February 15th 2010
Island operators claim TEL connection led to alleged ruse
Townsville Enterprise (TEL) has changed it’s policy by scruitinising requests for editorial help from tourist publications following an alleged ruse involving at least ten Magnetic Island operators who are seeking a total of between $5,000 and $10,000 in repayments from a digital publishing company who, they allege, failed to provide a promised publication while falsely claiming to be associated or in a joint initiative with TEL. The publishers, ATK Global, had sought and received up-front payments, in one case, of over $1800 from the operators.
ATK Global, approached the island operators in September last year calling on them to place advertisements in a publication titled, “Stay with us – Townsville,” which was to be, “Distributed via a CD, the magazine is...presented on a screen as a real page turning book.”
The newly formed group TOBMI (Tourism Operators and Businesses Magnetic Island) has been collecting the names of those island operators affected by the alleged ruse. TOBMI Chair, Dr Lindsay Simpson believes that the only way to achieve anything is to stand united.
"Tourism operators are vulnerable to those that prey on them for advertising. This is not the first time someone has come along and promised something and not delivered, but in this instance, it is more serious as more operators appear to be have been targetted and a substantial amount of money has gone out of the community.
“TOBMI has been liaising with TEL who has approached the Office of Fair Trading and operators are hoping to get the money back. However something needs to be done to prevent this kind of thing happening again, such as an alert to other tourism operators elsewhere. I have also approached Tourism Queensland about this."
The affected operators that Magnetic Times has spoken to, claim that the main reason they were prepared to accept the up-front payment approach was, they believed ATK was, “supported by,” “in association with,” or part of a “joint initiative” with TEL.
It appears that when ATK first contacted TEL they informed the regional business promotional body of their plans. TEL, as it does with most requests of this nature, then supplied ATK with photos and editorial copy and followed up by advising members that ATK's service was in the offing.
Subsequently the Island operators were contacted by ATK's National Sales Director, who, in an email to one of them headed, “Stay with us – Townsville' in association with Townsville Enterprise – promote your business to 500,000 tourists” wrote, rather clumsily, “Your ad will actually appear in 3 different books and on the website reaching over 500,000 tourists all over Australia and overseas just with the actual hard copies alone plus the extra viewings on the website.”
The contact occurred after an email message from TEL to its members which, in one copy Magnetic Times has been shown, included the following,
A new electronic publication is being produced by ATK Global called “Stay with Us – Townsville” which will be promoting the North Queensland region all around Australia and Overseas.
Townsville Enterprises will provide ATK Global editorial, photos and information about all aspects of the Townsville Region.
For Advertising opportunities, and for any further information; please do not hesitate to contact (ATK National Sales Manager Ed)
Townsville Enterprise offers this opportunity for your information, we encourage you to investigate this opportunity and draw your own conclusions on whether it is suitable for your business to participate.
TELs' General Manager Destination Marketing & Development, Brent Randall, who has since changed the business promotional bodys' policy for such approaches, was however at pains to differentiate TELs' involvement. “When any publication contacts us we prefer to help with good quality images and editorial for publication. This ensures quality material will represent the region.”
One local operator, Mr Alan Rickerby from Canopy Tropical Chalets in Nelly Bay, told Magnetic Times he had been approached by ATK's National Sales Director whom, he alleges, had told him, ATK were in a joint venture with TEL and were looking for lead advertisers to fill two prominent sites and that, as a condition of early payment, generally ads worth $4,000 could be had for $1,800.
Brent Randall told Magnetic Times, “We started getting phone calls re, 'our publication'. I said, 'Yes, our regional guide' but they said, 'No Stay with us – Townsville'.
It may have been this co-incidence that led more operators to undertake the deal with ATK and, according to Brent Randall, “As soon as I saw some of the emails I emailed (ATK's Sales Director) telling them to cease. I contacted operators with the same (message). They (ATK) got back saying that 'supply of images was support,' but absolutely at no time would you say, 'in conjunction with'”.
Brent Randall told Magnetic Times, “They (ATK) did issue an (clarifying) email to operators they'd been in contact with.” Some Island operators however claim that they have not received such a call.
