G'day USA - Australia Week - 10 Years of Celebrating Australia in the USA

January 2013 marks the tenth year of the biggest annual promotion of Australian excellence in the United States of America - G'day USA.

G'day USA is a celebration of Australian capabilities across a range of sectors including finance & business, technology, retail, arts & entertainment, tourism and leading edge research.

Over the course of about 2 weeks, Americans have a chance to stimulate their five senses, their brains, their hearts and hopefully their wallets at many of the 20+ events in 7 cities across the USA.

Over the last decade, G'day has grown from its original, and far more modest, G'day LA 10-day program to the much larger multi-citied G'day USA event you see now.

As is often the case with high growth, high profile activities, there are lots of people who celebrate the success, join in and help build for even greater success.

Sadly as with most successful ventures, there are also some negative voices in the mix. G'day USA is no different. There are people who have always sought to dismiss, discredit or disbelieve.

Often the detractors point to the Gala Dinner held in Los Angeles as "proof" that G'day USA is just a party organised by Aussies in Hollywood for Aussies in Hollywood.

But to describe all of G'day USA's achievements by one Gala Dinner is as short-sighted and limited as defining Italy by "pasta" alone.

The program celebrates so much more about Australia than just our entertainment and sports greats. It recognises and promotes Australian entrepreneurs in technology, researchers in life-sciences, thought-leaders in political and economic thinking, as well as captains of industry, fashion designers, manufacturers and of course our enviable tourism and life-style appeals.

Yes, the LA Gala Dinner is a highlight event. And yes, it is indeed a celebration of Australian excellence in the fields of entertainment, held, one might argue quite logically, in one of the world's most significant film, television and music hubs.

But despite this, the LA Gala has been, and remains, both a blessing and a curse to G'day USA.

Before I explain, it's worth declaring a strong and personal belief in the program! I am one of the four original founders and was running Austrade's operations in LA at the time, along with John Olsen (Consul General, DFAT), Wally Mariani (Snr Exec VP Qantas, Americas) and Michael Londregan (VP Tourism Australia, Americas).

So clearly I will have a more positive frame of mind to start with than most.

But I hope by explaining some of the thinking behind the program, which includes the LA Gala Dinner, that people may better understand the broader economic, cultural and commercial value G'day USA has played over the past decade.

You see this all started from the notion that Los Angelenos knew so little about us, other than perhaps Paul Hogan as Crocodile Dundee, that we had to find a way to engage their attention and add some diversity to the image.

So we tried to think up ways we could get the local's attention and broaden their understanding of what Australia had to offer. The original Business Plan had only a few key objectives;

• Focus on promoting Australia as a great place not only to visit, but also in which to invest, buy from or to study
• Focus on 2 - 3 sectors relevant to the LA market
• Help NSW companies get commercial deals and connections
• Get positive, local media

We specifically identified the need to run a program for 2 - 3 years to avoid the "big bang, big fizzle" syndrome, but I can attest to the fact that we all thought that if G'day made it into its third year it would be an amazing achievement.

You see the US market is one of the largest, wealthiest and toughest consumer and media markets in the world.

Every nation around the globe and hundreds of thousands of businesses are competing to get the US consumer's attention and a share of their wallet. The "noise" in the marketplace is therefore deafening. Finding a way to cut-through that noise is a formidable marketing challenge for anyone, surviving is another.

Assuming you have 30 seconds to get someone's attention, you need to appeal to something they are interested in and/or are familiar with - in LA that means you start with the entertainment industry and celebrities. It's not rocket science.

To illustrate, try getting a radio or paper to promote an Australian supermarket showcase in Bristol Farms for no other reason that it is G'day USA - Australia Week.

But let them know Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman are in LA supporting something called G'day USA and it's a different story. You are more likely to get - "Keith Urban is in LA this week to receive an Australian award for Excellence in Music as part of the annual Aussie G'day USA program - a 10 day celebration of all things Aussie, including this year a showcase of Australian foods and wines at all Bristol Farms supermarkets in LA. "

Which brings us to the dual blessing and curse that is the LA Gala Dinner.

It's a curse because it's an easy, highly visible target for nay-sayers quick to point out its nothing but a celebrity fest, with half the ball-room filled with Australians.

Like many quick-to-judge reactions, this shows poor consideration. If one goes no further than just to point out that based on the above criticism, at least half the room is made up of Americans, including many of the major studio houses who bring productions to Australia like Wolverine, then you can start to see that perhaps there is more to the Gala and indeed, G'day USA than first meets the eye.

If you go back to the Keith Urban example, you don't have to be a marketing guru to see the stronger appeal of promotion by association. And I'm not ashamed to say we used that principal mercilessly, especially in the first few years.

