An email arrives from Believe Advertising & PR. In it is a video message from Perez Hilton. He wants me to come to Believe’s sixteenth birthday party, or as owner, Adrian Falk puts it, Believe’s sweet sixteen. Gosh, have I “arrived”? Among last year’s 300 Believers were Bachelor & Bachelorettes beaux and belles, Elora Murger and Jen Hawke; Tim Dormer and fiancé, Ash Toweel; and TV personalities, Mike Goldman, Christian Wilkins and Andrew Kelly.
Curiosity bites. How did Falk get Perez Hilton to promote his party? So I ask him. He’s appropriately appalled by the question. “I’m in publicity. That’s my job,” he gasps. “If you can’t maximise your own potential and get people to notice you own business, I guess it’s like the bootmaker who has holes in his shoes.” It’s also like the company that’s too comfortable in its success so far. Falk isn’t.
“You want to make sure that people get what you’re about. You want to stand out,” he adds. “It’s about leveraging [and clearly, showing: ed] what you have access to. Besides, it’s not who I am to send out a normal invite.”
“Who Falk is” is a man passionate about doing things differently. It’s something he has done all of his business life. “I always say I was dropped at birth,” he quips.
When his mates used their uni degrees to get j-1 visas so they could hang out on the US ski slopes, Falk used his to get a j-1 visa so he could work for three months in an New York ad agency. He knocked on every agency door until he did, and at the end of three months, his gap quarter-year agency asked him to stay on. He gained three years’ worth of experience, and when he returned to Australia, rather than look for a job in an agency, he began his own.
“I never wanted to be normal. That’s why I started my own business. I believed that I could do something a bit different from what everyone else was doing – whether that was launching Vodka O in a church, making Vivid Wireless (a division of Optus) really sexy…making home IT really cool at an event at Quay restaurant, or even launching MG Rover’s showroom, fifteen years ago with a cool fashion event actually in the showroom – with trappings like a laser projector and an international DJ – all of which were pretty much unheard of at the time. I’m always thinking of how to do things a little differently.”
Falk began Believe with the Yellow Pages as his “data-base” and the grit, guts and gumption to pick up the phone and dial one number after another to find prospective clients. He still considers the telephone one of his most valuable new business tools.
And while the “normal” PR agency has forged a path that’s edging ever closer to its advertising agency cousins, Believe hasn’t. I ask him if he likens Believe to a “fame” agency. He doesn’t.
“Yes, it’s about getting your brand, yourself or your company into the media, but ultimately it’s allowing them to move product. And now even more it’s about getting international media coverage for them, because the world’s becoming a smaller place and that allows them to reach new heights. But mostly, it’s about taking the brand’s unique selling points – the things that they’ll always have – and highlighting those,” Falk explains.
“For Vodka O, that selling point was ‘passion for purity’, so that’s where the church event and the ‘virginal’ dress code came from. We wanted to make Vodka O known as a pure vodka, because that set it apart, rather than looking to see what all its competitors were doing. When we worked with Novak Djokovic for Head tennis racquets, the racquet was all about speed, so we came up with the idea of having Djokovic hit a tennis ball faster than a speeding race car. Rather than look outside at the competition, we tend to look within – at the brand’s product and identity to come up with PR ideas from there.”
Is it about being part of pop culture or creating pop culture, I ask?
“I never really look to see what’s trending because what’s hot one day is not the next, and you have to be mindful of that.” But he does look to see what unpaid media opportunities are out there. Because “the benefit of unpaid media is that it’s often more credible, and paid media these days no longer has the guarantees it used to. Back in the day, you could run a TV campaign and sell out your product or service. Now publicity is becoming more important because it’s harder to break through and target your product to the relevant consumer.” It also allows his smaller clients to have a bigger voice. Believe’s client list runs from major international brands, like Seiko and Head Tennis, and launches, like Furla, Vodka O and Endless Jewelry – a collaboration with Jennifer Lopez, to a young trend-riding hemp flavoured kombucha drink called Hemp Oz and an older, classic Southern Highlands candle maker, Mary Grace.
Doing things differently has never changed for Falk. But what has? What has he learned? “My biggest lesson in sixteen years is number one, you don’t know it all. Number two is that sometimes days running your own business are just as hard sixteen years in as they are on the first day. Yes, it’s definitely easier sometimes, but you always have new challenges and you can never rest on your laurels. As soon as you do, that’s when you start losing grip on what’s going on and you’re no longer on top of what people want and what your clients want.”
Here’s Perez Hilton’s take on the celebration of being sweet sixteen that Falk intends to have: