John Drinnan on business

John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

Media: Spin doctor sees red over Hughes saga

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Press secretary Fran Mold (left) declined to discuss any disagreement she may have had with Labour leader Phil Goff. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Press secretary Fran Mold (left) declined to discuss any disagreement she may have had with Labour leader Phil Goff. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Labour leader Phil Goff's chief press secretary Fran Mold is aggrieved about stories saying she fell out with her bosses who left her out of the loop in the Darren Hughes debacle.

Mold says Government press secretaries are among people telling parliamentary press gallery journalists about the disagreement.

They include one claim that she was stood down after making her displeasure known.

She says that is entirely untrue. As for the Darren Hughes saga, she says she is not obliged to discuss internal discussions inside the Opposition leader's office.

The former journalist was passionate about seeking the source leading to my inquiry. (Her request was declined - but I can confirm they are not from the Government).

Mold was a former deputy political editor at TVNZ and a Herald journalist and was popular with press gallery journalists.

Of course, even the Labour Party president didn't know about the Hughes incident.

Senior press gallery journalists I approached said it was unusual that Goff's chief press secretary was not kept in the loop for such an important matter.

"She was furious that she had not been told and had wound up misleading media who had called for clarification whether there was a problem with a Labour MP.

"Given her insight you'd have thought she would give useful warnings about the firestorm if and when the story leaked."

BUDGETS UNLEASHED

I was amused by a piece in the Aucklander by chief reporter Edward Rooney on the recent "Auckland Unleashed" mayoral summit held in Auckland. He mentioned the role of paid media in the event.

The event was presented by Carol Hirschfeld, the Maori Television programming director who supplements her income moonlighting as an MC.

Hirschfeld is top of the range. She won't have come cheap. And one grump who called wondered if there might have been someone presentable on staff who could have taken the role of introducing people on to the stage.

Or were the costs covered in some sort of sponsorship deal? Mayor Len Brown's press secretary Glyn Jones could not be reached for comment. Auckland Unleashed was also being filmed for posterity by commercial makers Ogilvy.

NO NEED FOR RESCUE

Two people have launched a campaign to "Save TVNZ7".

But nobody in the state broadcaster's digital division is putting their hands up to be rescued.

I hear there are some individuals in the commercial company who are saddened by the brief entree into public television, but that would be speaking out of turn in a company that is wholly commercially focused.

Myles Thomas of Auckland and Chris Parry of Christchurch started a website and a Facebook page that includes a petition signed by more than 1000 people for TVNZ7 to continue after taxpayer funding runs out in June 2012.

Even if "Save TVNZ7" takes off, National won't put much stock in the petition. Public broadcasting has always battled for survival and you can't miss what you've hardly had.

The bizarre part is that with new media there are now easy distribution alternatives for low-budget material to niche audiences.

INDEPENDENT

A good sign is that - despite its similar support for public broadcasting values - the Save TVNZ7 campaign says it is independent and has no apparent links with the Labour Party.

Save Radio New Zealand last year had genuine supporters but was hijacked by Labour and maintained the myth that Labour had supported public broadcasting when it was partly to blame for its reduced funding.

Both websites are part of issues.co.nz run by Fraser Carson, an adman who ran the Labour campaign in 2008.

But Carson said issues.co.nz is a commercial venture and he was not involved in Labour's 2011 election campaign.

The Save Radio New Zealand website - though not the Facebook page - was registered under the name of Brendon Burns, the Opposition spokesman on broadcasting who formerly ran the Labour Party's media unit.

You wonder if that party political association did any good for the radio campaign being taken seriously by the Nats, or if it just bolstered its naive prejudice that RNZ's supporters are all Labour supporters.

BUMS ON SEATS

Is there an alternative future for TVNZ7 after June 2012?

Some believe the format could survive in a sponsorship or semi-commercial funded model - though Television New Zealand head of digital services Eric Kearley is sceptical. Independent producers' body the Screen Production and Development Association (Spada) is holding out hope 7 might survive in some form.

Some of its members make shows for 7 and while margins are often lower than commercial TV, there is a genuine affection for programmes with integrity that are aiming at delivering more than just bums on seats to advertisers.

ADMAN AWAY

Veteran adman Neil Livingstone is stepping down from a 33-year career working with ad agency giant Colenso in June.

But few would be surprised if he turned up in a new media or e-commerce role next year. Advertising agencies are renowned for revolving doors and management changes.

Livingstone's long tenure is rare, having gone from account director at the seminal Kiwi agency in the 70s to Roger MacDonnell's right-hand man running Colenso BBDO, then as founder for Colenso's successful retail division .99.

Livingstone - nicknamed Nelly in the ad world - is part of a growing hall of fame in advertising that includes MacDonnell and the likes of Howard Russell and Ross Goldsack, among others.

His experience goes back to the early days when the business was focused on newspapers and increasingly on television. Nowadays he says the future is in the internet and believes there are too many traditional media firms fighting an increasing number of alternatives.

STERLING CHOICE

Livingstone remembered that when MacDonnell hired him back in the 70s he was initially wary.

He came from a sales background, and the smart creative set at the high-flying agency was daunting. The agency was then based in Wellington.

He settled in and became a major force in advertising, in part because of an easy-going charm and focus on the sale.

His initial reticence illustrates the traditional tension in ad agencies between the creatives and the client service executives, or "suits" as they are known.

In the TV series Mad Men, the creatives represented by Don Draper provide the imagination for the ads and in that sense are the true stars. But suits - like Livingstone's favourite character Roger Sterling - keep the clients happy.

"I'm a suit and Roger Macdonnell was a creative, but my replacement at .99, Craig Whitehead, is currently creative directive - so things change," he said.

Livingstone says one of the maxims in his long career, including 23 years leading top agencies, is about keeping clients happy.

"When a client comes down to talk to an agency it should be the highlight of their week," he says.

RETAIL THERAPY

Another division in advertising is between the branding agency and the retail agency - selling the idea of a brand and actually selling products.

Livingstone described the old days when .99 was on the ground floor and Colenso on the top as being akin to the TV programme Upstairs Downstairs.

In the the past, retail advertising has been perceived as a slightly poor cousin to branding work, but many believe retail is the way of the future. New Zealand is a small advertising market and Colenso BBDO has always been the biggest or second biggest.

Faced with category clashes for the limited branding campaigns, Livingstone was assigned to run .99 with fast turnaround ad campaigns designed to get the tills ringing. A key point in .99's success was securing the ad account for Farmers.

WOOD EXITS

Another executive is leaving MediaWorks. TV publicity manager Nicole Wood announced she would be stepping down from the post just a few weeks after she took over the spokesperson job from marketing manager Roger Beaumont.

A replacement has not been named, but top corporate PR woman Niki Schuck has been tipped for a consultant's role in what is expected to be a big year.

- NZ Herald

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