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Archive for June, 2008

Another massive week and the 7 day sessions are likely to continue through the summer. We were at HMS Sultan down in Gosport last weekend – heart stopped every time they fired one of those huge guns, but the kids seemed to like it… This weekend we’re at the Gun Wharf food fair in Portsmouth and next weekend is the Brighton eco-fair at Preston Park.

The one good thing about working through the weekend is you don’t sit around wondering what to do – although the chance does seem appealing some times – particularly as my shift in Portsmouth on Sunday comes off the back of 3 days of in-store demos in London – the Food Hall at John Lewis in Oxford Street, and Whole Foods Market in High Street Kensington.

Each time I do a demo, the feedback is tremendously encouraging and there are a few offers of help from various enthusiastic new customers. One lady yesterday seemed committed to helping us break into the US market and I’ll certainly be following through with an e-mail on her return – one never knows how chance encounters might turn out if approached with an open mind. The fact we’ve won ‘best bottled water of the year 2008’ in the QATRAH awards was a great way to address the “so it’s just water” comments – sorry I had to slip that in somehow…

I fell asleep watching the Nelson Mandela birthday convert last night and was warmed by the genuine love with which fellow humans can communicate about a man they probably don’t know that well personally. Stephen Fry in particular eulogized so eloquently, he certainly made me feel as if I know the man better and watching Eddy Grant sauntering on the stage took me back to a time when it wasn’t wise to play Eddy’s music too loudly (back in my home town of Durban). Jim Kerr sang Mandela Day with emotion, replacing the anger with which he used to sing it the first time around – and then there was Amie (dazed and confused) Winehouse who I really don’t know, but she looks like she needs a rest.

Part of me still believes that when ‘the old man’ was released from prison and hurried off on a world tour, the schedule was set so vigorously that certain sectors of the ruling party at the time must have known it could kill a younger man trying to do the same thing. Happy 90th birthday Madiba – you’ve proved to the world that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and you have epitomised what it is to face adversity with dignity…

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I’ve always liked spontaneity, however, some leaps of faith are still bigger than others; let me explain…

On Thursday 12 June, I had a call from Dubai asking if I was planning on attending the Qatrah awards we had entered Aquapax for. The Qatrah awards are the Arab world equivalent ‘beverage industry shindig’ and to be honest, I’d entered Aquapax on a whim because of the interest I’ve noticed from middle-eastern customers whenever I do my store demos.

“Do you believe it would be a good thing for my business?” I asked the project manager in a call back the following morning. “Definitely” came the reply – he explained the awards are the crowning pinnacle of success in the Arab beverage industry and that because Aquapax is so different, we had a great chance of qualifying as one of the finalists. This would guarantee publicity in the largest bottled water market in the world (based on per capita consumption) and there might be a good chance of me speaking at the conference if I was prepared to attend.

My spontaneous self said “go for it” and following discussion with my wife, I booked a carbon-offset air-ticket Sunday morning, for travel that evening down to Dubai via Bahrain with Gulf Air. I’m not familiar with that part of the world and despite my formative years in Africa, nothing quite prepared me for the 35 degree heat at 09:00 in the morning – it was apparent my shirt per day + one spare packing discipline, wasn’t going to suffice on this particular trip.

Summarising the trip – because I get bored reading long blogs – I got to meet some truly sincere and lovely people from the bottled water and wider beverage world, representing New Zealand, the USA, South Africa and from all corners of the Arab world. The contacts I’ve made are all very worthy and we now have potential access to co-packing partners in 3 countries, along with some genuine connections with ‘friends of my future’.

The speech I’d prepared on the flight down was delivered from my heart and really well received by the attendees at the Almiya (bottled water) forum. The Qatrah Awards evening was spectacular, with entertainment from whirling dervishes, dancers, plus an incredibly talented illusionist; to cap it all, we qualified as a finalist in the 2nd Annual Qatrah Awards as Best Bottled Water of the year 2008.

