John Drinnan on business

John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

Media: Did TVNZ learn nothing from the Paul Henry debacle?

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Annabel Fay's latest album has sold only 1300 copies so far but has been getting plenty of airplay. Photo / Babiche Martens
Annabel Fay's latest album has sold only 1300 copies so far but has been getting plenty of airplay. Photo / Babiche Martens

Finger lickin' news anchorman Rawdon Christie and TVNZ are laughing off his Twitter posting to 1367 followers forecasting a rise in the share price of KFC operators Restaurant Brands.

Christie tweeted nine times on the launch of the Double Down chicken burger this week and one of the tweets said: "Wish I'd bought shares in Restaurant Brands last week. The KFC Double Down is getting unprecedented attention. Well done KFC marketing team."

Which might sound innocuous - but the reference to a share price is unheard of coming from a news presenter.

It was all supposed to be a joke relating to KFC's marketing launch of its high-calorie bunless chicken burger.

But can you think of any other public service news broadcaster who would get away with that sort of gaffe?

Christie and Breakfast presenter Corin Dann were two of the most credible presenters in the TVNZ stable.

That was until the broadcast of Breakfast on Monday when they both pigged out on the Double Down, salivating over the bunless burgers. They may have been having a giggle - but the plugs from the TVNZ newsmen would have been worth a fortune for KFC.

TVNZ threw caution to the wind on a programme that previously kept its news bulletins distinct from its magazine content.

The notoriously honest news spokeswoman Andi Brotherston says that TVNZ is not obliged to follow the rules that apply to public broadcasters such as the BBC or Australian ABC - it had to provide a dividend to the Government.

Marketing campaigns are valid news and - fuelled by a social marketing campaign since its launch in Australia - the Double Down enjoyed extraordinary coverage across all media.

But TVNZ abandoned all attempts at keeping its journalists distinct from a wacky magazine article on KFC's marketing campaign. Did it learn nothing from the Paul Henry debacle?

The TVNZ newsdesk was festooned with KFC boxes.

Corporate spokeswoman Megan Richards laughed it off, saying the item - and Christie's tweet - were just jokes and this column risked looking foolish if it raised the issue.

But what are the rules for TVNZ journalists making commercial endorsements? And should we now accept that the standards of Breakfast news are lower than for the rest of the day?

Media trainer Janet Wilson - a former senior TVNZ journalist and partner of former head of TVNZ news and current affairs Bill Ralston - lambasted the coverage in her Bespoke Media blog.

MUG'S GAME

Christie is right in saying that KFC did a good marketing job. It sold more than 34,000 of the burgers on its first day and (maybe influenced by Christie's forecast) Restaurant Brands' share price ended the day up 4c.

Public relations consultant Deborah Pead said the campaign - built on social media leading to extensive editorial coverage - was brilliant public relations-led marketing.

Media buying consultant Martin Gillman said it was perhaps the best New Zealand fast-food ad campaign.

But should news media be buying in so much to marketing campaigns?

Gillman said the amount of media promotion for the product was atrocious and media had been made to look like mugs.

SOCK PUPPETS

How do marketers match KFC's campaign leading to such extensive coverage in all media - including big slots on TV's Close Up, Campbell Live and Breakfast?

Digital media expert Peter Griffin says that increasingly marketing campaigns are being driven by anonymous commercial promoters called "sock puppets" who push along what appear to be genuine news events. But Restaurant Brands public relations consultant Jo Bell insisted there were definitely no "plants" in the social media space.

KFC has never done that - and its social media consultant Wag The Dog only engages officially on behalf of the brand, she says.

Restaurant Brands is a big advertiser in the media. In the year to March 31, it spent about $8 million, with about three-quarters of that going on television advertising.

According to Bell, "all of the editorial and media coverage has not been the result of paid advertising but of their own accord".

HAPPY DAYS

New Zealand on Air has revamped its music funding scheme with grants and subsidies that will replace the largely pilloried album funding system.

The change followed a report from record industry executive Chris Caddick that pointed to widespread disharmony about the past scheme - which favoured big record companies and pop music.

The music industry has divergent views and industry commentator Rob Mayes dismissed the change, saying it did not mark a serious shift.

But entertainment lawyer and New Zealand Music Commission member Chris Hocquard gave a cautious thumbs up, saying the scrapping of the $50,000 grants for albums (which many regarded as a rort by the record industry) would lead to more diversity.

Applicants for $10,000 grants would have to spend $2000 of their own money - which would end the experience where NZ On Air was swamped with applications from every garage band in the country that wanted to make its own promotional video.

JOLLY JAPES

An interesting postscript to the album scheme is the sales figures for the latest album by Annabel Fay.

The allocation of $50,000 to Fay's record company epitomised the folly of music grants - with taxpayer funding alongside a career supported by her Rich-Lister dad, Sir Michael Fay.

Regular readers might remember a column item headlined "Superjocks jolly japes at Fay hideaway" explaining how Sir Michael helicoptered in top DJs and NZ On Air executive Brendan Smyth for a promotional party.

Anyway, the album was released four weeks ago and so far has sold about 1300 copies, which amounts to about a $40 subsidy for each copy.

Maybe there will be a spike in sales that will bring down the proportion of the taxpayer grant.

NZ On Air would argue it has been successful at getting airplay and last week her single Show Me the Right Way was the 16th most popular song on commercial radio. Airplay - not sales - is the main reason for NZ On Air support.

You wonder, though, how much the airplay was helped by the support of those superjocks who wanted to secure a place on the Fay chopper next time Fay releases an album.

SOUNDS LIKE US

Radio New Zealand intends to continue separate National Radio Maori bulletins when it stops oursourcing to Waatea News in July.

RNZ news boss Don Rood insists it will be aiming to provide an improved service. Views about the quality of Waatea differ - but there is widespread scepticism about the culture inside Radio New Zealand and its ability to belatedly develop a relationship with Maori.

Indeed some question how National Radio - which Waatea boss Willie Jackson labelled Pakeha radio - has avoided such a big part of the culture.

Many of the important decisions involving Maori are on the marae - and that does not always help a centralised body such as RNZ which has limited and shrinking resources.

Jackson himself would have an unparalleled knowledge of what is happening in Maoridom. But that has not always been apparent on Waatea News bulletins.

RNZ's half-hearted approach to covering Maori is in contrast to its coverage of the Pacific through Radio New Zealand International. Some believe that the disconnect says something about RNZ's unwillingness to reach out to those who don't meet its view of people who "sound like us".

- NZ Herald

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