Is $500k to market Auckland too much?

9:46 am on 24 November 2016

Analysis- How much is too much when you're spending ratepayers' money?

The answer is not simple, despite political posturing in Auckland around a $500,000 global marketing campaign devised by a council agency.

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Selling Auckland to the world comes with a hefty bill, but is it worth it? Photo: 123rf.com

Mayor Phil Goff unilaterally told Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) not to spend another dollar on "branding", after a weekend newspaper report said the money had been spent on developing a new slogan for the city - "A Place Desired by Many".

ATEED said work had been underway for nearly three years at the behest of the council, to develop a pitch to attract overseas investment and talent - goals endorsed by Mr Goff in his inauguration speech.

The $500,000 figure makes a great headline, but whether the dollars are well spent depends on what is achieved, not simply the sum involved.

For Mr Goff, taking a public position on the ATEED project fed one of his key campaign themes, which was getting tough on spending and making council agencies more accountable.

He made his views known publicly at the same time that he told RNZ that he had not had time to actually have a detailed look at what it was ATEED had been working on.

Mr Goff is close to releasing his first budget proposal - a rough outline of how he hopes the council can deliver an average rate rise of no more than 2.5 percent next year.

He may wish to weigh-up the likely value of ATEED's spending against some smaller spending decisions made by the council itself.

Auckland's mayor Phil Goff delivers his maiden speech.

Auckland mayor Phil Goff Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

Earlier this year, the council decided to spend $112,000 on four half-page advertisements in the New Zealand Herald, promoting the merits of its Unitary Plan.

Internal disagreement over what could be argued in the ads meant only two of the half-pages were used, leaving the council having to find something to fill $56,000 worth of unused space.

It used part of that credit this week to promote cycling in the city, and will use the remainder next month.

That's equivalent to the annual rates contributions of 20 homeowners, spent on advertising simply because it had to be used.

About $80,000 was spent getting a consultant to evaluate the effectiveness of the council's advisory panels - a report which in a council debate was considered by some to have missed the mark.

And $55,000 was spent on a gala council inauguration ceremony, where the only lasting memory is the "racism" branding over the refusal of an usher to allow the Samoan family of a new councillor access to their allocated seating.

Another $1.2 million was spent on a campaign to understand low voter turnout and lift it to 40 percent. But turnout rose to only 38.25 percent, just 2.75 per cent higher than in 2013.

Whether that less-than-hoped-for lift was due to the campaign, or perhaps the impact of young mayoral candidate Chloe Swarbrick and her $7500 campaign, will be dealt with in a council report.

The council is also spending $18,000 on advertising in four issues of Bauer Media's new free weekly Paperboy.

Ironically, it will be providing content from the council's "Our Auckland" website, which was created to be a cost-effective way of the council communicating with ratepayers.

Most of the sums are small, compared with ATEED's $500,000. But that campaign would pay for itself many times over if it managed to help land one investment in the region's economy that might not otherwise have occurred.

Whether those other costs - a random and superficial selection - would survive similar political scrutiny is a moot point.

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