The Public Apology is proud to present its latest mini-series, ‘Branding Bernie’: How Bernard Tomic Got His Mojo Back. Here, we look at the forgotten man of tennis, Bernard Tomic, and his desperate bid to recapture the hearts and minds of the Australian tennis public…

*  *  *  *

PART TWO: BRAND ESSENCE

“Who are you, Bernie?”

The question was deliberately blunt, designed to disarm. Jacobs, head of brand strategy at Deep Visioning, was a skilled excavator – and he knew that, at first meeting, businesses were heavily guarded. To penetrate, to achieve the cut-through he was known for – the cut-through that had won him dozens of industry awards – he needed to ask some tough questions in order to confront uncomfortable realities.

“Umm, well, I’m a tennis player, ranked 25th in the world,” Bernard stuttered.

“Sure, sure. That’s who you are, on paper. But who are you?” Jacobs persisted, eyebrows arching inquisitively as he leaned forward against the mahogany desk, wanting more, much more than his client was willing to give.

Bernard wasn’t sure, and that was the truth. For years, he had been les enfant terrible of Australian tennis, but now, that title belonged to Nick Kyrgios. So what did that make Bernie? Who was he?

God, how do I answer this?

Jacobs broke the silence. “Ok. Maybe we can try a different approach to start with, but I want you to think about that one, Bernie. We’ll come back to that.”

Brian, the creative director, seized the limelight. The brilliant bald visionary swung around in his chair to meet the client, face-to-face.

“Bernie, if we were to look ahead three years from now, to 2018, how would you define success?” he probed.

“I’d like to win a major,” Bernard responded with alacrity. “I’d be 26 by then, and I want to be a top ten player and have at least one major under my belt.”

“Good, that’s good!” Jacobs said. “So, you want global recognition. You want to be recognised by your peers and you want to be taken seriously as a top 10 contender.”

Jacobs scribbled some notes on a large piece of yellow paper – 1. Global Recognition. 2. Respect of Peers. 3. Awards – and ripped it off its easel, sticking it onto the wall like an oversized post-it note.

“Great, we’re getting somewhere now!”

Bernard shuffled awkwardly in his seat.

“Now, Bernie,” Jacobs continued, “let’s talk about your competitors. Who are they – and what’s your major point of differentiation in relation to them from a branding perspective?

This was the question that vexed Tomic the most; the cause for many of his sleepless nights.

He knew who the main competitor was – it’s Kyrgios! Bloody Nick ‘Silver Spoon In My Mouth’ Kyrgios! – and this brash upstart from suburban Canberra was quickly eating his market share. To the Australian public, Tomic was now a mere afterthought.

Silence, again, ensued.

“Let me play devil’s advocate for a moment, if I may,” Jacobs said, interrupting Tomic from his thoughts.

“There are three major players in Australian tennis – it’s a trio-poly, if you will. There’s Lleyton Hewitt, there’s this Kyrgios fella, and then there’s the incredibly likeable Sam Groth…”

“What! Groth! That one-trick pony?! He’s a fucking nobody!” Tomic blared, surprising himself with his aggression.

“Just wanted to see if you were paying attention, mate!” Jacobs shot back, stifling a giggle. He continued.

“Obviously the three major names in Australian tennis are yourself, Hewitt and Kyrgios. Now, Lleyton is close to retirement, but we mustn’t forget his importance in this competitive market place. He, himself, was once les enfant terrible of Australian tennis, but now, he’s a true statesman. A real family man; the darling of Women’s Weekly and other such venerable publications. He’s someone who deserves plenty of respect.”

Bernard nodded to himself. Jacobs pressed on.

“Anyway, let’s focus on Kyrgios for now: He’s flashy, has the earring, the entourage, the Beats by Dre sponsorship deal. He’s shiny and new. He’s got sex appeal and roguish charm.

“And then, there’s you: the humble young man, born to poor Yugoslav parents, who migrated here as a three-year-old to start afresh in a brave new world, free from the threat of ethic conflicts and political upheaval. You’ve been around longer than Kyrgios, but no one really knows you, do they?”

