Conflict questions linger over FCB's Massey Uni win

A week after NBR broke the story, controversy continues to bubble.

Questions are still being asked about the process followed by Massey University in awarding its creative and media accounts to FCB.

As reported in last week’s NBR print edition, other agencies taking part in the apparently competitive pitch for the business have raised concerns about not being informed of a potential conflict of interest: Massey University’s head of external relations, Penelope Barr-Sellers is married to FCB group account director Toby Sellers, who is also responsible for the agency’s new business.

In response to enquiries from NBR’s Chelsea Armitage, FCB New Zealand chief executive Brian van den Hurk, meanwhile, responded with the following statement: “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.”

Meanwhile, Massey University communications director James Gardiner told NBR the potential conflict of interest was recognised and disclosed from the outset.

According to Mr Gardiner, “Mrs Barr-Sellers did not take part in the initial evaluation of the proposals received for providing creative and media services to Massey University. However, as Assistant Vice-Chancellor external relations, she did sit on the final selection panel, along with five other staff. The process was overseen by our procurement and contract group.

“Based on the individual evaluations by the Massey panellists of the respective pitches given, it is clear that the outcome would have been the same whether or not Mrs Barr-Sellers took part.

“Mr Sellers also disclosed to his employer the potential for a conflict of interest and did not take part in the pitch.”

However, the NZ Herald is reporting today that, according to Y&R NZ managing director Steve Kane, the potential conflict of interest had not been disclosed to other parties involved in the pitch, understood to include Y&R NZ and Saatchi & Saatchi.

Massey University continues to maintain it followed the correct procedure and disclosed the potential conflict from the outset.

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