I have been intrigued by the appointment by Cape Town Tourism of its new strategy consultant from Australia, ever since the city’s tourism body had him on the stage to part-present the so-called ‘Strategic Plan’ for Cape Town almost two weeks ago. The more I have searched for information about consultant Ian Macfarlane, the less I have found!

My first impression of him at the meeting was one of being patronised by an Australian comedian, cracking jokes with a ‘dof’ Cape Town tourism audience which knows nothing.  We were served obvious information about the state of the international tourism world, and told to focus on ‘urban tourism’.  We were told controversial things, such as the exchange rate has no bearing on tourism arrivals, quoting research.  He contradicted himself, being scathing about market research as a discipline, yet when it suited him, he quoted it in support of his statements. We spoke after the presentation, walking to the car park together, and he told me that he has ‘been involved’ with Nielsen and TNS Research.  In preparing this blogpost, I wondered exactly what this meant – has he been a client, or an employee of these international market research companies?

It was his business card that started to intrigue me, which he handed to me when I asked him for it.  Billed by Cape Town Tourism as a brand strategy development specialist, I was surprised when his business card, for his company Strategetic Consultants, has a web address www.strategetic.co, a non-existent address, as it misses the ‘.com.au’.  Can his attention to detail be so poor that he cannot get his company website address correct on his business card?

Macfarlane was presented to Cape Town Tourism members as follows in an e-mail on 28 July: “Cape Town Tourism consulted Ian MacFarlane, brand strategy development specialist and MD of Strategetic Consultants, regarding the business case for Brand Cape Town and a strategic plan for Cape Town Tourism to deliver its implementation. Ian was employed as Marketing Director for Tourism New Zealand from 1998 to 2004 where his team spearheaded the highly successful ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ campaign, where after he was the Marketing Director for Tourism Australia and subsequently launched Strategetic Consultants where he has worked with a number of tourism destinations (only two, as per below) on their brand strategies”.

Ian Macfarlane’s biggest ‘claim to fame’, it would appear, which would have motivated Cape Town Tourism to appoint an international consultant, is his ‘involvement’ (that word again!) with the ‘100% Pure New Zealand” and “So where the bloody hell are you?” campaigns for Tourism New Zealand and Tourism Australia, respectively.  I could find documentation for Macfarlane writing about the ‘100% Pure’ campaign, as the Marketing Director of Tourism New Zealand. In doing the Google search about the Aus$ 180 million Tourism Australia campaign, I had to laugh when I read on Wikipedia that this campaign was a miserable failure, and had to be canned, as the UK media refused to flight it, due to its headline! Tourism numbers dropped as a result of the campaign, not quite what they had planned, one would think.  Surely this is not what Cape Town Tourism wants for Cape Town?  Macfarlane’s tenure as head of Gold Coast Tourism is not mentioned in any of his ‘Bios’.

The appointment by Cape Town Tourism was not pre-announced, odd as he has worked with Cape Town Tourism for the past eight weeks already.  It is the type of news the PR department of a tourism body would have put out.  His name is no longer visible on the Cape Town Tourism website, appearing to have been removed in the past few days.  As a Cape Town Tourism member, Macfarlane’s appointment signalled to me that Cape Town Tourism is incapable of writing a Strategic Plan and a Marketing Plan for Cape Town, having been entrusted with R40 million by the City of Cape Town to market Cape Town as a business and leisure tourism destination, and even more so when I heard Mrs Helmbold’s response at the ‘Strategic Plan’ presentation to my question about Cape Town’s proposed positioning as ‘Inspirational’.

My Google search about Ian Macfarlane interested me from a Marketing perspective, because a strategy consultant with such a strong marketing ‘involvement’ could be expected to be reasonably good at marketing himself and his consultancy services. His profile on Linked-In lists him as MD of Strategetic Consultants since 2007, past Principal at International Marketing Strategy (the previous name of his current consultancy), and past Marketing Director at Tourism New Zealand.  He did tell us that he grew up in Cape Town, and he still sounds very South African, but with an Australian lilt at the end of each sentence.  He studied at UCT for one year in 1985 (MBA?), and his ‘Bio’ on his company website includes B.Comm and M.Phil degrees, not mentioned on his Linked-In profile.  He was a Marketing Director at Tourism New Zealand from 1998 – 2004, says his Linked-In profile.  There is no timing given for his tenure at Tourism Australia as their Marketing Director, but it would appear that he went to Gold Coast Tourism in 2004, and then to Tourism Australia before he started his consultancy in 2007.  He has also been MD of Young & Rubicam Cape Town, and GM of the Lubricants Division of Engen Petroleum.  The only other mentions of his name on Google are a Cape Argus article about Cape Town Tourism’s new ‘strategy’, our blogpost about the ‘Strategic Plan’ presentation, and a fleeting mention in an in-depth article entitled ‘Cape Town Tourism: delivery time!’ by Carl Momberg on his oddly-named blog ‘A Spaniard in the Works’ !  What is interesting is that Momberg does not question Macfarlane’s credentials, but he does write that he requested an interview with Macfarlane via Mrs Helmbold, but that it was subsequently cancelled by Mrs Helmbold, motivated as follows: “…he isn’t a spokesperson for CTT (Cape Town Tourism) and I should put questions for him in writing to her first”, writes Momberg.  If my alarm bells weren’t already ringing, this action by Mrs Helmbold certainly enhanced my concerns, and one wonders what she would be wanting to hide about Macfarlane!

