John Drinnan 's Opinion

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

John Drinnan: Image repair for SkyCity

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SkyCity's contributions to Auckland include the New Year fireworks display off the Sky Tower. Photo / Richard Robinson
SkyCity's contributions to Auckland include the New Year fireworks display off the Sky Tower. Photo / Richard Robinson

SkyCity Entertainment is tidying up its corporate image, now it has hundreds of extra poker machines firmly in its sights.

The casino firm confirmed it had reviewed its advertising arrangements, but declined to comment further.

It should have no problem in getting gamblers to sit in front of the money-making machines. The more immediate problem may be repairing the brand, which has suffered as the pokies for convention centre deal has been going through. Under the deal, SkyCity agreed to pay for the centre in return for big regulatory concessions, including the extra machines.

An ad industry source said SkyCity had pulled back on advertising, worrying about exacerbating controversy as the Government promoted the deal to a sceptical public. Now that the deal is a fait accompli, SkyCity has its sights on an eventual jackpot when the new pokies are moved in.

The company recently selected Colenso BBDO as its agency, partly because it holds other accounts for Auckland tourism interests.

The next ad campaign aims to highlight SkyCity's contribution to Auckland, including the restaurants in its Federal St quarter.

Financially, the casino company's latest half-year result was down a little. Its image has been scarred by news stories and controversy about things such as money laundering, abandoned children and allegations of poor oversight of problem gamblers.

The ad contract will be a case of back to the future for Colenso BBDO. Colenso held the account for many years, but I am told that back then the agency found the relationship "frustrating".

Colenso was trying to make branding statements, but management wanted short, sharp retail ads to get gamblers on to the casino floor.

A source familiar with SkyCity's approach said its overall image had to be part of any new campaign.

The threat of regulation meant the company had to show it was putting something into the city centre, said the source, not just extracting money from gamblers who could ill afford it.

In recent times, some TV commercials for SkyCity have been made by Assignment Group, whose group chairman Peter Cullinane is on the SkyCity board.

SKY PILOT
A big part of advertising SkyCity is about boosting its image and reputation, and avoiding the threat of regulation. The company is also active in lobbying politicians, as well as fighting fires after media inquiries. It retains lobbying consultants in Wellington.

SkyCity has now hired the high-profile political journalist Colin Espiner to take over as its head of communications.

Espiner - who is the brother of Radio NZ Morning Report co-host Guyon Espiner - was a political columnist for Fairfax, and his leap into the deep end of the PR business has surprised many.

Former SkyCity PR people with political links include one-time Labour Party chief of staff, Gordon Jon Thompson, who left for a senior PR role at Fonterra. Another former TV3 political reporter, Scott Campbell, also worked for SkyCity.

HOT BLOODED


Steven Joyce. Photo / Christine Cornege.

It isn't quite an admission of regret, but the National Party's 2014 campaign manager Steven Joyce acknowledges he may have gone too far with his hectoring of Labour's Grant Robertson on TV3's The Nation last Saturday.

"Grant Robertson said things that annoyed me and I am very proud of the achievements of the Government," said Joyce, who is also Minister of Economic Development.

Even TV3 current affairs people were taken aback by the performance from the normally direct but calm Joyce.

"I think it would be better if I had taken my reaction down by a couple of notches," Joyce conceded.

McKINSEY MAN


Incoming MediaWorks boss Mark Weldon.

There is some relief at MediaWorks that Mark Weldon has been assigned the role of group chief executive, replacing Sussan Turner, who leaves next week. Weldon was a surprise choice even for the troops at TV3.

Despite his having a sometimes testy relationship with some media in the past, he is a thoughtful person who many believe will appreciate the importance of the news division.

Sources said that Weldon - who comes from a background at the fearsomely focused consultancy McKinsey - might find the corporate culture at the radio operation loose and difficult to get used to.

However, the radio people will be able to point to the solid cashflow and profitability of their operation, compared with the TV division. Weldon is said to be friends with Prime Minister John Key, while board member Julie Christie is good friends with Gerry Brownlee and Murray McCully.

SUPERMAN?


Former SkyCity chairman Rod McGeoch

MediaWorks chairman Rod McGeoch was upbeat when he announced Weldon's appointment. Given the quick decision after Turner's resignation, there was suspicion he had been picked in advance. But Weldon - who left his job running the NZX in 2011 - appears to have grown bored living in Central Otago and running his winery.

McGeoch said he asked for the best available people in media and the best in business, and decided there were already plenty of people at MediaWorks with media experience, and enthusiastically chose Weldon.

McGeoch said the main focus now for the company - which, let's remember, is just nine months beyond receivership - was to find growth.

Weldon said he would be working to update himself on new technologies.

Weldon is reputedly very smart and a high achiever. But he is now working in a retail sector, while his expertise is in the capital markets.

His background means he will be in a good position to find new shareholders, if that is what is needed. He may even manage to perform a Superman task and create an initial public offering for MediaWorks.

But even if that miracle does occur, it may be some time off.

LEGACY ISSUES

The big problem at TV3 has been in the news hour, and that was the fault of the owners, not management or the news team.

Risk-wary bankers said MediaWorks could not commit to long-term rights to the popular soap Home & Away, which led into the news.

As a result, the channel lost the rights, and that has made a big dent in its ratings for the shows that follow - 3News and Campbell Live (see graphic).

In the end, radio delivers most of the profits, though the board includes plenty of television expertise from Julie Christie, who I'm told is not shy about sharing her knowledge around the office.

- NZ Herald

John Drinnan

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.

Read more by John Drinnan

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