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Message holds true at FBAs

MESSAGES On Hold’s ambush marketing campaigns have secured it a high profile, and certain notoriety, in local and national business circles. But while major sports events are where the company makes its strongest marketing statements, last week’s win at the Family Business Awards provided a highlight of a different kind.

From humble beginnings in the home of managing director Kym Illman, Messages On Hold has grown to turn over $4 million a year, at the same time teaching the world all about ambush marketing, and continuing to expand local and overseas markets.

Messages On Hold won the First Generation Family Business Award at the Family Business Awards last week.

Messages On Hold’s rise to success could have been written in Hollywood, with a script for a ‘struggler makes good’ blockbuster.

After being sacked from Channel 9 in 1988 and not being able to find work in the media industry, Mr Illman began to record radio programs for retailers from his Scarborough flat.

“I was forced to fend for myself and I started doing a weekly radio program for Jeans West,” Mr Illman said.

“I began earning in one day what I normally did in a week. I rang American Express one day and I was put On Hold. They had a re-cording on cassette.”

Mr Illman considered the on-hold market as an extension of radio production and began cold-calling businesses on the idea until he hooked quite a big fish.

“My first client was the Australian Tax Office. I was cold calling and I hit the right person, who understood what I was doing, giving people information that was valuable to them while they waited,” he said.

“Back then I wrote, voiced, mixed and sold the system. It was a lot of legwork and I sold about two to three systems a week.

“The company now turns over $4 million a year and employs a total of 50 staff.”

Mr Illman recruited an administration manager in 1990, who later became his wife.

“She was my very first employee. I thought I was doing a great job but really I was good at selling but not so good behind the scenes,” he said.

“Tonya came in and straightened it out and at some point we became more than work colleagues.”

Messages On Hold is now an international player in the messages market. According to Mr Illman the business is the sixth largest provider of on-hold audio productions in the world.

“Melbourne and Sydney is our target market. They are bigger clients. We are expanding into Singapore and have picked up a dozen or so clients in the past 10 weeks. We’ve employed a Singapore national here to help develop that market,” he said.

The company is also renowned for its ambush marketing techniques, with Messages On Hold hands, umbrellas, t-shirts and signs found at a wide range of sporting and other media events.

What began with Mr Illman paying people to attend football matches and wave his banners now has an almost cult following, with people across the globe sporting the logo in an attempt to earn some cash.

“On our website we have a section that rewards people for getting coverage of our logo,” Mr Illman said.

“We offer a cash reward if you get the logo on television and I often get surprised by some of the coverage.

“We recently got coverage in Nairobi. Two Kenyans were spotted wearing Messages On Hold shirts at the Pakistan, Kenya and Australia one-day series in August.

“It’s a cheap way of getting the brand out there. We do it for the fact that when we cold call a company the person on the other end of the phone knows who we are.”

And while Mr Illman sees Melbourne and Sydney as core markets he wouldn’t dream of moving the business, even if it meant more footy matches.

“I wouldn’t consider it in a fit. We don’t need to be face to face, why would I want to give up the lifestyle we have here in Perth?”

p See Family Business Awards report, pages 17-20.

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