John Drinnan 's Opinion

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

John Drinnan: ASB kicks ad agency in to touch

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Nicky Bell.  Photo / Steven McNicholl
Nicky Bell. Photo / Steven McNicholl

ASB Bank has ditched the ad agency it hired just two years ago to replace the firm that came up with the Goldstein ads. But there's no chance Goldstein will be back.

ASB announced yesterday it would be handing its advertising account to Saatchi & Saatchi, and had given Droga5 90 days' notice.

The break-up has long been predicted in the industry - ever since the return of former marketing director Barbara Chapman as ASB chief executive.

The bank has made up a big part of Droga5's work since the agency - an offshoot of the hip New York outfit of the same name - was formed two years ago. The win is a boost for Saatchi & Saatchi, once a dominating force in the local industry, controlling more than half of New Zealand advertising. Nowadays it's not even in the top three agencies.

There has been a long slide involving successive upheavals and restructuring and account losses over the years. Saatchi & Saatchi has been reorganised but has been slow to rebuild its stature, reaching a low with the ditched "Abstain for the Game" ad featuring Sean Fitzpatrick in a pink dodgem car.

Droga5 was started by veteran admen Andrew Stone and Mike O'Sullivan after their attempt to turn around Saatchi came to naught. Chief executive Nicky Bell was brought in to Saatchi, as was Venezuelan executive creative director Antonio Navas.

The loss of ASB is a major blow to a small agency like Droga5. But even Saatchi's industry rivals have applauded the win, saying it deserves a reward for effectively starting from scratch and reviving its creative chutzpah. Other accounts include Telecom, Toyota, the Ministry of Defence and Sanitarium.

Insiders say the shift from Droga5 has been inevitable since Chapman returned. The Goldstein campaign under her marketing reign was replaced while she was away with Droga5's swish, but less human, approach. The Goldstein agency, TBWA, had picked up ANZ in the meantime so was not available.

Elsewhere on the banking front, it's understood DDB is a frontrunner for the Westpac Bank business, ditched by Colenso when it picked up the BNZ.

CLEAN SWEEP

SkyCity Entertainment is in the public eye over the convention centre deal with the Government, and the impact of extra poker machines. Elsewhere, the celebrity package with Newstalk ZB host Mike Hosking, worth up to $48,000 a year, and a deal with Paul Henry have been exposed.

Good news may be coming in the shape of more coin-swallowing poker machines, but you'd think the company would want to see its own views aired, if only to ensure that its close relations with National do not leave it on a war footing with Labour.

TVNZ has taken the perceived conflict of interest seriously and banned Hosking from reporting on SkyCity. Newstalk ZB, however, has invited listeners to rely on the station to keep an eye on conflicts and ensure they are declared where necessary.

MOTOR MOUTH

As well as banning Hosking from covering SkyCity when fronting Close Up, TVNZ got him to provide an update of all his commercial relationships. TVNZ says only one aspect attracted its attention - Hosking's free access to luxury wheels. Sponsored cars supplied by dealers are a common fringe benefit for radio announcers and other media folk. At one point Toyota lent actor Oliver Driver a free SUV, and it would hardly be a crisis if a car dealer were given an occasional plug. TVNZ declined to comment, but if there is anything unusual in Hosking's case, it appears to be that his arrangements involve more than one luxury vehicle, and more than one brand.

INTEGRITY AT STAKE

In my opinion, this lack of transparency about commercial backing is an anomaly of New Zealand broadcasting standards. Regulators get in a lather over a bit of nudie how's-your-father. But they're not concerned about issues that affect the very integrity of a TV or radio show.

A few free eats is one thing, but a commercial contract worth up to $48,000 should have been transparent.

Of course consumers can raise any concerns about breaches of standards in complaints about unfairness orbias.

But as the Broadcasting Standards Authority chairman, Peter Radich, acknowledged recently, people are not able to judge breaches if they have not been advised about commercial links.

Maybe a clear statement about substantial commercial relationships for broadcasters will be part of the Government's reassessment of media regulations.

NO COMPROMISE

SkyCity has defended its contractual relationships with some journalists. In a statement yesterday, Grainne Troute, SkyCity general manager group services, said: "We have never sought to manipulate or compromise media and have never done so.

"Our relationship with any of these people is through their celebrity profile, not their position in the media."

ASK BRENT

The celebrity scheme has been run out of the public relations team at SkyCity, but it's the brainchild of chief executive Nigel Morrison.

I'm told Morrison has a reputation as a hard taskmaster, used to bigger markets like Macau and Sydney, and that he's been surprised at negative media coverage of the casino.

"He thinks it's all about bright lights and celebrity, and doesn't understand why there is negative coverage," said one industry player.

Indeed, there has been a lot of movement in the PR department at SkyCity, and in the midst of its present troubles it seems to be flying blind.

One SkyCity board member who would be able to offer Morrison sound advice on the media is Brent Harman.

Harman is a former journalist and chairs the holding company that owns MediaWorks, owner of TV3, Radio Live and other broadcast operations, which has also been on the wrong side of media publicity this year.

- 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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