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Access to Rudd, at a price

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Advertising 'cowboys' political fail

Jonathan Swan explains what went wrong when an advertising agency sought to barter access to the PM for pro-Labor reporting.

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The Labor Party's advertising agency has been offering ''exclusive'' interviews with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in exchange for free pro-Labor advertising and editorial on youth websites.

The deal, which also encouraged journalists to produce ''entertaining content on the theme of the inadequacy of the Liberal NBN plan'', had been rejected on ethical grounds by Fairfax Media's popular culture website, TheVine. Two other youth-focused websites - Vice and Pedestrian.tv - were briefed on the interview but Pedestrian.tv were not asked to provide free advertising.

The ad agency has been sacked on the orders of Mr Rudd.

Quid pro quo: ALP denies ads for comment deal and sacks agency.

Quid pro quo: ALP denies ads for comment deal and sacks agency. Photo: Getty Images

Pedestrian.tv director Chris Wirasinha said Naked Communications had not demanded they give away free advertising for the Labor Party in exchange for interview access.

''That probably would be a deal-breaker, running an interview surrounded by Labor ads,'' Mr Wirasinha said.

''We have never done a deal like that . . . Whether you’re the Prime Minister or Brad Pitt, we don't give free ads in return for access to talent.''

Vice has not responded to a Fairfax Media request for comment.

The deal was being spruiked by Naked Communications, the online and youth-focused advertising agency for Labor's campaign.

Labor's national secretary, George Wright, who is in charge of the election campaign, said he had never seen the advertising-for-access deal, despite the document carrying Labor Party branding. Mr Wright said the actions of the advertising agency were ''completely unacceptable'' and he would apologise personally to the editor involved in the negotiations.

Initially Mr Wright said he would keep employing Naked, but later said the agency had been sacked. The decision was taken by Mr Rudd. A spokesman said: ''He won’t tolerate this sort of behaviour.''

Earlier a spokeswoman for Mr Rudd had said: ''The actions of Naked Communications were conducted without the authority or knowledge of the Prime Minister, or his office.''     

However, emails obtained by Fairfax Media suggest the Prime Minister’s office was informed of the negotiations.

After being told his deal for access to Mr Rudd was unethical, Naked Communications executive Nick Kavanagh discussed a compromise arrangement with TheVine’s editor, Alyx Gorman.      

''No news from the [Prime Minister's Office] as yet but we'll keep you updated,'' Mr Kavanagh wrote.

Both Labor and Naked Communications said that communication with the Prime Minister's Office did not take place.

The briefing document carries Labor branding and lists the conditions for the ''Kevin interview''.

An advertising executive described the document as ''gobsmacking''. In exchange for 10 minutes ''one-on-one'' with Mr Rudd, it encouraged editors to give away advertising space on websites and networks for youth-focused advertising (related to Labor's election campaign), produce ''entertaining content on the theme of the inadequacy of the Liberal NBN plan'', provide ''inventory and/or editorial for upcoming campaign activity'', and provide ''access to pro-Labor or pro-NBN talent''.

Naked Communications' head of strategy, Brett Rolfe, said the briefing document was prepared internally and ''not discussed, authorised or reviewed by the ALP''.

Since being contacted by Fairfax Media, Mr Rolfe said Labor had advised him that ''the matters outlined in the document are not to be progressed''.

Emails reveal that Mr Kavanagh pushed the bargain vigorously with the editor of TheVine.

After being told it was ''not appropriate'' to demand free advertising in exchange for access to Mr Rudd, Mr Kavanagh replied: ''To be honest we're pretty disappointed that you would be unable to facilitate this . . . We have offered your organisation a unique opportunity . . . yet you're unable to provide us with any advertising support in return?''

Gorman said she was "shocked" by the demand. ''If the Kardashians asked for bag advertisements in exchange for an interview with Kim, I would laugh and hang up the phone,'' she said. ''There is no one in the world we would do that for.''

Do you know more? jonathan.swan@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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152 comments

  • It would help if the media (well except for anti labor news limited)focused on both parties policies for once,lets see a comparison so people can see what they get to vote for!!..Even though the liebrals have dud policies the people need to know how bad they are.

