Why James Packer is using ads in his war for casino group Echo

Casino mogul James Packer has forked out almost half-a-million dollars on newspaper advertising in less than a week as part of his audacious bid to have Jeff Kennett installed as a director of Echo Entertainment, the owner of Sydney’s Star casino.

The Crown Casino chairman has taken out 12 full-page advertisements since last Thursday in The Australian Financial Review, The Australian and The Daily Telegraph. The advertising spree would have cost about $465,000 according to Simon Davies, head of publishing at marketing firm OMD.

The ads styled as a personal letter to Echo shareholders from Packer have attacked the record of Echo chairman John Story, whom Packer is trying to remove ahead of a July 20 emergency general meeting. Packer is set to meet this week with big institutional investors including Perpetual, which owns 10% of Echo.

While advertising campaigns are not unusual in merger and takeover bids, Packer’s crusade stands out for its personalised nature.

Packer, normally an extremely private operator, has also gone on a high-profile and extremely sophisticated spin offensive over the past month. This has included soft interviews with 60 Minutes and family friend Alan Jones, as well as regular drops to the Fin Review (including a Saturday exclusive about his hiring of former Labor senator Mark Arbib).

According to corporate affairs veterans, the media blitz is aimed at winning over retail investors, who control around 30% of Echo’s capital.

“The point of all this is that he’s trying to get control without paying a premium,” said one PR expert, who has led many high-profile merger and acquisition campaigns. “If he gets his own chairman he’s sitting pretty. It’s a brave effort. My bet is the institutional investors won’t buy it — but he may succeed in a second attempt.”

Packer is believed to be following the aggressive strategy pioneered by Seven boss Kerry Stokes during his 2008 play for West Australian Newspapers.

Russel Howcraft, CEO of Young & Rubicam Brands, told The Power Index Packer’s spend shows the continuing value of targeted print advertising, despite falling circulation.

“Running full-page print ads are a tremendous way to get your message across — there are no editors getting their fingers on it. And TV, radio and online will all follow it up,” he said.

Media analyst Peter Cox says the ads in The Australian and the Fin Review are being targeted at institutional investors and financial advisers, with The Tele ads aimed at retail investors.

This article first appeared on The Power Index.


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