would't normally see. Following those you respect (& know won't blindly promote everything) helps with the trust factor.
    Heidi xo

  6. Well put Carly, good on you for addressing the criticism head on!

    To the readers above - I dont think the purpose of the human brochure concept is to say "if you visit Canberra you'll have an absolutely identical experience to our competition-winners". Rather, I think the point of the campaign is to highlight that Canberra has a lot more to offer than is commonly perceived.

    As an example, I personally had no idea that Canberra had so many wineries (that actually produce incredible award-winning wines like Riesling - that's an objective fact!). While our transportation and cellar tastings were complimentary, the positive effect from sharing our experience in the form of a 'tourism campaign' is two-fold: firstly, more people will be aware that these wineries actually exist and secondly, should any member of the public visit these wineries there is no doubt that they will appreciate the beauty of the vineyard, chat with the hosts and enjoy the wine. While the outer 'trimmings' of the experience may be different (i.e. a tourist may drive himself to the winery), the core knowledge and experience is genuine.

    Ultimately, like any form of advertising, it's up to the consumer to try first and then judge the product for himself.

  7. As a Sydney-sider who moved to Canberra in 2005, vowing to stay for no longer than two years, my experience is the opposite to Misspriss. I've been here for almost 8 years and am well and truly a Canberra convert. I love it here and you would have to pay me to move back to Sydney and put up with the traffic and poor public transport and ridiculous amount of tolls (my parents still live in north-west Sydney).

    There is plenty to do in Canberra, you just need to know how to find out about it, and I love the feel of living in a city that's also kind of country. I'll be honest, I've always preferred the suburbs to the big smoke, but if I ever do feel the need, Sydney's only a 3 hour drive away. Canberra is a beautiful place to live and because everything is so close I fully believe that I've had far more experiences here than I would have if I stayed in Sydney. So what if there aren't as many good restaurants here? It makes sense when you think of the population size and the size of the cities. But I'd never tried proper Turkish or Ethiopian food til I moved here, and I doubt I would have if I'd stayed in Sydney.

    Carly, I'm really glad you enjoyed your stay here, and I hope next time you come back you have just as good an experience - there's still heaps more to see and do! Btw that red caravan in one of your blog posts used to be the home of Brodburger (which has since been relocated to the Canberra Glassworks). Its history is something you might find interesting, and all the newspapers about the drama have been used to decorate the interior of their new location.

  8. I'm a Sydneysider who also participated in the Human Brochure. I love Sydney, but this experience really re-opened my eyes to Canberra. (I've blogged about it here: http://wp.me/pf1R0-2sd)

    I had been there before and thought that while it has first class institutions, the vibe was a bit boring. However I really think that's changed. Now there are cool little cafes, interesting shops, nice bars etc. I could easily live there.

  9. I was part of the Human Brochure experience and I have to say on the most part I really loved it. I quite openly told people about the one thing I didn't enjoy which was our dinner - poor service & so-so food. Even a free meal won't make me blog positive things about that meal. I've been to Canberra before and we're going back in January. I've written about Canberra on my blog before and think it's a tops city. I really don't know why people bag it...I'd love to live there. I think the Human Brochure was a lot of fun.

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  11. Good one thanks to share this information and
    "Tell me and I'll forget
    Show me and I might remember
    Involve me and I'll understand"

    Caravans Brisbane

  12. Luxery hotel with nice services, food, staffs, we enjoy the environment of the hotel..... thanks for this post..


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