New Zealand Herald
25 February 1999

Costly cash-in on Xena behind Saatchi pitch

By Andrew Stone and Jan Corbett

The Tourism Board expected to spend at least $14 million promoting Lucy Lawless - the television star Xena - as the "big idea" behind its global marketing strategy with Saatchi & Saatchi.

Details of how the Warrior Princess would spearhead the campaign - and gobble up nearly a quarter of its three-year $50 million budget - emerged yesterday in a board report dated October 13.

The Auckland actress' role in the now-foundering strategy is touched on in a censored board report made public yesterday.

But the New Zealand Herald has the uncut version, which shows that the ambitious plan was to have debuted last month at a $500,000 Hollywood launch with a "constellation of stars."

The "Lucy project," as Saatchi called it, collapsed late last year and the board is now hurriedly revising its plans so that it can capitalise on this year's big events.

The Herald has been told that no contract was signed with Lawless, partly because the board was unconvinced by some of Saatchi's expectations. The actress is not commenting.

The strategy's direction and the dates when it was discussed are behind the ongoing furore engulfing Tourism Minister Murray McCully and Prime Minister Jenny Shipley.

Saatchi head Kevin Roberts told them about the agency's "on the edge" campaign a month before the board was briefed, but it is not clear how much detail he gave of the "Lucy project."

The uncensored board papers show that the Lawless section of the $50 million campaign allowed for a $2 million contractual agreement with the actress, a special $5 million episode of Xena - Warrior Princess with Lawless showing viewers her favourite homeland places, a $3 million Lucy Web site, a 60-second TV commercial and a $5 million "new image" library to satisfy what Saatchi believed would be an "unprecedented demand for new source material."

Saatchi wanted Lawless at "mega events" such as Apec, the America's Cup and millennium shows. The agency described the use of Xena's cult and celebrity status as a "media virus" which would "get global cut-through and interest in visiting New Zealand."

The document, prepared by board media manager Therese Anders, suggested that having Lawless at the Apec leaders' photo-opportunity "would rachet up the general newsworthiness of the event." But it also cautioned that the "linkage with Xena could take us into the realm of fantasy." ends


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