It was a really proud moment hearing Aquapax being listed as one of the top 3 finalists in the best bottled water category for 2008, along with big budget Evian and local favourite Al Ain (purified water) – and you could have knocked me over with a feather (quite literally) when Aquapax was then announced as the Winner of the Best Bottled Water of the Year 2008…

How did that happen, I asked myself, while silently giving thanks to the entire universe as I walked up on stage to take the spectacular glass trophy. Thank goodness I’d taken a suit along for the occasion; the chap from Red Bull hadn’t bothered, but I would have felt so embarrassed meeting the President of the Arab Beverage Association wearing anything less than a suit and tie.

To cap the whole trip off, I got to swim in the Persian Gulf for the first time – heck if I’m going to fly that far, there’s got to be some R&R time.

I haven’t exactly stopped since getting back, but that’s for another blog if I can squeeze one in tomorrow…

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I had a mailing from Datamonitor (the research people) on Thursday, offering a series of research reports, one of which is headed ‘The Cult of Celebrity’.

Their sales pitch includes the following ridiculous (imho) statement that “Voyeurism has achieved a level of acceptability and marketers need to meet consumers’ needs for accessibility and information on celebrity endorsee”.

The scope of the report apparently includes “Insights into how and why celebrity remains a powerful tool in a marketing context, along with assessments of its limitations and challenges.” And most importantly (please forgive my sarcasm) “Strategic conclusions and actionable recommendations on effectively harnessing the power of celebrity endorsement and branding”.

To me, celebrities who endorse goods for cash are often prostitutes by any other name; degrading skills or any ability they may have unworthily for incongruous personal financial gain.

To me, a product’s integrity has to be the hero and that’s the stance we’re taking. Aquapax is ‘one of the purest natural mineral waters on the planet’ – our brand communicates honestly and stands up on its own as ‘a pure thirst for the environment’ referencing its more ecologically aware package and light (carbon balanced business) footprint on the planet. Having to support an inadequate product proposition by using someone else with no real connection to the product is not somewhere I really want us to go.

SO what else happened Thursday? Well it was world environment day, but you had to look really hard to find anyone who knew… We sent out press releases full of anticipation, referencing how we’re carbon balancing our business impact and the amount of energy a carton of water saves versus an oil based plastic bottle or a pretentious glass bottle (complete waste of carbon) – generally highlighting how we’re working at making a real difference.

A baby emu made the no. 2 item on BBC national TV news on Thursday! Not only was our PR not picked up, I didn’t notice any others on the world environment day subject either. Maybe I should have dropped Mark Corbett’s recent reference to me as ‘swimming against the flow like a returning salmon’ into the press release – I like the noble analogy and that may even have caught a research assistant’s eye.

I find it quite sad – not because our genuine ecological efforts didn’t make the news; journalists appear to have moved on from a subject they don’t really understand or want to spend time researching to more familiar ‘journalistic’ territory of sensationalistic drivel. Where is the next Kate Webb? We need you to write and stir our conscience on this very real subject – not just on world environment day, but constantly, until the message gets through!

A few other things happened on Thursday – some are only shared with those who know me personally – I am SO happy (and exhausted) right now 🙂 . I also did another in-store demo at Whole Foods Market in High Street Kensington, where we had a few export enquiries from North American visitors and 2 more interesting people wanting to understand the ‘potential investment opportunity’. Who needs trade shows – people are people first and if you’re in their frame of reference, they seem to find you.

The final thing I’ll mention was the beginning of something I foresee as a potentially wonderful future with a design guy named Tom. He and his fellow designers had spotted Aquapax in the Sunday Times Style magazine – they ‘get it’ and they’ve approached us to help others ‘get it’ too. Following my intuition makes decisions relatively easy, so watch this space – we plan on helping them (& us) become famous… oh yes, when we are, I promise not to do any celebrity endorsements without all the proceeds going to charity.

Keep smiling – even a lemon tastes good after tequila.

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