How being a crowd favourite saved SPC Ardmona

Social media played a big part in the resurrection of SPC Ardmona. It’s a lesson family businesses can’t afford to miss – just ask one of South Australia’s favourites, Spring Gully Foods.

What can family businesses learn from SPC Ardmona’s resurrection? According to Spring Gully Foods, a South Australian relish and jarred food-producing family business that, like SPC Ardmona, had a near death experience before it emerged from administration last year it’s all about identifying what your brand means to the public.

It’s also about harnessing social media, important in an age when people want to know where their food is coming from. SPC Ardmona and Spring Gully did exactly that and are now doing well (How Spring Gully got into, and out of, a pickle, May 30, 2013).

Talk to Tegan Webb, Spring Gully’s sales and marketing manager and niece of Kevin Webb, the company’s third generation managing director, and you discover that the similarities between the Spring Gully and SPC Ardmona stories are uncanny.

Both companies were at what SPC Ardmona Managing Director Peter Kelly described as a “five minutes to midnight” situation. In their darkest moments, their managers were forced to examine the meaning of their brands. Both had massive social media campaigns that got the general public onside.

Peter Kelly tells the story of how he was told one Friday night about a woman in Newcastle, Linda Drummond, who didn’t like it when the federal government refused to provide SPC Ardmona $25 million in rescue funds and who started a Twitter campaign using the hashtag ‘#SPCsunday.

“The next morning, a Saturday morning, I got a phone call from our IT department saying our Twitter account had been closed due to too many tweets hitting it,” Kelly says. “I immediately thought we were under attack from someone but it turned out it was just everyday Australians tweeting photos of themselves and committing to buy products on that Sunday.

“I couldn’t use our corporate Twitter account so I broke one of our corporate rules and got my daughter to download Twitter to my phone and tell me how it works… I tweeted that our employees had copped a bit of a bashing lately and I was so thrilled that people cared enough,” he said.

It was seen by millions around the country and galvanised public support.

Webb says Spring Gully set up its Facebook the day after it was put into administration in April 2013.

“It was more to keep people up to date with what was happening and then from there it organically grew,” Webb says. “We got close to 17,000 likes on our page. It helped us engage with those people who were following us and supporting us and wanting to know more information about what was happening. It created a space for us to be able to communicate with our customers about what we were doing, what we were up to and what they had done for us. It was directly impacting on the company on a weekly and daily basis. The feedback we got from that was overwhelming.”

Peter Kelly says SPC Ardmona realised its only hope was letting the public know that the peaches they were buying were Australian. That was what the 93-year-old brand meant to people who had grown up with it. “As a team we sat down and decided we had to find a higher purpose rather than our own jobs. We were going to have to find something more highly principled than that -- to grow food in Australia… We immediately changed all the labels to being 100 per cent Australian grown. We put that map of Australia on all our products. To the extent that we did import food ourselves, we stopped it immediately.”

Webb tells a similar story for Spring Gully. “One thing we were able to identify was get a better understanding of the value people had in our brand,” she says. “It was similar to SPC Ardmona where someone went out and created a hash tag #spcsunday.

“People don’t want to lose manufacturing in Australia and they are passionate about the product and foods that they eat. That’s one thing we keep discussing here, we didn’t really understand the value of our own brand and how much it meant to people without us even knowing.”

Spring Gully saw that marketing the family connection and the Australian-ness were important for building the brand (Marketing the family connection, February 27).

“They do appreciate that you’re Australian and then they find out you’re a family business and it adds a bit more intrigue into your story,” Webb says. “The food they want to share with their family is always a positive thing because these days issues like where food is coming from and where food is made is a hot topic. If they can connect that it’s a family owned business and an Australian owned business, it’s positive.

“I think the biggest thing we learned was to identify the value of our brand and what consumers identified with it. If you’re a family business, use that to your advantage because it’s something that generations in your family have worked hard on.”

For family businesses, connecting the brand to the public and using social media’s people power were the big lessons from Spring Gully and SPC Ardmona.

To read this month's Family Business Magazine for free, click here.

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