Inside The Audio College we’ve been exploring ways to create the type of content that keeps people engaged for long periods of time, and there’s been no better example in my career than the SEA FM campaign to bring Ellen DeGeneres to the Gold Coast. When the campaign started in 2010, I couldn’t have imagined it would become a mainstream media sensation that would attract the attention of international stars and end with our radio show appearing live on Ellen’s show, in front of a huge international audience.
I started the ‘Bring Ellen Down Under’ Facebook page on the Thursday of the Easter long weekend in 2010. By Easter Monday, the page had attracted 5,000 followers. I realised my idea had perfectly tapped into a huge demand to see Ellen DeGeneres in Australia. It was time to fan the flames. I instructed all the celebrities that came
through the studios to record an appeal for Ellen to visit Australia. Usher, Craig David, Good Charlotte, Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg were some of the celebrities to record videos asking Ellen to visit Down Under.
Ellen was famous for dancing, so I created the idea of a beach dance and we spent two weeks promoting the time and location to our listeners. We had 2,000 people on Surfers Paradise Beach, dancing to get Ellen’s attention, with choppers flying overhead as the Today Show in Sydney broadcasted their weather segment live from the beach.
We were getting some traction but it wasn’t going viral so I decided to watch an entire episode of Ellen’s show so I could see the credits and write down the names of the executive producers. I then started trying to find their email accounts by experimenting with different variations. Finally, I didn’t get a bounce back! Knowing I had the right address, I sent them the footage of what we’d done. Then it was a matter of waiting to see if the campaign was appealing enough to get Ellen and her producers involved.
A few weeks after the beach dance, Ellen mentioned our campaign, although it was very brief and a little vague. She said, “Australia, I have seen what you are doing for me and I will get there one day”. Well, as you can imagine, that wasn’t going to be enough for me! It was time to turn up the heat.
I met with the Gold Coast tourism board to pitch the idea of our radio show going to LA and appearing on Ellen’s show to officially ask her to visit the Gold Coast. They loved the idea and decided to back us with a budget to get the team to LA. Anna Blight, the premier of QLD, wrote a handwritten letter to The Ellen DeGeneres show, inviting her to Australia. Even the government wanted to see Ellen DeGeneres in Australia! We let Ellen’s producers know we were on our way to LA during October of 2010 and that we would be staying in LA, interviewing guests and building more hype to get Ellen to Australia.
We didn’t hear much from the producers but once we were on the ground, they started asking questions about our movements and where we were going to be. After four days in LA, broadcasting our radio show from the CBS studios, we were sitting in my hotel room and feeling dejected. We started wondering if our bold move was going to get the desired result.
The phone suddenly rang, and I answered it. It was the guest booker for The Ellen Show, and they wanted to invite us to sit in the audience the next day. While this wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear, it was a start.
Once we were there and we were watching the taping of the show, Ellen and her executive producer Mary Connelly came up to us in the audience during a commercial break and told us how impressed they and Warner Bros had been by the campaign we’d created. They wanted us to come back the next day to appear on a segment of the show! Obviously, they’d invited us in to make sure we were good on-air talent, which is understandable given the huge popularity of the show.
We arrived the following day, went through the talent entry (where Ellen and celebrities would enter), and even had our own green room. Suddenly we were live on the world’s biggest talk show, appearing in front of a global audience. We presented Ellen with an official letter from the Premier of Queensland (Anna Bligh), inviting Ellen to come to the Gold Coast.
To say it was a surreal experience would be an understatement. In hindsight, it still amazes me. It’s one thing to have a great idea but many things have to go right for it to go viral. It’s a good example of what can happen if you leverage The Audio College’s techniques and strategies. These days, you need to be a great host and an even better producer. Having the ability to perform and produce is critical for a successful podcast or radio show.