A call to Cape Town Tourism yesterday was most interesting.  The switchboard assistant told me that Macfarlane was no longer at Cape Town Tourism, and that he ‘had gone back’.  She put me through to Mrs Helmbold’s secretary Elana Theunissen, who became very stroppy when I asked questions about how I could get hold of Macfarlane.  She told me that he has left Cape Town, to return to New Zealand, and will return for ‘Phase 2’ on 5 September.  I questioned the ‘New Zealand’ return, as his business card says that he is based in Sydney, but she assured me that it is where he returned to.  The more I questioned her, the more agitated she became, and then said that she had told me previously that Macfarlane is not the official spokesperson of Cape Town Tourism – I have not spoken to her in months, and this information was in Momberg’s blogpost, clearly showing that Macfarlane is becoming an issue at Cape Town Tourism, and someone they no longer want to expose!  I could not help but get the feeling that she was very cagey and suspicious, asking me why I was asking all the questions!  Just ten days ago Macfarlane told me at the presentation that he will be in Cape Town until November.

As a ‘brand strategy development’ consultant, Macfarlane’s website for Strategetic Consultants, when I worked out how to find it, given the incomplete web address on his business card, is very lean on information.  Its home page has the most information, stating that the company is a group of consultants specialising in brand auditing, strategy development, and marketing strategy assessment for ‘high involvement brands’ (one questions whether ‘Cape Town’ is such a brand).  Naively, it assures the prospective client that its consultants ‘have extensive experience and are well qualified in the discipline of marketing’!  Its philosophy is the consultants’ belief that ‘success is predicated on efficient and effective functional relationships within and external to any organisation. This requires focused strategy and co-ordinated implementation’. The Consultancy’s guiding principle is ‘Strategy and implementation optimisation without incremental costs’! It states that its Approach is: “We have adopted a framework which makes maximum use of resources and information already available to the client organisation.  The process is adjusted to meet specific client requirements and modified in accord with investigation findings“, with a diagram showing the flow of a project from Project specification, to Analysis, to Consolidation (the Report, it explains), to Feedback, and finally to Recommendations.  The website information is all very simple (too simple for comfort!), and without any ‘consultant-speak’!  Five consultants are listed in addition to Macfarlane, whose ‘Specialist Area’ is denoted as ‘Strategy Development’.  On the ‘Projects and Assignments’ page, the Strategetic Consultants’ website lists Quick Engen shops, Hertz, Goodyear, J&B, and Smirnoff as South African brand projects, as well as Tourism Australia, Tourism New Zealand, City of Adelaide, Sydney Olympic Park, and the City of Sydney.  A Blog page has a latest blogpost by Macfarlane on Brand Equity, written in October 2009!   Interestingly the Contact page has only an e-mail contact form, without a telephone number, e-mail address, or physical address!

I found only one further website with a link to this particular Ian Macfarlane, being Veridian Media, an Australian social media consultancy.  On this site Macfarlane’s ‘Bio’ (confirmed by Veridian Media CEO David Warwick as being the same Ian Macfarlane as being used by Cape Town Tourism) is listed as an academic, but not one of these university sites offer any link to this Ian Macfarlane when one does a search: he is listed as ‘Adjunct Professor’ at ‘University of Victoria’ (actually the name of a Canadian university – the Australian one is called ‘Victoria University’!); member of the Advisory Board of the University of South Australia’s Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Sciences; and lecturer at the School of Marketing at the University of New South Wales, which is part of their un-mentioned Australian School of Business.  He is also said to have ‘provided strategy and management services’ to Sydney Olympic Park, Tourism Australia, ‘J&B Whiskey’ (sic), Engen Petroleum, and Hertz, as listed on his Strategetic Consultants website.  Interesting is that his work for Tourism New Zealand, City of Sydney, and City of Adelaide, is not mentioned, as per his Stategetic Consultants’ website, and that clients are listed, which are not listed on his company website, being SAS Software, the Delta Motor Corporation, and surprisingly, Discovery Channel, one of the communication channels proposed for Cape Town Tourism!  Macfarlane and I spoke about Twitter as we walked to the car park, and he told me that he was surprised at how big Twitter is in Cape Town, it being insignificant in Australia.  The Veridian Social Media website’s most recently recorded Tweet is a month old!

