Tom Waterhouse fire spreads as agencies accused of 'screwing up' sponsorship

By Brendan Coyne and Paul McIntyre | 20 March 2013

EXCLUSIVE: Tom Waterhouse is drawing heat from Canberra. The gambling reform committee is scrutinising the blurring lines between commentary and betting companies. In this case, the advertiser, and the betting firm front man's success, has fanned the flames.

But the broader question of sponsor integration has led one media executive to tell AdNews that media agencies are driving the agenda, pushing the integration envelope too far “and screwing it up”.

The executive said Waterhouse had “bought himself a seat at the commentary table … it is cash for comment.” 

More broadly though, he said it was “not the advertisers that are driving [integration envelope pushing], far from it. We are being forced to do it by media agencies purely for economics.”

He claimed that it “is not going to stop being driven by media agencies who want to commercialise all content… unless consumers say enough is enough.”

Advertisers, he said, 'get' brands “and they get brand building [for media assets]. It is the media agencies. I guess it is their job - they are striving to push more and more boundaries and that is where they are screwing it up.”


Maxus chief operating officer, Mark McCraith, scoffed at the view. Such a stance was “naive" and “quite preposterous”, he said.

Perhaps some media owners were trying to divert attention from other things happening in Canberra, he suggested.

“People are so nervous about the media review that they are trying to point the finger at everyone else. They say media agencies are making them do it? Well don't let them. Nobody ever said 'take the money or else',” he said.

“For a media company to say that it is all media agencies' fault is quite preposterous,” he said, pointing to a recent reverse auction by one channel in order to attract the highest integrated sponsor bid for horse racing. That happened to be won by Tom Waterhouse, he added.

McCraith said networks would not let anyone turn off audiences and kill their ratings. He pointed to “credible networks”, citing Nine and its NRL package. “The last thing they want to do is screw it up and turn people off. If ratings drop, they might change it.”

The comment was “naive” said McCraith because “otherwise you would never have advertorials; the weather sponsored by Dulux or Jeep sponsoring the footie.”

He said that Waterhouse was a victim of his own success. “Nobody is breaking any rules. It is [his] omnipresence that is attracting attention,” he said, noting the strategy of building a stable of assets around five or six-year deals that would make a float or acquisition attractive.

Media agencies with gambling clients “just wants to ensure they are getting the best value for both the client and the media owner,” claimed McCraith.
Why not?

Nine's group sales & marketing director, Peter Wiltshire agreed with McCraith.

“Whether it is Tom Waterhouse or the TAB or any other operators out there, we are not breaking the rules so why would we not want to do it?"

He dismissed the idea of an agency-driven agenda. “There is definitely a deepening of the way we as media partner would work with advertisers,” said Wiltshire.  The industry was becoming increasingly “sophisticated and fragmented", he noted and the environment was “challenging”.

“We're looking to evolve beyond the 30-second spot, therefore it is not agency driven. We want to work together and do great work.”

Wiltshire said that meant all networks using the intellectual property of their products “such as The Block, My Kitchen Rules and The Biggest Loser” to enable “advertisers to leverage that IP.”

“Why would we not do that?”

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