Farewell to one of NZ’s great newspapermen

By Rick Neville

Anecdotes about joyous long lunches flowed at Ian Wells’ funeral – but those who knew him as a newspaper man will best remember his achievements and lasting contributions to the industry in New Zealand over several decades.

Aged 76, Ian Douglas Wells died on January 4 and more than 400 attended his funeral at Old St Paul’s Cathedral in Wellington on January 9.

From 1986 to 2002 Ian was general manager of Wellington Newspapers, a subsidiary of Independent Newspapers Ltd (INL), now Fairfax NZ.   The Wellington company published The Dominion and Evening Post, merged in 2002 to form the Dominion Post, the country’s second largest daily.

Mastering the joint deal

Ian managed the juggling act of leading two papers which competed head-on for readers, while offering advertisers a joint deal across both mastheads. His mastery of a double-buy ratecard which delivered the company more than its share of agency dollars was typical of his clever business approach. This contributed significantly to the continued survival of both newspapers longer than in just about any city of Wellington’s relatively small size.

Ian Wells toastOn the national stage, Ian drove the expansion of the Newspaper Advertising Bureau, since renamed Newsworks NZ, which developed and marketed advertising packages across all NZ dailies, irrespective of ownership.  The NAB, as it was called, was responsible for securing hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising for newspapers, and became a powerful weapon against television and other media.

In agency land, a close collaborator was Kim Wicksteed, former head of Saatchi and Saatchi, then NZ’s largest agency, with Telecom and Lotto among its big clients.

He recalled the Absolutely, Positively Wellington campaign which Ian drove, with Saatchi’s, 23 years ago. This campaign, since gifted to Wellington City Council, did much to rid the capital of its often dreary, public service image, and is still used to this day.

More than just a newspaperman

Other speakers talked of Ian’s early marketing coups which included attracting actor Charlton Heston to Wellington in 1966 to play a celebrity tennis match on a city street with world mile record breaker and Olympic champion Peter Snell. An estimated 10,000 people turned up. Much more recently, in 2007, he was a key member of the small group who got the Phoenix A-league soccer team to be based in Wellington.

His sports involvement included 25 years as chairman of New Zealand Tennis, chairman for many years of his local Miramar Football Club and several years as deputy chairman of NZ Football.

In terms of lunches, Ian liked to mark the opening of the Bluff oyster season by flying bulk supplies up to Wellington, matching the molluscs  with suitably-chilled Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc, and inviting into his office a few key clients and colleagues . I can tell you they were vintage sessions.

Sadly, Ian developed Alzheimer’s disease three years ago, and last year declined rapidly. He died leaving his wife Joan and only child Jason, who represented Wellington in cricket, and now manages an agency team in Wellington. Ian’s first wife Sylvia died some years ago.

Rick Neville is the editorial director at the Newspaper Publishers’ Association (NPA) New Zealand.

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