M&C cleared of blame for Dome problems

- The Government has cleared M&C Saatchi of blame for the problems which have engulfed the Millennium Dome at Greenwich. Lord Falconer, the minister responsible for the ill-fated project, said the agency's work was overshadowed by negative media coverage of the Dome.

- The Government has cleared M&C Saatchi of blame for the problems which have engulfed the Millennium Dome at Greenwich. Lord Falconer, the minister responsible for the ill-fated project, said the agency's work was overshadowed by negative media coverage of the Dome.

"We banked in part on lots of publicity for the Dome which would not depend on advertising," said Falconer. "But the ups and downs of the Dome depend more on editorial coverage than advertising. It tends to swamp the advertising."

Falconer said some of M&C's ads, such as those showing a flock of sheep, were more visible in news reports than as ads. "I am sure we could have done it differently in some respects, but I wonder how much effect it would have had."

He said the advertising was not criticised directly by the hard-hitting report into the project by the National Audit Office (NAO), the public spending watchdog.

The report, which will be followed by another investigation by the Commons Public Accounts Committee stating this week, said: "Despite the [New Millennium Experience] Company's marketing efforts, there are negative perceptions about the Dome and a lack of awareness of its content."

A survey by NOP for the company found that 71 per cent of people did not know much about the contents and only 23 per cent believed a day at the Dome would be good value for money.

The NAO report said the company had originally set a relatively low marketing budget of £27 million because it hoped massive free media exposure and word of mouth would sell the project.

This was increased to £40 million after negative media coverage undermined people's confidence in it, and the company admitted "the Dome's content had not been explained or promoted effectively to potential visitors."

However, after M&C's ad campaign this summer, the company decided the most effective and efficient means of boosting visitor numbers would be to sell discounted tickets via sponsors, which led to a £1.5 million cut in the marketing spend.

The NAO said sponsors who mentioned the Dome in their own ad campaigns had brought in "indirect marketing" worth an estimated £33 million.



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