We used celebrities involved in the Gala - both US and Australian - to attract large commercial sponsors, to drive extensive media coverage, to cross-promote the other more commercial activities occurring during the program and to attract US visitors to those associated events.

And it worked.

In 2005, Australian companies working with us in Austrade LA reported over $A5 million in sales as a result of the various food, wine, fashion, music or art showcase events we held during G'day LA or as a result of the connections they made at highlight networking events like the Gala Dinner.

In 2008 Austrade NY reported that just within the fashion events alone about $A6 million had been reported over the past 3 years with designers making sales to high fashion departments and speciality stores such as Barneys, Saks 5th Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Henri Bendel and Bloomingdales.

I understand the practice of tracking commercial returns stopped somewhere along the lines, but I know the last reported figure was over $22 million.

By then I guess the model had proven itself. Not to mention the fact that Australian exporters and commercial sponsors clearly wanted the program to expand to new locations and feature new industry sectors in order to provide even greater reach into the US market.

In each new city the program was adjusted to match the local conditions; technology and research in San Francisco, finance and fashion in New York, oil and gas in Huston etc.

The approach of using 'celebrities' continued in those markets too - just the nature of celebrity changed. Celebrities became more sector-specific personalities. And in many instances we moved even away from Australians telling Americans how great we are to American icons telling Americans how much Australia has to offer!

For example, in New York we worked with Ford Model Agency to promote Australian Fashion, more recently in San Francisco, the Innovation evening featured Lars Rasmussen of Googlemaps and Facebook fame as an advocate for the creative, technological capabilities of Australia.

Wolfgang Puck, a hugely popular (albeit Austrian) US-based chef and restaurateur, has previously helped promote Australian food and who can forget Oprah Winfrey and her Ultimate Australian Adventure that effectively promoted our tourism sector to millions and millions of viewers around the globe, and aired at the same time as G'day USA.

Using celebrities in the US market is a proven marketing tactic. But of course, it has to be followed-up with substance. By reaching its tenth birthday this year and delivering millions in additional sales to Australian companies over the years, G'day USA has surely proven itself?

G'day USA may not last another 10 years, or even another 3, as all good things come to an end.

But no matter when the end comes, I will always be extremely honoured to have played a part in the creation of such a strong celebration of Australian excellence. And I take my hat of the many Australians and Americans, such as Barbra Held, Event Director for G'day since its second year, who helped the program grow and maintain momentum in a market as tough and unforgiving as the USA.

It therefore also goes without saying that I'm also proud of the LA Gala Dinner, its celebrity appeal and the media, sponsorship and commercial contacts it attracts for the broader program. To me it has always been a blessing.

Investment in Commercial Diving Will Save the Economy, Not NASA

It seems that every day in the news someone famous is diving into the depths of the oceans with new and innovative technology in order to explore that which human eyes have never seen firsthand. From new submersibles and new techniques, these advancements are helping to create a new era for exploration and perhaps an entirely new segment for the economy. So this begs the question:

"Should government funding that has traditionally been slated for space exploration, be redirected for ocean exploration with the intent of creating groundbreaking technology and a new economy that would benefit far more people than that of NASA?"

A very famous scientist once said that in order for the human race to survive, we must go into space. This stream of thought does in fact coincide with the current problems associated with our planet such as pollution, food shortages, disease and overpopulation all of which do in fact support a 'get off the planet and into space or else' mentality. However, the costs associated with space travel and the colonization of the moon or Mars is not a financially viable one with tax money, considering the current state of our national economy. What is within our grasp, through private funds and much lower government involvement, is moving massive amounts of research and development towards the ocean environment which would result in as much, if not more, technological advancements in a plethora of fields. This in fact has already been proven.

Although there still are underwater labs being used and there were many labs used in the past to gain a working knowledge of the underwater world, SEALAB is perhaps the most famous where many experiments were performed and a large amount of information was gleaned from these studies. Examples of such ranged from:

• Manufacture of new types of tools
• Salvage techniques
• New types of dry suits
• Physiological testing

Other advancements that would undoubtedly arise from investments in any type of underwater facility would involve such things as, reusable energy, location of more natural resources, more efficient recycling methods, knowledge about the climate and safety practices relating towards a self-contained and self -sufficient habitat for people.

Space vs. Oceans

The costs associated with the colonization of space are massive and its return on investment for the tax payer is negligible. The obvious choice is to first inhabit the underwater realm as we have the technology and the workforce, in the form of commercial divers, to do so. This would provide a shot in the arm for the diving industry and the divers associated. There are far more divers and dive companies than astronauts and space agencies and the money generated would soon dwarf that of anything NASA could ever produce for the national economy. The benefits from a renewed interest in any type of underwater expansion would be direct and quickly realized as opposed to some moon outpost that would cost over 100 billion dollars and take years (decades) to generate any real value for the American economy.

