Decision leaves breakfast programme still looking for a cornerstone sponsor

Leading telecommunications company Spark actively considered becoming the cornerstone sponsor of the new Paul Henry breakfast show, but has pulled out.

Spark confirmed it had looked at the idea, but decided not to go ahead, saying it was a good proposal but the show was not right for Spark.

The decision need not be damaging to the show's maker, MediaWorks, if it can find a replacement sponsor. However it underlines the risk to companies who link their brands with TV presenters who have their own very strong brand, and who want to outrage their viewers and listeners.

The new show, which starts on April 7, is the central plank in MediaWorks' 2015 season. Its key point of difference is that it will be simulcast on RadioLive and on TV3, challenging Newstalk ZB and Morning Report on radio, and Breakfast on TV One.

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Spokeswoman Rachel Lorimer said MediaWorks had been talking with potential sponsors for some time and there was strong interest in Paul Henry. She did not respond to queries about MediaWorks' negotiations with Spark. "We are not making any sponsor announcements at this stage and the identities of the companies we're talking with are commercially sensitive."

Ad industry insiders said the potential Spark deal with MediaWorks came into play back in October, soon after the show was unveiled to advertisers.

MediaWorks' former head of television Paul Maher and Spark marketing boss Jason Paris were attending a rugby match overseas and agreed to investigate a sponsorship deal. Both men had associations with Henry in the past, when he was on TV One's Breakfast while they were senior executives at Television NZ. Both left TVNZ and both later worked as head of television at MediaWorks.

Paris moved from MediaWorks to Spark, and Maher replaced him, before leaving MediaWorks in a clearout of senior executives by chief executive Mark Weldon in December.

As for Spark, it has shed the baggage of Telecom and successfully made the transition to the new brand.

Pink fist

Telecom used advertising both successfully and badly. Eighties Telecom advertising gave a warm and cuddly feel to a company that was undermining competition and delaying investment and innovation.

Retail consumers just loved Spot the Dog and the advertising kept the brand strong. More infamous were the Telecom "pink fist" dodgem car ads, featuring former All Black captain Sean Fitzpatrick, which made an astonishing tongue-in-cheek connection between the All Blacks and masturbation.

The ad was heavily promoted by Saatchi & Saatchi advertising global chief executive Kevin Roberts, who had a close association with Telecom, and was apparently developed by Telecom marketing without the knowledge of the chief executive of the time, Paul Reynolds.

Saatchi's hold on Spark is not as strong as it was in the Telecom days. The saving grace of the pink fist campaign was that the appalling ad was leaked to the Herald and canned before it was released, thus avoiding a full-scale marketing disaster.

Eye-popping

I am told there were a few wise heads at Telecom who resisted the pink fist campaign, and perhaps the most senior was the head of corporate affairs at the time, Tina Symmans.

Interestingly, Symmans is back in the fray again, not as a PR watchdog this time, but as a member of the board of the trouble-prone - some would say dysfunctional - Team NZ.

Symmans declined to comment on what I would argue is the need for an overhaul of communications at Team NZ, which has gone so far as to blame the media for its problems.

The sailing team has tacked back into public odium because of the circumstances surrounding former skipper Dean Barker's departure.

Team NZ's rotten image is an operational matter, not part of the board's duties. But given Symmans' record as a person who can rein in male egos, as when fighting the pink fist campaign, it may be a good time for Team NZ to have her tending the mainsheet.

Part-time PR man Warren Douglas stepped down from Team NZ last week - as scheduled, he says - and Symmans' pal Bill Ralston has been filling in to handle the Barker overboard debacle.

Ralston's wife, Janet Wilson - who is also his partner in their PR company, Deadline - recently completed two videos on the Team NZ Facebook page, and interviewed Grant Dalton about what blows his spinnaker. But methinks much more will be needed before he has a warm and cuddly image like Spot the Dog.

Anza wary

New Zealand advertisers are casting a wary glance at a scandal across the Tasman involving the way a media buying agency used incentives given by media.

The Sydney arm of media buying agency Mediacom has laid off about a dozen staff after it revealed some were benefiting from incentives meant for advertisers.

The chief executive of the Association of New Zealand Advertisers, Lindsay Mouat, said the Mediacom story, which was published in the trade publication Mumbrella, had put the focus on emerging concerns for advertisers about the transparency of commercial relationships between media owners and media agencies.

"This is not unique to Australia but being questioned in the United States, Europe and increasingly in this part of the world too. Are media agencies media neutral? Are the full benefits of a client's spend being rebated back to the client or does some of that contribute to a value bank of free media to be usedat the agencies' discretion?" heasked.

"In New Zealand we have had a record of transparency and partnership, with agencies working in the best interests of clients, in a competitive media market and with global agency group ownership.

"[But] it would be naive to think that New Zealand was immune to these trends," Mouat said.

The Communications Agencies of NZ could not be reached for comment.

Tomorrow:
DDB Advertising group regional chief executive Marty O'Halloran says he is looking at acquiring four New Zealand marketing companies as part of an expansion. He also says Australians love New Zealand entrepreneurs' edge. Read more about the Auckland-based Australia and NZ boss of DDB in tomorrow's Weekend Herald.