John Drinnan 's Opinion

John Drinnan is the Media writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Media: Telecom bond with Saatchi faces test

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Telecom's Paul Reynolds is sailing off into the sunset. Illustration / Rod Emmerson
Telecom's Paul Reynolds is sailing off into the sunset. Illustration / Rod Emmerson

The appointment of marketing boss Jason Paris means the advertising business looks more likely to go to pitch.

Saatchi & Saatchi may have to pull out all stops to hold on to brand advertising for a demerged Telecom, given the soured memories from the brand-damaging "Abstain for the Game" ad campaign ahead of the Rugby World Cup.

Telecom retail will be a new company and will almost certainly undertake a review of marketing and communications. With the appointment of new marketing boss Jason Paris, the advertising business looks more likely to go to pitch.

Even before these developments some in management already believed a review was overdue, given the extraordinarily long tenure of Telecom's relationship with Saatchi and big changes at both firms.

Telecom's departing chief executive Paul Reynolds could be excused for wanting some urgency, lest he be remembered as the chief executive at the helm during the pink, fist-shaped dodgem drama.

The towering Scotsman with his supersized pay package insists he had not seen the ad prior to its being leaked to the media and was profoundly irritated by the uproar when the errant ad was leaked.

But if the buck does not stop with him, it does so immediately below - with the head of retail Alan Gourdie, who is expected to be a candidate for the top job when Reynolds exits next year. Gourdie's elevation may be the best hope for Saatchi & Saatchi. Gourdie is believed to have had a good rapport with Kevin Roberts, the Saatchi & Saatchi global president who sits on the Telecom board of directors.

Roberts - who is seeking re-election to the Telecom board next month - championed the reviled Abstain campaign and lamented that New Zealanders had lost their sense of humour.

Gourdie also had a good rapport with former Saatchi CEO Andrew Stone, who exited Saatchi in an earlier upheaval and now heads the Droga5 agency.

NEW BROOM

On the downside, Saatchi & Saatchi might have looked with some concern at Paris being appointed to the head of marketing for the demerged retail arm of Telecom from next Monday.

The job will include a role overseeing the branding of the new Telecom (if indeed it will still be called Telecom).

Paris' previous job was as head of television at MediaWorks.

But Saatchi might be inclined to look back to Paris's past role as head of marketing at Television New Zealand, where he extracted TVNZ from a long-running relationship with Saatchi & Saatchi. The lucrative and glamorous account was shifted to Saatchi's arch rival Colenso BBDO in what was one of several blows to the agency in the noughties.

Might Colenso be in the market for Telecom? An obvious problem is that Colenso and the Clemenger Group have been the ad agency for Telecom's rival Vodafone, so this would create what is known as a category clash.

Vodafone - which has forsaken racy brand ads for dull retail fare under a new marketing boss - has shifted to Colenso's retail agency .99. But there would still be a conflict of interest problem.

Whoever runs the Telecom account will have a substantial machine to run the campaign. DDB Group, which already handles a big part of Telecom's digital and direct marketing material through one of its divisions, would have a head start. Ogilvy and Y&R are other contenders.

TiVo AND FERRIT

Gourdie and Paris worked together on the joint venture for TiVo, the personal video recorder venture that was supposed to challenge MySky and give Telecom an entree into the new world of internet TV downloads. The project was no good for Telecom and punched a $17.6 million hole in TVNZ's accounts with a total write-off of its investment in TiVo licence holder Hybrid Television Services.

It's easy to have 20/20 hindsight, but even when TiVo launched it looked like too little too late. Telecom has not had much luck venturing beyond its core business into media. In April the company ditched its 49 per cent stake in web portal YahooXtra! which had not delivered as expected. Telecom also blew millions on the online retail website, ferrit.co.nz.

CUTTING EDGE

All eyes will be on ratings for RadioLive's drivetime host Paul Henry when they are published in the next few weeks. With the survey encompassing the Rugby World Cup, you'd expect talk stations like RadioLive and Newstalk to take some of the listenership away from music stations, but how will Henry fare? In the immediate aftermath of his anti-Indian rants at TVNZ he only had to burp into a microphone to send his loyal followers into a frenzy. But how many of them followed him to drive time on RadioLive?

Henry's TV3 show will start next year, but he needs more profile tout de suite.

Appearances in election coverage might restore his profile. I don't know how much he knows about rugby, but if he could keep his nasty streak under control he would be a good roving reporter for TV3's Rugby World Cup coverage ... or something.

Meantime he just seems bored and forgotten on RadioLive. I tuned in to hear him mimicking Matt McCarten saying "country" with his speech impediment. It sounded more like a schoolyard bully than a cutting edge broadcaster. MediaWorks paid big bucks to secure Henry. They will be hoping it pays off.

RUGGER BUGGER

I'm not a rugby person but I've thrown myself into the flood of sports coverage on TV. I'm even taking the Sky sports package on a two-month trial that might drift into the cricket season.

That said, I probably could have relied on free TV and hard-to-avoid rugby coverage across all the media.

I have been tuning into Cup Talk which screens nightly on TV3. The show is hosted by James Gemmell, a former TV3 rugby reporter who now works for Sky TV in Britain. The show had some good guests like Andrew Mehrtens and David Campese. But it's a very odd format, a sort of gameshow which tries to corral some articulate commentary.

Martin Devlin was refreshing on TV One. I tuned into Maori TV and the studio conversation seemed a bit stark and lonesome. The graphics were clunky and old fashioned. Sky's host broadcaster commentary is blessedly straight - and a marked contrast to its usual All Blacks bias.

I wonder about the Sky base being down at the waterfront with boats in the background, but then it is the "City of Sails" after all. I thought the host broadcaster's coverage of the waterfront opening was a bit rough, but maybe that was due to the crowds.

REALITY TV

A US State Department handout for journalists on official government- sponsored tours illustrates how the Americans have been hoist by their own petard. The shiny booklet "Pop Culture versus Real America" quotes President Barack Obama lamenting: "I know the stereotypes of the United States are out there and I know that many of them are informed not by any direct exchange or dialogue, but by television shows and movies and misinformation."

The booklet takes aim at several shows and movies like Desperate Housewives, Pulp Fiction and The Simpsons.

Never mind Krusty Burgers, the State Department says, suggesting that a lot of Americans are health conscious and down at the farmers market. The attorney antics on Boston Legal are contrasted with their own real-life ethical advocate.

Americans aren't big on irony, but you can't help but smile at the change when Hollywood and TV images once sold the idea of the American Dream. Now they depict a nightmare. And those government-sponsored images avoid mentioning grinding poverty in the Land of the Free.

- NZ Herald

John Drinnan

John Drinnan is the Media writer for the New Zealand Herald.

John Drinnan is the media writer for the New Zealand Herald. A business journalist for twenty years, he has been editor of the specialist film and television title "Screen Finance" in London, focussing on the European TV and film industry. He has been writing about media in New Zealand since the deregulation of the television industry in the late 1980s. He is focused on the business side of the digital revolution in media.

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