King of the ambush

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Kym Illman says his products are much the same as his competitors’ – the difference is his aggressive advertising and personal service.

By Amanda Gome

Perth-based entrepreneur Kym Illman, 45, hit the news last week with another highly annoying stunt. This time the notorious ambush marketer hired a bloke to walk around the cricket with a cardboard cutout of Shane Warne advertising his company, Messages on Hold. He was fined by the Perth City Council.

Illman takes up the story:

“I have until March 2 to pay the $100 fine and I am not paying it. It’s the principle. It would mean you couldn’t walk around with a surfboard with a logo on it.

“I have always done stunts. When I was 27, a silly stunt backfired so that’s when I started my own business. I decided to sell peepholes that go into doors, bought some and a drill and went door knocking. I only sold one in two days and then I saw the American Messages on Hold and thought, ‘I can do that’.

“So in 1988 I set up a business that sells the recorded messages you listen to when on hold on the phone. Apart from one year, revenue has grown every year. Revenue is $13 million, we have 11000 sites around Asia Pacific and clients in 18 countries.

“We are successful because of our marketing and selling. People have to be pushed into buying our product. Ads in newspapers and on radio absolutely do not work. How I would love a business where people come to us!

“Instead, we market and sell aggressively. We do it in lots of ways. We get leads from all sorts of people including phone sellers. We have a whole group of telemarketers who cold-call and if interest is expressed we have direct sales staff who follow up on interested prospects.

“So why do they buy? The product doesn’t matter. It never matters. My products are as good as anyone else’s. But you have to make it different – not better – but different.

“Give the customer a lot of choice. Listen to what they want and then tailor something for them, impress them and send them lots of stuff out for free.

“After a while people say ‘OK, we’ll buy from you’. There is a guy who gives me good property advice so I am always looking for ways to spend money with him.

“Clients are with us about nine years so even if we spend a year’s worth of revenue to get them, it’s worth it.

“Even that is not enough. So you have to come up with really aggressive stuff. It’s bloody hard doing ambush marketing and half the time you come out of it with nothing.

“But other times you can get a minute of great publicity. I was at the cricket in Adelaide recently and I stood behind a woman doing a live interview at the start of the Ashes Test in Adelaide holding a large hand with messages on hold. The logo was there for a minute at absolutely no cost and went around the world.

“Most people have no idea that’s possible and they have no idea how to do it – they stick an ad in the paper and think that’s it. But you have to always be in front of them, always doing a campaign so they say, ‘We just saw you last week, didn’t we?’

“Every now and again I think about selling but it lasts about a day. Recently Lachlan Murdoch came and looked at the business. But I like running the business myself.

“My business has allowed me a magnificent lifestyle. I have about $19 million of property and the finest holiday homes on the Gold Coast. I just bought another one on Palm Beach.

“Besides, I crave the love of my clients and I love selling them something that is going to help their business. What else would I do all day – watch TV? I’ve got to have a challenge.”



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