When Alan Rickerby realised the connection between ATK and TEL wasn't what he'd thought, he contacted ATK's Chris Atkinson. Alan passed on email records of his contact to Magnetic Times. One dated 27 November 2009 alleges that the information supplied by ATK, being a joint venture publication between ATK and TEL, was "false and misleading" and continues:
*I sent an email requesting a refund from you on the 20/10/09. No reply was received
*A follow-up email was sent on the 29/10/09. Again no reply
*During my phone call this morning you stated that ATK Global P/L will refund to Canopy Management P/L the sum of $1881 by the end of November
Magnetic Times contacted, ATK's Managing Director, Mr Chris Atkinson last month about the allegations of misrepresentation and non-repayment.
At the time Mr Atkinson said, “We are in the process of repaying,” and that he had spoken to Alan Rickerby.
Mr Atkinson said that, “Originally it was supposed to be in association with TEL with their logo on the cover” but that he had “spoken to TEL” and, “It was rectified.”
He continued, “Originally (ATK's former National Sales Director – who Magnetic Times has been unable to contact) got in touch with Townsville Enterprise for images etc. I don't know who he spoke to for the logo, forward, and email to members about the new publication. I don't know if he got his wires crossed.”
Brent Randall said, “Our only request was for acknowledgment.” adding, “I don't believe we sent our logo but I will check. They offered a placement of our logo but we didn't take it up.”
Mr Atkinson also named a rival New Zealand company which, he said, began a campaign and contacted Magnetic Island operators who said they were going with, “Stay with us – Townsville”. “That's when it (the problems) all started,” he said.
Lindsay Simpson said she'd never had communication with another advertising group who mentioned Stay With Us
Mr Atkinson insisted however that they would be, “offering a full refund” but when questioned as to exactly when, he said, “I'd have to check with my accountant.”
In an email to Mr Rickerby on December 18 Chris Atkinson claimed that, “The publication has been requested by majority (sic) of advertisers to be released after the school holidays are completed. The date for release is 27th of January 2010. All outstanding funds will then become available at this time. All refunds will be issued once these funds begin to come into the account. It is estimated that your refund will paid no longer than 14 days after this date.”
Mr Atkinson made a similar claim to Magnetic Times that repayment would be by the second week of February. As yet, Magnetic Times has yet to learn of any Island operators who have been reimbursed.
Interestingly, in the same letter Chris Atkinson wrote, "The staff member that has misinformed you of the type of publication and any associations has been moved on so that this does not occur in the future."
Alan Rickerby said today, “I still haven't seen a sausage”.
Mr Alistair Dick, whose family is involved with managing Sails on Horseshoe, told Magnetic Times, “Against our better judgment we gave $940 and, as soon as I'd paid, all this s**t went down. I rang them three times in September and the response was repeat? “Yeah, we'll send it next week”. Later Mr Dick rang and says he was told, “We're having cash flow issues and will pay in the first week of January”
“The only reason my wife looked at them,” said Mr Dick, “was that Brent said in a couple of weeks there'd be some good advertising opportunities” It was a co-incidence that this guy showed up saying they were 'working with TEL'.
Brent Randall has, at the request of TOBMI, lodged a complaint over the matter to The Office of Fair Trading and is awaiting a response.
Since the ATK problems arose TEL has changed its policy. Brent Randall, whose office deals with requests such as ATK's at a rate of about two per week, said, “It's the first time it's happened in my time with TEL.”
“What we do now is investigate the track record and history and make a judgment call as to whether we want to pass on the information to the operators. If we are unsure we pass it on to Tourism Queensland who have a relationship with major ad agencies who can then give us an opinion re them.
“With brand new ones we are not prepared to send out the information to operators unless they are known to us from previous businesses. For new ones we've never heard of we'd send them editorial and images but would decline to send the information to the operators.”
Lindsay Simpson is concerned that through embarrassment operators are unlikely to tell others they have been duped. She told Magnetic Times, “What happens is you think you have been ripped off and you don't realise it's happened to anybody else.
“The Association is looking at a way to deal with this. There has to be something like a Fido alert from ASIC.
“I think while it is in TEL's interests to provide information such as photographs and copy to the media and potential advertising companies, this can lead to this kind of situation occurring. With the internet especially, there are so many people jumping on the bandwagon to make money out of tourism operators, you have to be wary, but I believe the alleged 'association with TEL' promoted by this business was one of the reasons that so many of the operators jumped on board.”
Magnetic Times has since sought further comment from ATK's Chris Atkinson. He is yet to respond to our messages. If and when the Magnetic Island operators are refunded by ATK Magnetic Times will inform readers.
Story: George Hirst
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