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

John Drinnan: Own goal for mythbusters

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Auckland Transport mounts lively ad campaign, then undermines it by using shuttle vans to help staff get around

Auckland Transport's pop art bus ads look good, and have brightened up the city.
Auckland Transport's pop art bus ads look good, and have brightened up the city.

Auckland Transport has snatched a public relations defeat from the jaws of victory, with revelations that its management does not believe their own clever marketing campaign.

The Auckland Council's independent transport agency was pilloried this week for using shuttle vans to help staff get around, because it thought public transport was not efficient enough.

There may be valid reasons why shuttles make more sense than buses and trains. But it was an own goal for an organisation that is trying to convince people of the exact opposite.

Finger-pointing news coverage undermines AT's slick "Transport Myths" busback ad campaign.

The classy ads feature pop art images that debunk "myths" about public transport being slower or less pleasant than travelling by car.

The ads look good and give a nice urban feel to New Zealand's biggest city. Designed in the style of pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, the five ads were devised by Auckland ad agency The Port Group.

The colourful images first appeared late last year on the arterial routes of the Auckland isthmus, and recently expanded to include the Northern Express routes on Auckland's North Shore.

The ads have been popular, and have even been adopted by public transport campaigners in Canada, Australia and France.

According to Auckland Transport communications and public affairs manager Wally Thomas, an online survey showed 44 per cent of those contacted in the target areas were aware of the promotional campaign, and the same number considered it innovative.

As well, 26 per cent thought the campaign was "bold" and 30 per cent that it was "friendly".

That's all good, but the trouble is it looks as though Auckland Transport does not believe its own advertising.

I asked two private sector public relations consultants if there had been any damage to the cause of attracting people to public transport. They said it was apparent that the campaign was not linked to the way Auckland Transport was being run and that it was a public relations own goal.

One consultant said the Transport Myths campaign had not been hurt, but the lack of a strategy was a bad look for the Auckland Council and its ongoing campaign to boost public transport. And, in the words of the second PR consultant, "It is do as I say, not as I do".

An AT worker boards a staff shuttle that runs between Auckland City and Henderson. Photo / Greg Bowker
An AT worker boards a staff shuttle that runs between Auckland City and Henderson. Photo / Greg Bowker

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Advertising agency DDB is developing its own intellectual property in-house, and the resulting new products won't necessarily be linked to servicing clients - or even to the advertising business.

The big creative agency has unveiled a new venture called "Shaper", which is working in association with the high-profile government agency Callaghan Innovation and encourages selected staff to develop ideas into new intellectual property.

A similar scheme has run at DDB in Australia and the New Zealand chief operating officer Chris Riley said it aimed to build new revenue streams, in a challenging market for ad agencies. Agency staff had numerous skills and ideas to build IP.

It was early days in Auckland, he said, but already there were several promising ideas, many of them based around technology. Callaghan Innovation would provide expert assistance when it came to the prototype stage and the agency had the skills to take the new products to market.

"We approached Callaghan to create a robust framework ... and help us develop the prototypes," he said. Some projects would eventually be taken to the copyright, trademark or patent stage.

"We are taking ownership of IP that is usually handed over to clients early on in the process," Riley said.

New products being developed might be useful for DDB clients but if not, the IP might be sold on or licensed to other businesses.

"We will start out small but we are allowing staff 20 per cent of time for innovation and development."

The IP developed would remain the property of the agency. It would be foolhardy to expect an immediate return, he said, but it was a new direction and DDB aimed to commercialise ideas. Riley stressed that the agency's core role in developing marketing and advertising solutions would not change.

MIXING IT UP

Bosses at The Radio Network are confident that passing the FM98.2 frequency in Auckland to a new part-time station is a win-win proposition.

Starting this week, Radio Sport reverted to the AM1332 frequency in Auckland, allowing its old FM98.2 frequency to run an Auckland only, female-focused station from 8am to noon. At other times the frequency plays music, with limited advertising. Radio Sport frequencies in other cities - both AM and FM - will not be affected.

The obvious question is whether Radio Sport's Auckland listeners will be confused and listenership might fall off. However, TRN head of content Dean Buchanan said there was no increase or decrease when Radio Sport moved to FM frequencies two years ago, and the station had a loyal following.

I wondered whether the new Mix98.2 FM might cannibalise other TRN stations. However Buchanan believes it will take listeners away from the Breeze, which is owned by the rival MediaWorks radio division. (Declaration: The Herald and TRN are both owned by APN News & Media.)

TRN head of content Dean Buchanan, right, with Tony Veitch and  Zoe Marshall. Photo / Norrie Montgomery.
TRN head of content Dean Buchanan, right, with Tony Veitch and Zoe Marshall. Photo / Norrie Montgomery.

RADIO DAZE

Radio New Zealand has revealed a new company structure that will result in some of its key RNZ National programmes reporting to different bosses. The change will see Morning Report and Checkpoint becoming part of the new Content division, while Nine to Noon and other programmes and presenters will report to the new Radio division.

The online arm, including the RNZ website and the more youthfully orientated website The Wire, will be under the Digital Media division.

RNZ chief executive Paul Thompson yesterday acknowledged there was some debate about the change, which one staffer I approached believed would create an overly complex structure for a relatively small organisation. A draft proposal given to staff at the start of the month prompted a lot of feedback, but Thompson said the final reorganisation did not include significant changes from that draft.

As a result, there will be six heads or general managers - including three new posts for general managers or heads of Content, Radio and Online. The most controversial aspect of the change is that the Head of News role will disappear and news will no longer be autonomous, but will report to a Head of Content.

It is not yet clear whether RNZ Head of News, Don Rood, has applied for the Head of Content role. Thompson expects the new structure and positions will be advertised internally.

Insiders say goodwill remains, but staff are becoming wary of upheavals.

There was surprise at the draft proposal's terminology for the Head of Digital Media role, which said that person should be able to handle difficult situations and stress, and should "tolerate ambiguity" - which is rather ambiguous in itself.

RNZ has refuted a Herald report that the RNZ board had approved the loss of more than a dozen jobs as part of the restructuring.

On June 5 Thompson was quoted as saying that decisions about staffing would be made by the new management appointed under the revamped structure. He said that was "a long way down the path".

- 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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