    Commenter
    Steeden
    Date and time
    July 17, 2013, 7:50AM
    • It amazes me that people vote for a party regardless of their performance. Having voted for the ALP an Liberals in the past (ALP in 2007 & 2010) , I feel very let down by the mistakes of this government. Until a few days ago, the ALP were telling us how important the carbon tax was and now we are replacing it with an ETS controlled by Europe, thus surrendering Australia's sovereign control. Now there will the FBT changes that furtherhurt our car manufacturers. And as the ETS is based on a floating price, no one knows what the price will be in a years time- it could go down further causing a larger hole in our budget or go up causing more hardship for families. Do we really want to be like Greece, Italy, Portugal etc? And the ALP's asylum seeker policy has been a terrible human tragedy - today I hear of even more deaths at sea of asylum seekers. There have been too many other failures. This time I will be giving my vote to the Liberals.

      Commenter
      I Consider my vote based on performance
      Date and time
      July 17, 2013, 9:15AM
    • I guess you would call Rudds announcements yesterday "Good policy"?

      Commenter
      Sinkers
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 17, 2013, 9:19AM
    • The proper procedure for gaining equal coverage and analysis of all party's policies is for the PM to call the election. Why can't you Labor voters understand that ?

      It would help if Rudd stopped playing the same games Gillard did and followed proper procedure instead of trying to gain an unfair competitive advantage by holding off the election date in order to maximise his own campaign time to the detriment of other parties.

      Commenter
      Scout
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 17, 2013, 9:30AM
    • Just a question for all just taking as honest the alp line of they had no idea

      How was it possible for the ad agency to promise an interview if the PM's office was in the dark?

      Just curious how these interviews would have been arranged had nobody on the ALP side had any idea

      As an organisation we have a long history of taking what the NSW ALP sats of being 100% accurate. There has been no reason to intervene to clean it up, has there.

      The libs policies should be scrutinised by the press but to suggest this is a non story when it would likely be referred to ICAC if it was about access to Robbo for positive press, is a joke (see what is happening re Ryde Council)

      Commenter
      Paully
      Date and time
      July 17, 2013, 9:30AM
    • I have no doubts, whatsoever, that Abbott will lose the election. What a glorious day that'll be - to see him lose the 'unlosable' election. And it could be as early as August 24! I've never come across a leader as devoid of intellect, ideas and debating ability as him in 40 years of interest in politics.

      Commenter
      Dodo
      Date and time
      July 17, 2013, 9:33AM
    • what has this comment got to do with this article - why can't Labor supporters deal with the issue in hand instead of always trying to point the finger and the blame at Liberals. This article is about an advertising agency that got the sack and the reason for it - when did policy come in to it? The neverending

      Commenter
      Tired Camel
      Date and time
      July 17, 2013, 9:35AM
    • @ Steeden, how quickly you forget, the Murdoch Press backed Rudd back in 2007. All Rudd has said since his return is not a policy, it an election promise, anything Abbott says is an election promise, if Rudd wants to recall Parliament and put it through both houses, then it becomes a Policy.I am not sure if you were old enough to vote for Rudd in 2007, but his pass rate of promise to policy was about 7%. So how I see it, I don't believe a word he says.

      Commenter
      Martin Says
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      July 17, 2013, 9:36AM
    • Rudd is all talk!

      He knows he cannot get his "policy" changes through parliament, hence won't recall it. Even after the election, should he win, the senate will not support the changes before July 1 next year.

      Rudd is only there to win seats for the ALP - then he is gone!

      Commenter
      beasleyst
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      July 17, 2013, 9:39AM
    • The actions of Naked Communications were conducted without the authority or knowledge of the Prime Minister, or his office? oh but with the knowledge and consent of what other ALP person? who are we hiding? It is bad enough the media locking out new or competitor parties of the main two. Look this year, all publicity is ALP or LIB, its free daily be it good or bad, so, to make up for this two party favouring, other contenders have to spend an extra fortune on advertising to match the height the media places the main two parties at. But one party soon shall change all that by self funding an equalisation. STAY TUNED. And which media will get that parties advertising dollars.

      Commenter
      brian
      Location
      CHISHOLM
      Date and time
      July 17, 2013, 9:40AM

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