A Private Interview with Michael Kiely

Michael Kiely is a eDirect Marketing Guru and someone who ranks very highly on my cards when it comes to copy and strategy. Michael talked to me about his current ventures and online businesses and these have been transcribed below.

Who are you and how did you get into online marketing?
I am 54 years old and so was not in the dotcom generation, though I studied its activities from the outside. I went off and did a certificate in ebusiness so I could include online in my strategic recommendations. But I was still an outsider. Then I discovered BLOGGING. I blogged my brains out. Set up more than a dozen blogsites, built my traffic slowly, watched the traffic through StatCounter. Then the skies opened and the hand of God touched me on the forehead. Faced with selling all our flock of superfine ewes and lambs (and lose 7 years work breeding for the style of fleece we want), we had to come up with $80,000 to hand feed them for 100 days … In one night, I built a reverse blogsite (top down info instead of bottom up) appealing to the visitor to ‘adopt’ one of our sheep. I presented our story and included appealing pix of the sheepies, added a Paypal donation button, sent out a couple of press releases, and waited. Nothing happened for a little while. I emailed my lists and that brought my first ‘sales’. But one of the newspapers picked up the story and ran it, in a small item. But it was enough to start a media frenzy and that whipped up a buying frenzy. 5000 hits in a day. 2000 adoptions in 6 weeks. 25000 hits in that time. Most interesting was the online ‘conversations’ and links people put up. They drove the whole wave. Every media outlet put a link. People who adopted put up links and contacted their networks. Adopt A Sheep was an online phenomenon. We took the order and delivered the product (A personalised certificate of adoption featuring a photo of the sheep) online.

If you run more than one website. What is the name and URL of your primary website?
I have so many, I haven’t got a primary site.. www.michaelkielymarketing.com.au but it’s about my past, not my future. www.carboncoalition.com.au is the future. www.adoptasheep.com.au is the present.

The internet provides access to global audiences and markets. Where are you located and is your market influenced by your location?
I live on a wool-growing property 4 and a half hours from Sydney by road, in a location called Goolma, on the Dubbo Road. That’s why I want to build an online business. So I can deal with people all over the place and live in paradise here.

What were the circumstances that led you to start your site/online business?
I had a midlife crisis and wanted to get out of the city/corporate circus.

What does this site do?

Are you a full time web business person or do you have other income as well?
I am a writer. I write ads. I am a strategist. I have some consultancy clientsi n the climate change business.

There are many methods of promotion for website. What do you do and which do you think are the most effective?
PR. Word of Mouth.
What techniques did you use in the beginning to launch the site?
I stepped on a success landmine in December and learned so many lessons.
Background: We ran out of cash to hand feed our sheep and ran out of grass.
So, faced with sending the entire flock of 2600 to slaughter and lose 7 years of breeding for superfine wool (which no bastard wanted to pay for anyway), we went public and appealed to people to adopt our sheep for $35 a head, the amount required to feed them for 100 days (the planning horizon during a
drought). Action: Bodgied up a blogsite with PayPal to take donations. I thought we’d get 6 or 8. (Friends and some of you kind people were the first to respond. Thanks Mike and Michelle.) So I sent press releases to 2 Sydney dailies – SMH & Tele – and waited. Two days, 3, 4, and a call from Tele asking for pix. Sent what we had. No, need a sad pic of farmer and wife. We took one, hard not to laugh. Day 6, 6.30am Sydney radio stations start calling. Small item in Tele. Channel 7 calls. Can they land a crew near the house at Uamby? 2 hours filming reduced to 1.45 minutes on that night’s news. Tele and Channel 7 put links on their websites. Channel 7 promos the spot on every break during the news and runs it last. Kabloom! 5000 hits on blogspot. 100 adopted. Next day: SMH online calls. More links. More radio stations. Louisa and Daniel, no training, giving interviews on air to listeners all over the eastern states. Orders pouring in. 10000 hits by start of week 2. Channel 9 sends a crew. Today Show. Daniel features. More links. More radio. Serious backlog of adoption certificates (personalised with name of sheep (+pic) and name of adopter. Calls from adopters – when will they get their certificates? Need them for Xmas. (Xmas! Forgot about that.) 20000 hits and 1000 adopters later, 3 of us getting 4 hours sleep a night, handfeeding sheep and churning out certificates, while fielding media and ‘where’s my certificate’ calls.
Recruit local business centre for help. Disaster. Customer complaints. Recruit sister-in-law. Great. Need more sheep portraits. Maxed out hard drive in my laptop. Crash. Byebye files. Phone keeps ringing. German journalist arrives to write a piece on the drought. In the next 3 weeks his articles appear in 4
major German online and offline newspapers. We are flooded with hits from Germany – 500 in a day. Put up a German translation of the blogsite with link on landing page. Local papers and radio arrive late for
the party. What’s that rumbling? The rising drone of the online conversations about us. StatCounter lets me see where hits coming from. Follow hits backwards to source to find links. Turns out people are posting stories and links on their personal blogsites, discussion groups arguing about the rights and wrongs of farming in Australia, quilters and knitters and spinners and crafty ladies telling each other they adopted, highschool girls (lonelygirl15) adopting a lamb for company in their adolescent cocoons.
People telling people what they’ve bought other people for Xmas. Wealthy people send a cheque for $1000, ‘inspired’ by what we are doing. Japanese man thinks he can take delivery of the animal. “Crikey! You’ll have to pay more than $35 for that, Cobber.” That’s Life magazine does a feature. More radio results. In the midst of the chaos, sniping comments left on blogsite by animal rights activists and farmers accusing us of not being financially crippled enough to deserve the money. (Response: “I’m just doing my best with what I’ve got.”) Calls from farmers begging for some of the money. Charity begins at home. “I’ll save my sheep first, then yours. I can’t help anyone if I go broke.” (We put full step-by-step instructions up on blogsite and flag it. We call NSW Farmers to discuss taking the program national.)
Negative blog comments spark large response from other commenters, positive. Cards and letters flooding in. Visitors turning up unannounced. Guided tours. Every adopter says they’re praying for rain. Christmas Day: People are opening gifts to find our one of our lambs, rams or ‘ma’ams’ have come into the
ir lives. It starts to rain at Uamby. 40mls. More than we’ve had for a year. It’s raining money, too. Results: Our target $87000. Total Week 8: $70000. (We had spent $60,000 up to when the appeal started.) Still fulfilling orders. Many fell through cracks when computer crashed. Also lots of no-show of certificate (sent via email) because customer changes email address, spam filter knocked it back, inbox full, etc. Still “where’s my certificate?” Customer is always right. No, not “customer” in our case. New friends? No. We are now family. This farm is their farm. These sheep are their sheep. We got an email from a lady in Sydney asking if “Benny” (a male lamb sponsored on behalf of Ben, an elderly gent in London who loves Australia and cricket) would send Ben a note of encouragement, as he had fallen into a
coma. I wrote back that I told Benny that Ben was ill and he said, “How sick is he?” I said: “He’s as crook as English cricket.” Benny said, “No one can be that crook…” and dictated a note to Ben. We heard later that, after getting Benny’s message, Ben started coming out of the coma. Our first miracle! Promotional Budget: Media $0. Website: $0. PR: $0. Reason for Outcome: 1. Novelty. Most people unaware of adopta-animal programs overseas (NZ, USA, UK), as I was until after we launched. 2. Convenient Christmas gift.
many grandparents said it solved a problem for them, buying for a bunch of grandkids. They could do it all online in 20 minutes. 3. Drought. Many people were effusive in their thanks (and we were the ones who were thankful) for giving them an opportunity to do something for farmers suffering in the drought. (We told everybody we weren’t the most deserving, but they didn’t care. We offered them the opportunity,. and the most deserving didn’t.) 4. Spirit of Christmas. Giving. Next steps: Expand the relationship. Expand the family.

