GLOBAL BRIEF: Saatchi chief’s ties with NZ premier hit headlines Paul Pankhurst reports on how a pounds 30m Tourist Board task sparked a major row.

Kevin Roberts has never had a higher profile in his homeland. But whether that’s a good thing for the New Zealand-born worldwide chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi - or, indeed, for the Saatchi offices in Auckland and Wellington - is quite a different question.

Kevin Roberts has never had a higher profile in his homeland. But

whether that’s a good thing for the New Zealand-born worldwide chief

executive of Saatchi & Saatchi - or, indeed, for the Saatchi offices in

Auckland and Wellington - is quite a different question.



Twenty-one months into his stint as the Saatchi boss, the 48-year-old

former brewing executive finds himself at the centre of a political

storm that’s been sweeping across the front pages of New Zealand’s

newspapers for weeks.



The controversy is over allegations that the Prime Minister, Jenny

Shipley, and her political party, National, wrongly interfered in a

planned global marketing campaign intended to promote New Zealand as a

tourist destination. Shipley’s political opponents are suggesting

National hi-jacked what should have been an apolitical campaign to

secure ’feel good’ publicity in an election year - and that Saatchi may

be benefiting improperly from its cosy relationship with the Prime

Minister and her political party.



The media and National’s political opponents are casting a close eye

over what Shipley has described as her ’close personal friendship’ with

Roberts and they are searching for a smoking gun to prove

wrongdoing.



The controversy emerged after a string of resignations from New

Zealand’s Tourism Board and the public disclosure of the suspicions of a

former board member, Gerry McSweeney, that the National party wanted to

use the planned NZdollars 30 million Saatchi-devised campaign to boost

its fortunes.



The campaign is intended to focus on a series of so-called ’mega-events’

in New Zealand this year, such as the Americas Cup yacht racing. In an

interview with The Sunday Star-Times, McSweeney raised questions about

Shipley’s role in a ’pre-launch’ of the campaign at New Zealand House in

London in January. The paper said the event seemed to be pitched at

attracting publicity in New Zealand rather than overseas.



One of Shipley’s political opponents, Jim Anderton, the leader of the

Alliance, later upped the stakes when he told the New Zealand Parliament

of a letter from an unnamed source claiming that Saatchi had offered a

cut-price re-election campaign to the National Party in exchange for

securing the Tourism Board business. The letter alleged that Shipley and

Roberts had discussed the deal at a private dinner last year.



Factual errors quickly undermined the credibility of the letter but the

premier landed in trouble when she bungled her explanation to

Parliament, by first denying then admitting that politics and Tourist

board issues had been discussed over dinner.



There’s some sympathy in the ad industry for the staff at Saatchi, which

has long been New Zealand’s leading ad agency. While the affair does

nothing to deter Roberts from the globetrotting that sees him ricochet

around the worldwide Saatchi network, local staff are left facing what

looks like a prolonged torture-by-innuendo.



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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).