Bernard listened intently to Jacobs’ compelling version of events. Sure, Jacobs was taking some serious poetic licence – after all, Tomic’s parents had migrated from Yugoslavia to the safe, clean confines of Germany before Bernard was even born. At the age of three, the Tomics chose to move to the sunny Gold Coast – beautiful one day, perfect the next – before enrolling Bernard at the exclusive Southport School. It was an idyllic upbringing, to put it mildly.

But Jacobs’ story of adversity was truly captivating. Perhaps this was the story he needed to run with?

“If you look at Kyrgios – your main competitor – we’re talking about a privileged kid who grew up in Canberra – the capital of Australia, for Christ’s sakes! – with a doting, mollycoddling Malaysian mother who still fights his wars for him!” Jacobs continued, eyes blazing as he stared directly into his client’s eyes.

“But you, Bernard, you are true grit. You’ve had it tough. Things haven’t always gone your way. You came to Australia out of necessity; the Tomic story is one of overcoming tragic circumstances and succeeding in Australia. It’s the classic migrant tale of triumph!”

Shit, maybe this bloke is on to something?

“So how do I convince the public that I’ve changed? Because they don’t see this side of me. They see an entitled youth with a tennis tyrant of a Dad. So what can we do here,” Bernard inquired, now thoroughly engaged.

Jacobs adjusted his tie and turned to his colleagues. “Well, that’s where we come in, Bernie. Once this meeting is over, I’m going to draw up a brand strategy for Brian to work with, creatively. We’re going to come up with a clean, concise external message for the Australian (and world) public to buy into. We’ll also develop a separate internal message for your brand, too, which will help drive morale within the Tomic camp.”

“Sounds good. What else?” Bernard asked.

“We need to come up with a tag line, which will be derived from your essence. Basically, we’re go…”

“Hang on just a minute,” Bernard broke in. “What the fuck is an ‘essence’?”

Jacobs chuckled, thrusting a knowing glance at his Deep Visioning colleagues. “You wouldn’t believe how often we get that response!”

Brian, the creative director, chimed in. “I’ll take this one, Alan. Bernie, ‘essence’ is basically the true soul of your brand. It’s a guiding philosophy built on a compelling truth that expresses exactly what the brand stands for.”

“Mate, can you speak English? I’m just a tennis player,” Bernard quipped, to smatterings of laughter.

“Sure,” Jacobs answered. “You know Nike, right?”

“Umm, yeah.”

“Well, they successfully condensed their brand essence down to just three words: Just Do It. This brand essence is the basis for their entire company – it drives brilliant, fresh creative. Nike knows who they are and what they stand for. If we can nail your essence, then the rest will flow like water my friend!”

“So you’re saying that you will develop a tag-line, that defines me, and then we can revolve my brand around that ethos?” Bernard asked.

I’m getting this!

“Exactly!” the Deep Visioning team chorused together.

Jacobs continued. “So we’re going to draw on the themes of adversity and self-made success. We’ll talk up your escape from ethnic conflict and your commitment to family – the Tomics sticking together through thick and thin. Sure, you got into a bit of trouble in your teens and early 20s, but shit, who hasn’t, right?”

“Yeah, that’s what I keep telling people, but no one understands,” Tomic muttered, crossing his arms petulantly.

“But Bernie, you are the physical manifestation of modern day Australia. You are the face of new wave migration, making a name for yourself through sport. And you’ve made it! We just need to make you approachable; to make people want to get to know you; to leverage your natural attributes and backstory. To soften your image. Because you are the future of Australian tennis. Not Kyrgios. You.

Yes, that’s who I am! I finally know myself!

“This all sounds great, guys,” Bernard said. “So… what do we do now?”

“Leave it with us,” Brian said. “I’ll work on the creative this week and we’ll touch base later in the week to set up a second meeting. By then, we should have nailed your essence – and the brand strategy will be well on its way.”

The four of them stood up to shake hands. “I think we’ve made some real progress here,” Jacobs said with a grin, motioning Bernie towards the door.

Yeah, I think we have.

By Dave Edwards

PREVIOUS: Branding Bernie: Part One