Saatchi & Saatchi worldwide chief executive Kevin Roberts is at the centre of a political storm in New Zealand, following allegations that he peddled influence with prime minister Jenny Shipley to secure more money for a global tourism marketing campaign.
Roberts’ reputation is under the spotlight as New Zealand’s Audit Office investigates events at the New Zealand Tourism Board, whose NZ$30m (10m) account Saatchi & Saatchi won last July. Allegations about Roberts’ relationship with Shipley – who describes the English-born adman as a close friend – centre on a mysterious dinner attended by them last August, and whether they discussed the tourism issue. They have given conflicting accounts. Opposition parties say the affair gives at least the perception of a conflict of interest in the relationship between Roberts and Shipley.
The story, dubbed “Dinnergate” by the New Zealand media, has led TV bulletins since it blew up on February 16. Roberts and Shipley have denied any wrong-doing. Shipley said she never agreed in principle “to anything put in front of me by Kevin Roberts or anybody else”.
The affair came to light after a crisis at the Tourism Board, where four top directors have resigned amid recriminations over the amount of influence wielded by tourism minister Murray McCully.