What interested me too, the more I thought about the mystery consultant, was the questions I posed to Cape Town Tourism CEO Mariette du Toit-Helmbold (and to the City of Cape Town Executive Mayoral Committee Member for Tourism, Events and Marketing, Grant Pascoe, who did not reply), in the interest of transparency, to which Mrs Helmbold replied as follows:

1.  “Why was an Australian consultant used, and not a Cape Town or South African one? “Strategetic’s proposal addressed all elements raised in the RFP (Request for Proposal) and presented the most cost-effective fee structure based on a risk-sharing model.  In summary, the Board approved Strategetic’s proposal because it best addressed the RFP criteria, proposed consultant/s had the most appropriate actual global destination marketing and brand campaign experience, of importance to CTT in the light of the need to grow demand in global markets, and the fee-structure was the most competitive”.

2.   What exactly are Ian Macfarlane’s credentials that make him suitable to work with Cape Town Tourism? The managing consultant proposed for this project was Ian Macfarlane, B.Com (sic), MBA., M.Phil., who has extensive international experience having developed and executed brand and marketing strategy for New Zealand, Australia, Gold Coast, Adelaide, Sydney and Abu Dhabi (This city is not mentioned in any of Macfarlane’s ‘Bio’s’). Furthermore, he has a solid understanding of the local environment, having worked and lived in Cape Town for 18 years in various senior management positions in the corporate sector. It is likely  he will be assisted by Lyska Nelson B.Sc. MSc., previously Marketing Research Manager Tourism New Zealand, Catriona Fraser (formally Marketing Director of Tourism New South Wales and The Australian Tourism Commission),  and Carolyn Childs, previously Tourism Director of TNS Research”.

3.   How much is he costing Cape Town Tourism?  “At least 63% of the remuneration would be ‘at risk’ (not explained)…for hard costs and a percentage of time (termed basic fee) , at predetermined intervals between July and December, not exceeding R170 000; on a commission basis (termed commission) for successful generation of third party campaign contributions (payable ex contributions and not ex CTT (Cape Town Tourism) budget)”.

4.   What exactly is his mandate? Over the next few months CTT will be required to execute both strategy development, operational activities and engage with extra-organisation partners. The required scope of work includes the following elements:

a.  Strategy development in association with the CEO with input from the Board of Cape Town Tourism and management including the following key considerations:

i. The drafting of a consolidated “future-fit” destination marketing and brand strategy

ii. 3 Year Operational Plan developed

iii. Budget revisions made

iv. Alternative funding channels identified

v. Action plan developed and implemented

vi. Concluding three cities marketing strategy which should reflect an urban city strategy, collective and individual plan, timetable and funding model, South African Tourism engagement plan and an individual and collective support plan.

vii. Development of the CTT support programme, which stipulates and arranges the necessary private and public sector support for the destination strategy as well as funding requirements.

viii. Development and implementation of the programme funding plan.

b.   Support of partner activities. Irrespective of the strategic programme; CTT is required to perform against its mandate. In this regard, the organisation will be required to shift its marketing activities and focus in the immediate future. This will require a number of activities alongside those, which will inevitably be executed in the day-to-day execution of tasks at hand. These incremental activities are likely to focus on partners who will assist and contribute to the campaign development and execution. Activities could include:

i. The selection, appointment and overseeing of an advertising agency to execute the brand campaign.

ii. Media plan; the development of a core media plan including the assessment of channel options and most appropriate media owners

iii. Budget reformulation: A process to reassess and attain Board approval for a revised budget”

5.   Can you confirm that he will be working with you until November?  “The Board approved the appointment of Strategetic in July 2011 for a 6 month period (until end December 2011)”

We question whether, as an Australian ‘tourism consultant’, Ian Macfarlane is the right man to have been appointed to prepare a ‘Strategic Plan’ for Cape Town, and what credentials he has specifically to do this job in preference to a Capetonian or South African consultant, particularly as he lists Sydney as a client, a city which is a significant competitor to Cape Town!  The actual scope of the project sounds vague and even academic in many respects, and could be a concern in itself, as a poor brief could lead to a poor plan.  The domestic market must be an important focus, one would think, in these trying times, but it is not mentioned in the Cape Town Tourism brief at all.  Given Macfarlane’s poor ability to market himself, his business, and Australia, we seriously question his ability to do this for Cape Town!

POSTSCRIPT 16/10: It is interesting to note that the website for Macfarlane’s Strategetic Consultants is now a blank one, especially poor for a marketing consultancy!

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage