John Drinnan on business

John Drinnan is a Herald business writer and media commentator

Media: Consultant steps into Flannery's shoes

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The Tony Veitch affair was a low point for .TVNZ Photo / APN
The Tony Veitch affair was a low point for .TVNZ Photo / APN

A British-based consultant who restructured the TVNZ newsroom will be running the country's biggest newsroom over summer.

Some believe Michele Romaine has been hand-picked to take over the role permanently but that further changes are likely in the top-tier management.

Romaine was named yesterday as the acting head of news and current affairs from December to March while TVNZ finds a replacement for Anthony Flannery.

After four years Flannery is moving back to Australia where he will run news and current affairs at the troubled Ten Network.

A source said that Romaine was popular with senior TVNZ management from her role modernising the newsroom and was likely to be coaxed to apply for the job.

It would be a big ask given the change ahead.

It is significant that the fill-in job has not been handed to one of Flannery's acolytes in middle management.

Romaine has been working on and off for two years on a modernisation project and has been a consultant since 2005.

Setting aside her lack of local knowledge, she is well qualified for the job. She had numerous senior editorial jobs at the BBC.

In 2005 the Guardian newspaper reported Romaine left her job as director of production modernisation, claiming constructive dismissal.

Her legal action "caused grown men at the BBC to feel physically sick, as she planned to raise allegations of financial irregularities at the BBC", the Guardian said.

"The BBC's formidable legal team settled ... and the terms include a gagging clause that prevents Romaine from ever speaking about the circumstances of her departure."

In 2009 she was appointed a non-executive director of the Salisbury National Health Service board, experience that will no doubt lead to jokes about hospital passes when she arrives at TVNZ.

Are there any New Zealand journalists with the skills and mana to take one of the biggest roles in New Zealand journalism, or do we always look overseas?

VEITCH AND HENRY

Flannery gets a B minus for his time heading the TVNZ newsroom. He brought back stability to an operation that had been racked by rows and personal grievance complaints, but his tenure was stained by TVNZ's performance in the Tony Veitch affair, the fiasco over Paul Henry and a period of haphazard ethics on Breakfast - a show he played a big role developing.

His appointment coincided with a push by TVNZ to reduce the influence and budgets of news and current affairs and for the marketing department to impose its view on the news agenda.

Initially Flannery was shut out of the executive committee that runs TVNZ, though the representation was re-established a year ago after he was approached for a job in Australia.

TVNZ is not unique with its growing tension between marketing and news values and Flannery cannot be wholly blamed for the tabloid push that saw Henry encouraged to do racist rants and Close Up to feature porn stars.

But sources say he was regarded as someone who would take a task in hand without fuss and who delivered more content on reduced budgets, without major ructions with staff.

Flannery must have kept a four-leafed clover. He was lucky because much of his term at TVNZ coincided with TV3 being down at heel because of its ownership problems, lacking the resources and energy to compete,

JOHN KEY SHOW

Maybe we should feel grateful that MediaWorks and RadioLive have a loose appreciation of journalistic standards that means it is okay to hand over an hour to the Prime Minister on the eve of an election campaign.

In the same way Willie Jackson plugs Hone Harawira and the Mana Party, Key used the show to promote his "friend" Sir Peter Jackson, and plug RadioLive - a station that might have closed if it were not for his intervention in 2009.

Maybe, as the laid-back PM would have us believe, we're all taking these election standards too seriously - it's all a laugh.

MediaWorks employs the old argument that any publicity is good publicity, that it has enjoyed great promotion from the debacle which led to complaints to the Electoral Commission and the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

What's the lesson? RadioWorks has a special relationship with National. After Labour cried foul, MediaWorks hurriedly offered Labour a political debate with Key in the week before the election - three months behind other media.

Key's office confirmed the same day that there were no prospects of him taking part.

RadioWorks called in the lawyers to check on the Key show but maybe the music- and celebrity-oriented management should have turned to senior journalists inside the group to offer some commonsense advice. I hear that TV3 news staff encouraged RadioLive management not to go ahead with the show.

LABOUR PAINS

Mt Albert publishing and printing house The Image Centre has been hired for Labour's election campaign - lending the party two of the country's most experienced admen.

Image Centre - which owns magazine publisher Tangible Media - includes Mike Hutcheson and Roger MacDonnell among its directors. Both have experience in political advertising campaigns.

Hutcheson is a former managing director of Saatchi & Saatchi who took a stake in Image Centre during a period of expansion.

He played a pivotal role co-ordinating Len Brown's successful campaign for the Auckland mayoralty.

MacDonnell's involvement is election advertising is more historical. As head of Colenso, he was involved in two election pushes - the famous "Dancing Cossacks" campaign for National and one for Labour.

Image Centre will co-ordinate the campaign and creativity has been outsourced to Jeremy Taine and his colleagues at Auckland ad agency String Theory. Taine says he is "on the side of the angels" working with Labour and wants to ensure New Zealanders do not sleepwalk to a round of privatisation.

WHO'S THE BOSS?

Election advertising campaigns are notoriously hard work. They tend to pay badly.

And the parties sometimes make radical switches, depending on poll results. Party activists get involved and if the election goes badly, the advertising agency gets the blame.

There are also politicians' egos to deal with. An old hand from a past Labour campaign remembers adman Fraser Carson initially had trouble getting on with Labour leader Helen Clark, and offered to kiss her feet if they could work together.

The Labourite recollects that Carson did just that, Clark appreciated the humour, and they got on well after that.

CREATIVE SELL

Advertising agencies are always trying to sell creativity as a key factor in campaigns being effective and leading to sales, but adman author Peter Field says some advertisers are still sceptical about the connection.

Field was brought to New Zealand recently by Colenso and has made a solid connection between creatively successful ad campaigns - judged partly by awards - and big increases in market share.

Field, who is British-based, has acknowledged that other factors are at play. Advertisers who take the risk of innovative new ad campaigns sometimes combine them with other initiatives like customer services that also have an impact on sales.

But he says that big advertisers such as Procter and Gamble who were once sceptical about investment in fresh creativity are changing their minds .

- NZ Herald

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