Superyacht Life Foundation takes on the rumourmongers

What happens when there are gaps in a newspaper? According to Mark de Jong, marketing manager for Superyacht Life Foundation (SLF), the Daily Mail fills them in with ‘salacious stories’.

He’s referring to the superyacht industry which hasn’t had an easy time growing up while represented by Bond villains and super-rich owners whose wealth makes them a natural target.

De Jong believes the hereditary animosity about the superyacht industry has come from its tendency to be highly secretive. When you consider the products, the owners and the money involved, you can understand why. But, de Jong says, the secrecy has been taken to the extreme and that’s why the foundation has been set up, to counter the negativity and to shine a spotlight on the positives that the industry abounds with – like craftsmanship.

“People see a yacht as a finished product,” he says, “but there’s a generation of craftsmanship being handed down.”

He, and Dominique Afacan, editor in chief for SLF, are looking to tell great stories about the great people in the industry, filling in those gaps so that the salacious stories are given less credence.

“That’s why SLF was founded,” he says. “The industry saw a need and said it’s not happy with the way it was represented.

“It needed a non-profit advocate to open the gates and share what’s going on. The industry’s been an easy target without all the facts, and we haven’t done a good job of communicating further than the industry.”

With this in mind, SLF has a multi-pronged strategy, driven by a board which reads like Google web results for ‘biggest players’ (Benetti, Burgess, Camper & Nicholsons, Feadship, Lurssen, and more), that includes digital advertising, storytelling, market research and events.

With an ultimate end goal of challenging perceptions, SLF utilises digital advertising to try and change people’s attitudes. It targets, for example, engineers and innovators and craftsmen – people who might have no interest in superyachts – with profession-wide but industry specific stories to help unlock the superyacht world.

De Jong admits that, when looking at such a wide audience, it’s tricky to take a sample and measure successful outcomes, so the foundation is also looking at market research, asking people who can afford to buy a superyacht why they have chosen not to. This is the starting point of events targeted to reach those who can afford to buy to engage.

Plus, the foundation is setting up an honours ceremony in 2021, modelled on the Queen’s Awards, recognising exceptional people in the industry. This was delayed from 2020 – unsurprisingly.

Covid-19 came with its own challenges for the SLF team.

“We were mindful we didn’t play to the stereotype,” explains Afacan. “We decided against publishing stories about superyachts as safe havens from Covid.” That would, of course, have fuelled inequality stories which became staple fodder for the national press, although not all owners got the message, as evidenced by the comments regarding David Geffen‘s hope that everyone was ‘staying safe’.

Monitoring positive and negative media ‘to gauge how things are’ is part and parcel of the foundation’s work and it’s one of the ways that it can measure its success.

“We’re probably seeing a level playing field of how we’re perceived externally,” de Jong says. “But the industry is doing a much better job of sharing the right stories.” He’s positive about the direction the industry is taking.

“The industry is doing a lot to improve in many areas we’ve been attacked for, for example sustainability,” he says. “We’ve seen huge strides going beyond ‘green washing’. We’re seeing meaningful actions.”

“It’s obvious to me as a writer and editor how the mood has changed,” agrees Afacan.

“Even the imagery used has changed. Once upon a time we were seeing girls in bikinis and high heels used in advertising, now it’s much more subtle and in keeping with the zeitgeist.

“We’re taking positive steps, small steps. We celebrate every advance in industry, but there is some way to go.”

Image courtesy of Jeff Brown, Breed Media

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