This is not to say that space exploration should be scrapped in favor of underwater labs or jobs for commercial divers. What is being suggested is that tax money cease to be used for a hand full of people to orbit the planet and instead be invested toward employing thousands of people that would ultimately lead to an economic windfall for the dive industry.

In order to fix the planet (that is 75% water) it seems obvious that investment from the government and private firms alike should shift their funds from a mediocre government agency to start-ups and small businesses that would create jobs and lead to new innovations that would out pace those created by NASA.

Wholesaling in a 2013 Down Market

All predictions for the U.S. housing market have been positive for the year ahead, building on the recovery in 2012, so why worry about wholesaling in a down market in 2013?

Few doubt that we will have a stellar year for housing in 2013. A few markets may not have hit bottom yet, but around 80% of major U.S. metros saw dramatic improvements in 2012 and this is expected to continue in the New Year.

Housing prices and values have been heading up, inventory down, marketing times have been slashed and more than $1 trillion has been added to home equity in the last 12 months. Many have even forecast home prices to rise another 10-20% in 2013, making it an incredible year for real estate investing.

However, the height the real estate rebound will hit in the next year will certainly be somewhat dependent on the broader economy. This is where the real threat lays and why real estate investors still need to be prepared for wholesaling in a down market, at least in some areas.

The fiscal cliff, although certainly over-hyped in the media brings many threats from budget cuts to higher unemployment and higher taxes which could crush spending, economic growth and see a significant amount of flight capital and talent in the air, even if only inter-state and not out of the U.S.

The revelation that 2012 holiday sales reverted back to the depths of 2008 is a sobering sign that not all is well, and at least that Americans are being much more cautious about their spending. Another tough financial year for America will certainly have an impact on the housing market. This doesn't necessarily mean preparing for wholesaling in a down market all over the country but it does mean being ready for it in select markets and in some cases not the markets investors are expecting.

On the bright side there will certainly be more distressed properties and foreclosures available for flipping than even the world's richest billionaire Carlos Slim could take on by himself. There are literally still hundreds of billions in non-performing loans in the pipeline which will make great deals for investors over the next 12 months.

Even in the hardest hit areas where home values continue to decline there will be great profits for wholesaling in a down market providing investors know how to market themselves and insist on sufficient spreads.

However, most important is anticipating what trends will be seen in shifting demand for types of housing and the areas which are most in demand.

Technology will have a much larger influence than most imagine and a tough retail year will spur innovation and adoption of tech faster to cope with it.

In a new era where workers and businesses are no longer dependent on location to earn what properties will be the most in demand and which previous hot areas could quickly cool down? Where are homes cheaper, more spacious, internet connections fastest and houses equipped for home based working?

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Financial Tips For Reducing Debts With The 2013 New Year

For many consumers living in today's society, it is not uncommon for them to feel the heavy burden of being overwhelmed with debt. People have charged more money than they can afford to pay. On the up side, as the new year begins, there are many things that debtors can do to lessen their financial burdens. In fact, by following some helpful tips, achieving debt freedom is possible for anyone. All debtors need to do is realistically assess their financial situations and act responsibly on their findings.

1) Document and Analyze Spending

When a person cannot track where his or her money is being spent, it becomes very difficult to know where financial changes need to be made. All purchase receipts should be kept as this helps track money. Once a month it is very helpful to analyze how money is being spent. After analyzing, a person can easily determine the expenses that need to be cut back on.

2) Create a Spending Plan

A debtor will find it much simpler to get out of debt and stay out of debt by creating a realistic spending plan. The spending plan should only include funds for expenses that are "true needs." Once a spending plan is developed that allows for all "true needs" to be covered, only then can a debtor start pulling his or herself out of debt instead of going further in.

3) Do Not Use Credit Cards

No matter the credit limit that a person has on a credit card, it is best to leave credit cards at home for true emergency situations.

4) Prioritize Debts

By prioritizing debts, a debtor can then know which debts need to be paid off first before the others. It is always best to pay off debts that have high interest rates before debts with lower rates.

5) Open a Saving's Account

According to research, for every $100 dollars earned by Americans, less than a dollar gets saved; this very well may be why so many Americans are so far in debt. By saving money, debtors will find that they have extra funds to turn to in the event that an emergency was to take place; this will extremely help in keeping them from going further in debt.

6) Cut Down on Being Impulsive

By lessening the amount of money that gets spent on impulsive activities, such as entertainment and vacations, debtors are better able to save their money and spend it on paying down their debts.

7) Take Part in Credit Counseling

The best way to learn about becoming debt free is to take part in credit counseling. This type of education can help debtors create realistic budgets as well as teach them useful money management techniques.

8) Do Not Go Further Into Debt

Of course, the best way to get out of debt is to quit going into it. Simply put, all debts should be resolved and no additional debts need to be added.