Ka mate, ka mate! NZ Rugby Stars in New York


Kudos! Saatchi CEO Kevin Roberts shared this video on his blog
MOVIE: Can't get enough of that Kiwi accent? Project Enabler Sarah Smith explains the serious ballplay behind this event.

I confess I'm not a big into ballsports. I was the 5-foot nothing (on a tall day) runt at school and was never picked for anything except extreme cat's cradling (that's the thing you do with a loop of string). And I think I'm going to embarrass myself even further because I've used the word "footie" in a caption in the above clip, a word I suspect is  reserved for Aussie Rules football only. Right? Wrong?

So what on Mars was I doing at this rugby function?

My galpal Irene Fong emailed me with a November 12 invitation to a fundraiser entitled "New Zealand Rugby Stars in New York."

I skimmed it politely until I saw the host and venue - Kevin Roberts, and my former employer Saatchi & Saatchi! More about that in a New York minute ...
New Zealand lamb chops! Tasty and tender, and a staple of the suburban Australian - and New Zealand - family meal.

"We're the cheap seats, I know," I quipped when we arrived during VIP hour and were politely told to loiter in the opulent Saatchi & Saatchi foyer.

"I dated a guy whose brother played rugby in the UK, and got hooked," said Irene. "It's exciting. The way they handle the ball ..."

"And very violent," chimed in Lotus, who also tagged along because her salsa lesson was canceled. Yep, unlike gridiron, rugby uses no artifical padding. The players' own muscle and gristle are the padding.

"It's strategic, like soccer outside America," said Irene.

"Soccer with hands!" said Lotus.

Mini pies, a fastish food which has never really trounced the burger in the USA. Baked by Downunder Bakery Pies (DUB)

Inside, we were served sizzling New Zealand lambchops from a company called Pilot Brands and DUB Bakery mini pies and sausage rolls, the food I grew up on in Australia - spitting distance, as we say, from the land of the long white cloud. There was wine laid on from Pernod Ricard, beer from Tuatara Breweries and Shelton Bros and water by Eternal - all Kiwi brands, or near as dammit. Organizer Sarah Smith apparently worked tirelessly to get the genuine Kiwi article at the event.

An impressive fruit platter featured kiwis sliced with the skin left on, suggesting 'mericans don't quite know what to do with that curious little fuzzy fruit (when ripe, slice in half, spoon out;  when under-ripe top and tail then, peel with peeler and slice).

No one seemed to know how to cut the under-ripe mango either, so I whiled away a few idle minutes slicing off cheeks, crosshatching and turning them inside out, a legacy of my brief stint as the cook and manager of an eco-hotel in Costa Rica.

The invite said something about "Roberts will moderate a panel discussion with special guests on "the strengths of rugby as an international model for success." In hindsight, this reads as wickedly tongue-in-cheek because the model revealed itself to be little more than "scare the living bejayzus out of your competition before they even pick up the ball" - something you could do if you're selling soap or insurance or digital megaphones, I suspect.

Players, promoters and educators flank the spirited Kevin Roberts ... all hands on deck for rugby education.

After a spirited intro by the effusive Roberts, the three rugby stars on the panel - Michael Jones, Frano Botica and Tawera Nikau - regaled the audience with tales of the "biggest, scariest and meanest" opponents they'd head-butted and butt-headed (see video for that snippet). Nikau, a 6'3" gentle giant, had just completed the New York Marathon, seven years after losing a leg in a motorcycle accident. No more ballplay, but he's now an iconic spokesman for the sport.

The men were congenital towers of power. When I sidled up behind one of them during the mingling I calculated how many multiples of me would fill their silhouettes. Five, maybe six. The sound and inertia of a locomotive hurtling along at full speed filled my brain. It was a similar sensation to when I interviewed models at the Telfar Clemens/Bike Friday fashion shoot, albeit minus 150 lbs a piece.

Sir Paul Reeves, Chancellor of AUT University, with a Daniel Dens screenprint for auction

I sat behind Sir Paul Reeves, who, like a true knight, didn't seem one bit fazed when I said "you have the word Sir on your name tag which makes us feel like we should know who you are", and asked him about his shtick - chancellor of the Auckland University of Technology, which offers rugby at the core of its curriculum. Turns out he once lived in the Seminary block in Chelsea, right around the corner from me.

Roberts, ever the adroit advertiser, made swift work of promoting the artists - NZ photographer/PR maven Brian Sweeny of Sweeny Vesty and NY pop artist Daniel Dens - and other contributers who gifted work for auction, the proceeds of which would fund two exchange students to AUT University in Auckland.

"I came across a painting in Soho of Sophia Loren dressed in not very much with the title 'I owe it all to spaghetti'," got bids for Dens' silkscreens up to $5k. I sought out the affable and smiling Belgian who seemed not one bit affected by his burgeoning success - that alone made me want to buy one of his paintings, the sucker I am for genuinely nice people.

The group suddenly jumped up and performed the Haka, led by Ata Papa and RJ Rewi, the "Full Maori" as it were.  The Haka is a warrior dance that precedes every game with an intent to unravel the opposition (see video). Denzel Washington had apparently popped by earlier in the day when the stars were taping Good Morning America and to the delight of all present, performed the haka on his way to the exit.

L to R: Pop artist Daniel Dens, Kevin Roberts, and the Galfromdownunder

So if not a Rugby fanatic prior, how the feck did I come to be there?

I worked as a copywriter and Creative Director in Saatchi offices and afiliated offices in Australia, Ireland and Costa Rica. 

Saatchi head Kevin Roberts helped me get my Greencard by writing a reference letter for my petition. I'd never actually met him until this night - his letter was based on my customer evangelism work for Bike Friday, when it topped the inaugural Saatchi & Saatchi Lovemarks contest. The niche Oregon manufacturer actually ended up in his glossy book, The Lovemarks Effect with this double page spread.
Roberts and Vallens whoop it up over a Lovemark in its own right - the  Toyota Prius.

What is Lovemarks about?  It pre-dated Facebook's "like," allowing people to click "love it" on their favorite brands. An avalanche of "love its" together with some poignant, eloquent letters from the rabid Bike Friday community propelled the obscure brand from nowhere to the top ten within two days of me bleating about it.

"Richard's a good man," said Roberts of customer Richard Vallens, who won the Prius for the best brand love letter. Me? I simply nudged the 25,000 member community from the wings, the life's work of a customer evangelist, or shall we say, "lovemarketeer."

With the US economy tanking, we've never needed "lovemarketing" more than now. Go to Lovemarks.com and champion a few of your favorite things before they're shouted down by mainstream marques. Roberts was clearly walking his talk with this event - judging from the room full of appreciative attendees all munching on lamb chops and swigging NZ's finest drop, that tiny, perfect country - and rugby - are clearly two of his favorite Lovemarks.

Read Kevin Roberts' post about this event 

(A belated thank you to all these other people for helping me get my Greencard - even though it was just when the economy started tanking!)

Blast from the past: an ad I did at Saatchi & Saatchi Dublin for Texaco - admittedly with a heavy dose of Aussie irony:: "Behind Irish Rugby for 40 years - No Matter What. (Best of luck in Paris, lads)."  The Irish team had never won against the French.


Anonymous said…
Hey Lynette - Sorry for the late reply. Firstly, thank you for coming with me to this event. I know it was spur of the moment for you but I'm glad you went. I absolutely love the blog - a great synopsis of the night; I sent it to friends local and abroad who couldn't make it. A great piece to share. Hope you had a good time too! Aloha, Irene

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