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The concert that became a circus

Quiz time. What do a former Aussie rules player, the 80s pop
singer Phil Collins, a knighted scientist and former Prime Minister Helen Clark
 all have in common?

Answer: They were all part of the crazy saga that unfolded over the last month relating to a planned charity concert at Eden Park which came to its sorry conclusion yesterday.

It’s been fascinating to watch from the sidelines the many twists and turns of this story, which has been a great exercise in how not to do stakeholder engagement and publicise an event in an environment where investigative journalism is alive and well.

From happy beginnings…

For those that haven’t heard, the whole story began in early June when pharmaceutical scientist, inventor, author and social entrepreneur Sir Ray Avery announced plans for a Live Aid-style concert at Eden Park in Waitangi Day 2019 to raise money to help save millions of babies around the world.

The idea being proceeds from the event, which would include a broadcasted telethon, would secure funding of $4 million to produce 2,000 LifePods a bubble shaped incubator designed to provide care for premature babies.

Positive media coverage ensued - after all Sir Ray as a former New Zealander of the year has strong profile and being for a worthwhile cause, what’s not to like about the story?

Fast forward one month and the partnership with the Eden Park Trust is revealed with a carefully staged media conference at the stadium which even includes a cameo of the newborn daughter Eden Park CEO.

Momentum seems to be building with, as stated in this NZ Herald story there’s support for the charity event from the Mayor, Auckland Council chief executive Stephen Town and local residents of The Hood - Eden Park Supporters' Club and local business associates. Hey even actress Kimberley Crossman and radio DJ Matt Heath are endorsing the gig.

Cool - so this thing is happening right?

I wonder who the line up and the draw card artist is going
to be?

Then this story appears.

With submissions referring to the concert being a Trojan Horse for future concerts and Twitter trash talk about a fall from grace for one our most respected Prime Ministers, sh*t just got real.

Battle lines start forming

Surveys highlighting support from residents are put out into the public domain and concessions about noise levels are made as Eden Park seeks to reassure the surrounding community about the impact the concert will have.

Then out of leftfield, comes a story that was the last thing Eden Park Trust Board would have wanted one that questions the integrity and honesty of its CEO.

And more concerningly it points to a fresh interest in Eden Park from the current affairs site Newsroom – a media outlet increasingly making a name for itself as an investigative journalism powerhouse.

Things start to unravel

Newsroom makes an editorial decision to dig deeper into the story for the Live-aid style concert.

No stone is left unturned as claims being made by Sir Ray Avery are investigated in a series of pieces which even see one of our first digital billionaires and seemingly all round good guy, Sam Morgan offering his 2 cents worth on Sir Ray.

In the meantime, rumours start swirling on Twitter that the unnamed headline act is the one and only Phil Collins. Desperate ploy to garner public support for the concert perhaps?

Whatever the origin, it doesn’t matter as on Thursday 24th July, less than a month after Nick Sautner’s baby cameos at a media conference, Eden Park Trust Board announce they’re pulling the plug on the concert due to Environment court costs (even then critics question their motives for pulling out).

So what do we learn from all of this?

So, what do we learn from all of this?

Is the episode simply a case of fool-hardy planning and stakeholder engagement by Eden Park or does it point to something deeper in the Auckland psyche?

A tall poppy thing – symptomatic to our reactions to the CRL and a waterfront stadium, meaning we have trouble thinking big? Are we a city where big dreams come to die?

Here’s my 2 cents worth:

·         Be honest with the challenge and issues being faced with an event or project

·         You’re never going to win over every affected party over but at least make a realistic assessment of the risk posed by that opposition existing and weigh that up with the project proceeding

·         Hype and great publicity has its place but in age of digital media and investigative journalism got to be prepared to ensure that can withstand being put under scrutiny

·         The execution of the idea is as important if not more important than the idea itself

Any good comms practitioner will recognise the reputational risks in this space and put in place tactics to mitigate accordingly. To test our credentials, get in touch.
                                                                                                            by Luke Henshall




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