A source in the industry has revealed that there were concerns about the integrity of the Massey University pitching process, which culminated in the account being awarded to FCB.
Questions are being asked about a potential conflict of interest on account of FCB group account director Toby Sellers being married to Penelope Barr-Sellers, who serves as the university’s assistant vice chancellor of external relations and development.
StopPress understands that Barr-Sellers sat on the five-person panel that determined which agency the account should be awarded to.
Massey University communications director James Gardiner admits there was a potential conflict of interest but says that the relationship was disclosed before the pitching process started.
However, the source in the industry disagrees, saying that Barr-Sellers’ involvement in the process was only revealed once the agencies involved had been shortlisted (it’s understood that FCB, Y&R and Saatchi & Saatchi were shortlisted).
Asked about these claims, Gardiner says he believed the process was robust and that agencies involved are welcome to approach the university if they have any additional concerns about the nature of the pitch.
Gardiner went on to say that because the industry is relatively small in New Zealand, there’s always a likelihood of people knowing each other, especially given the frequent staff moves across agency and marketing roles.
FCB is yet to respond to our request for comment.*
*UPDATE: FCB chief executive Brian van den Hurk has sent through the following response: “The reality is, New Zealand is a small market and as always, we manage our pitch processes in a professional manner. In this instance, Toby Sellers being a staff member was declared up front in our initial response. We understand from the team at Massey that from the panel of six, the decision to appoint FCB was unanimous.”
Additionally, FCB has informed StopPress that Sellers was not involved at any stage of the pitch process.