What are your main sources of revenue from the site?
Currently from adoptions.

Where do you see key opportunities in the future for revenue?

We have a business concept which we are ‘conceiving’. It started with the desire to get a fair price for our wool, commensurate to the quality of the product we grow and the effort we put in. We intend to process and manufacture products for sale to consumers. The adoption scheme gave us the start of the process of identifying likely customers. (Unintentionally.) We will sell fleeces to spinners and craftswomen. We will spin the wool into yarn and sell it to knitters. And we will offer customers the opportunity to select and pattern or submit their won, and we will make up a garment, using a local knitter. I was blocked trying to think of how we could locate customers, but Adopt a Sheep opened the door. Our “Parents” might respond to the opportunity to purchase the fleece from their sheep, or the yarn, or a garment. On top of that we are exploring the opportunity of selling products with ‘their sheep’s’ image on, such as t-shirts, coffee mugs, cushions, mouse pads, key rings, etc. These ideas are based on the belief that some (not all) of our “Parents” would like to deepen their relationship with their sheep and with Uamby. We also expect to have members of our new family come to stay and help with the sheep. Other products we could produce include postcards, childrens’ books, photograph books, a book on The New Australian Farmer, a book on the ethics of agriculture (my field of study), a DVD on adapting to climate change. Further, we are deeply engaged in the climate change issue and will have ’soil carbon credits’ for purchase soon, based on carbon sequestered in our soils and those of conservationist farmers from across Australia. We want to roll the whole concept out – already I have one young lady selling photos of their farm on Ebay to raise money for feed. I have helped her with publicity and website construction. Louisa and I are starting a series of seminars across the State to teach other farmers how to do it. We see this as part of our Mission to bridge the city-country gap. We then see opportunities for us as the retail shopfront provider for farmers who want to engage their ‘new families’ in the way we have outlined above – ie. we provide them with the infrastructure and management. We could also provide a farm stay booking service for farmers. All of this is driven by one thought: save the family farm, as an economic unit and as a sustainable environmental unit. Give farmers access to new revenue streams and incentives to conserve the environment by bringing city people and their needs and expectations into the equation. (Ie. an adoption scheme requires that the farmer be ‘green’ and ethical in their treatment of animals; growing soil carbon requires ‘green’ land management techniques.

Where do you see yourself in a few years time?
Surviving climate change.

If you could give two pieces of advice to aspiring or new webmasters/internet business owners, what would they be?

  • Try to build a fan club or a family, a community around your brand/business.
  • Look for the emotion in the relationship. Emotion drives engagement which drives involvement which drives value exchanges (sales etc.)
  • Act with absolute integrity and be open about everything.

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