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The man with the power to win over China

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The Port Adelaide Football Club has enlisted “the best connected Australian in China” to help realise its dream of successfully cracking the world’s biggest market.

Geoff Raby was Australia’s ambassador in Beijing from 2007 until 2011, and was previously deputy secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Among his other private sector interests, Raby is now chairman of communications innovation company SmartTrans, whose Chinese arm has developed a billing and marketing platform tailored for companies trying to cut through on social media in a country of almost 1.4 billion people.

“We’ve developed a model, an online billing platform, that provides a solution for people that want to market products through mobile phones and online in China,” Raby told InDaily from Beijing.

“But it’s mobile space where the real growth is … we have a relationship with all the key mobile phone companies and a reach of 700 million mobile phones through our network.

“We hope to be the avenue to market for many companies outside of China.”

The SmartTrans platform has been a local launchpad for the social media of Socceroos star Tim Cahill, who currently plays for Shanghai Shenhua in the Chinese Super League, but Raby says the relationship with Port Adelaide “is the first time we’ve taken on a football club”.

“The Port Adelaide business is a new branch but if you’re a sport or entertainment client, the principle is the same,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter what it is you’re marketing, if you want to promote your products through the mobile phone networks in China, we’re the gateway to the market.”

smarttrans

Chinese footballers Chen Zhaoliang and Zhang Hao spruik the Power’s new business partner.

Port Adelaide community programs general manager Andrew Hunter, who was headhunted from the office of Premier Jay Weatherill in part to help oversee the club’s China strategy, told InDaily SmartTrans was “a good organisation for us to be hooked up with”, describing Raby as a “pretty big player”.

“He’s the most connected Australian in China at the moment,” Hunter said.

“The important thing for any business looking to go over there is the cultural aspect of it, (so) we’re using a platform that’s appropriate for the audience.”

That approach has also inspired a recent cultural exchange, with Chinese players spending a fortnight training with the Power at Alberton, and a recent competition to unearth a Mandarin commentator to call games in 2016. Four finalists will call one quarter each of this weekend’s dead rubber game against ladder leaders Fremantle.

“We’re hoping to get to people that have an interest in participating in AFL, in watching it, having highlights packages put on social media in Mandarin,” Hunter explained.

“So we have that seed from which the support can grow … we don’t want to dominate the sporting landscape but want people to participate, and grow real volume on social media.”

The idea is that the marketing opportunities will work both ways, with Port seeking to strike relationships with Chinese companies seeking a foothold in Australia.

“Port Adelaide Football Club can be the vehicle through which they can build profile and contacts here,” he said.

Raby says building relationships takes time but the possibilities are abundant.

“The thing with China, the market is so huge that you’re looking at niches, and those niches can be quite substantial,” he said.

AFL has been approved as a sport to be played in many schools now, but “what the take-up is like and how it’s promoted at that level is up to the clubs themselves”.

“My interest is in providing the gateway for entry to the market … we’re very keen to diversify our product range.”

Raby describes SmartTrans as the “plumbing” behind global marketing.

“We sit behind the scenes, like the plumbing does behind the bathroom wall,” he explained.

“But everything happens through us.”

The Power see the former ambassador as someone whose personal and professional knowledge is also ripe for the picking.

“If I can personally help the club, I’m very happy to do so … even though I’m a Swans supporter,” Raby laughed.

“All for the national good.”

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