SYDNEY: Tourism Australia's global advertising tender has re-ignited concerns over expensive pitches that may have been sewn up before the tenders even go out.
M&C Saatchi executive chairman Asia Tom Dery and Publicis Mojo CEO Nicholas Davie reportedly met with Tourism Australia executives before the tender was made public. The rumours have prompted accusations of a "done deal", echoing similar claims in 2003 when George Patterson Partners secured part of the Telstra account without a pitch. M&C Saatchi has strong connections with Tourism Australia director of marketing Ian Macfarlane from his six years as GM marketing at existing client Tourism New Zealand. The agency picked up the Gold Coast Tourism Bureau (GCTB) account last year while Macfarlane was its CEO. Publicis Mojo also has strong tourism credentials - it handles the Tourism Victoria and Tourism Queensland accounts and created the famous Paul Hogan campaign. M&C Saatchi sparked controversy in 2003 when it pursued the Medibank Private account while handling competitor MBF. It opened a second-tier agency in Melbourne, DNA, to overcome the conflict. The CEO of an agency pitching for Tourism Australia said it would be unfair to go through a tender if the result is predetermined. However, he conceded that "government organisations have to tender [and] they often speak to their existing agency and a couple of other agencies to put together a good tender". Another agency CEO said while it is common industry practice to leverage relationships, "Tom Dery has made it a style of his own". "A lot of people are over the ways the rules have been bent. It's not good for the industry," he said. While Dery did not return calls, it is likely the agency would not hesitate to swap Tourism New Zealand for the much bigger Tourism Australia account, or shunt the Kiwi account into DNA. "Tom [Dery] does have a relationship with Tourism Australia through lots of different stuff that he does, but there's been no decision made to pitch for Tourism Australia," M&C Saatchi spokesperson Andrea Kerekes said. Consultant Colin Wilson-Brown of The Clinic said it's the nature of the industry for clients to be talking to agencies in the lead-up to account reviews. "I don't think it's avoidable," he said. "People know when a tender is due and they would be kind of lobbying and getting to know [the client] and maintaining relationships. That part of it isn't avoidable. The concern would be if the game has been decided before the tender is called." Tourism Australia managing director Scott Morrison denied any discussions with M&C Saatchi or other agencies had taken place. "We are adhering to a very robust tendering process," he said. "It's an open tender. The rules are very clear and they are being strictly applied." The tender makes it clear the tourism body is seeking a global network to service over 20 key markets, including Australia, Los Angeles, London, Hong Kong, Tokyo and New Zealand. "We are looking for a global agency that has a strong and vibrant presence in each of the key markets," Morrison said. The creative and media accounts have been split, and Morrison said as there are different requirements for the media business, a global agency network may not be the best solution. "We don't want to short-change ourselves on local media buying knowledge," he said. Whybin TBWA and Brand Architecture Australia created the most recent Brand Australia campaign but the account now up for grabs in a new contract, bringing together the regional accounts.
Pitch bitch timeline
May 2003: Patts grabs Telstra without a pitch Nov 2003 M&C forms DNA to keep Medibank & MBF Jul 2004: Suncorp overloads pitch list Feb 2005: Insurance Council of Australia pitches and then recants Mar 2005: Agencies accuse Tourism Australia of "dead" pitch
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