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Shell Make Money promotion wrangle (Information from our archive)

Modified 23 April 2018: Relevant Shell executives name changed to initials only “AJL”)

My son John Donovan (centre), Chairman of Don Marketing, with two fellow DM directors John Chambers (left) and Roger Sotherton (right), at the launch of the UK Make Money promotion in 1983

Printed below is the background information relating to an article published by Forecourt Trader in January 1995.

By Alfred Donovan

Our High Court action in April 1994 against Shell UK Limited in respect of the Shell Make Money promotion, provides a clear example of bullying, double-dealing and deception by Shell in its dealings with our company, Don Marketing.

In June 1993, AJL, the Shell executive who masterminded the serial theft of intellectual property from companies disclosing proprietary information to Shell, raised the subject of Shell Make Money in conversation with us, as did his boss, David Watson. This was a promotion to which we held joint rights with Shell.

In mid November 1993, we supplied David Watson with a copy of the letter from a former Shell executive Paul King, recording the joint rights agreement between Don Marketing and Shell in respect of the Make Money scheme. Fortunately, we had retained the original Shell letter. We also wrote to David Watson to make sure that he was aware of our proposals for a Shell led multibrand loyalty promotion.

In December 1993, we received a response letter from David Watson. In addition to rejecting the notion that we had any rights to the Make Money concept, he went on to assert that the same applied to a multibrand loyalty concept he had put forward to Shell. John replied saying that there was not much point in debating the matter until such time as Shell decided that they wished to proceed. However, as a result of the claims made in writing by David Watson and comments made by David and AJL in John’s telephone discussions with them, our suspicions were aroused that Shell was surreptitiously moving forward with Make Money.

John telephoned AJL on 21st February 1994 to confront him on the matter. He asked him outright whether a Make Money game was being produced. AJL said: “the point is unfortunately John that if we wanted to do something in a years time then we’d have to get it resolved at that stage.” John replied: “Well I shall just send a short response to this letter confirming what I have already told you that I have further information…evidence”. To which Mr AJL replied, “Then I’ll just send a short response back to you saying I don’t believe it”. It is very difficult to deal with someone representing a multinational goliath who adopts such a cavalier and bullying attitude towards a small company.

Suspecting that AJL was deceiving us about Shell’s plans, John contacted a reliable source. He confirmed that a Shell Make Money game was well into production in North Wales. We double-checked and received further confirmation that AJL was deliberately deceiving us and was secretly producing a Make Money game, even though he already had the copy of a Joint Rights Agreement between Shell and Don Marketing. We had caught Mr AJL red-handed.

On 6th April 1994, we issued a Writ against Shell UK Limited in relation to the Make Money promotion. We had the advantage of potentially being able to issue an injunction against Shell which would have prevented them running a multimillion pounds promotion and which would also have created a huge amount of adverse publicity.

Shell subsequently made an out of Court settlement with us. We accepted their offer of £60,000 to purchase our rights to Make Money only after the solicitors then acting for Shell, Mackrell Turner Garrett, gave a 10 minute ultimatum to our solicitors on the evening of Friday 8th April 1994, threatening that Shell would switch to an alternative promotion “already at an advanced stage of development”. We subsequently deduced from the discovery documents that the alternative promotion was “Now Showing” – a Hollywood themed collection scheme that replicated our Hollywood Collection proposal. It subsequently became the subject of our third High Court claim eventually settled out of Court by Shell for £100,000. So Shell had used another of our stolen concepts to bamboozle us into accepting far less that the proper value of our rights to “Make Money”.

We now know from the discovery documents a great deal of what was going on internally at Shell during the period that we were discussing Make Money with AJL and David.

On 15th September 1993, one of AJL’s assistants, Charlie Fox, sent a note to a senior Shell manager concerning “OPERATION CUPID” – the project code name for the clandestinely produced Make Money promotion. Under “Key Action” it stated “Finalise Don Marketing’s position”. On 22 September 1993, Charlie sent a note to David Watson headed “CUPID AND DON MARKETING”. In addition to other considerations, the note said: “Ask John Donovan whether he will consider working with Shell again in the future. If no, please put it in writing.  If yes, decide if we want to use him for cupid”.

In October 1993, David Watson wrote a note recording a conversation he had with Shell executive John Smeddle regarding the origin of the Make Money game.  Mr Smeddle advised “Tell John what we intend to do for running Make Money i.e. whether he will run it i.e. security, distribution of vouchers” (“John” being John Donovan). Another Shell document originated towards the end of 1993 had a hand-written note by an unknown author (probably David Watson) saying “But if Don Mktg suggested it, they may still have rts to it”.

Despite all of this internal discussion and recommendations, no one at Shell ever put these questions to us. The Make Money project was given to another agency, Option One. We noticed from AJL’s diaries supplied under the discovery process that he had dinner with one of its directors, Tim Bonnet, during the crucial period. It became clear to us that AJL was systematically siphoning off most of the Shell promotional work to Option One. They were given at least one major project for which they did not even tender. They were also involved in the Now Showing project. Mr AJL had a personal relationship with the directors of Option One.

We discovered from Shell discovery documents that AJL was prepared to engage in an illegal act on behalf of Shell. He recorded in his diary his intent to set up a personal business while at Shell and exit the company at the age of 35, presumably on the basis of building up sufficient funds in the meantime. He had an offshore bank account into which funds were paid.

Amazingly, from the discovery documents it became evident that during the period of the discussions with them about the Nintendo claim and our rights to the other proposals we had put forward, Shell was clandestinely engaged in taking forward three Don Marketing replica concepts – Make Money, the “Hollywood Collection” and the Shell led multibrand loyalty scheme. Bearing in mind that to the best of our knowledge three of the concepts had never been run before anywhere in the world, the odds against Shell developing four successive promotions, which by pure chance replicated our unique proposals, would be so great as to be beyond the realms of possibility.

We had by that time become disenchanted with Shell’s conduct, particularly the threats issued by their lawyers, who had threatened in writing to make the Nintendo litigation “drawn out and difficult”. The threat provided irrefutable evidence of their oppressive tactics against a small company. The tactics were clearly deliberately designed to drain our resources.

AJL had apparently learned nothing from his role in producing the flawed Nintendo themed game. On 17th May 1994, when Shell launched the Make Money game, we were astonished to discover that the game was insecure to the extent that potentially, staff at participating sites could pick out all of the envelopes containing the winning half notes. Shell was well aware that there is no foolproof way to prevent dishonest staff from submitting claims using friends’ addresses.

We notified David Pirret (Shell’s General Manager at the time) and Shell Managing Director, David Varney.

On 19th May 1994, Shell took up our invitation to attend a meeting at the Fleet Street offices of our solicitors where we promised to demonstrate the insecurity of the new game. We did so in the presence of our solicitor, Richard Woodman.

Three people represented Shell at the demonstration; Peter Whyte of Shell Retail; Alan Williams from Shell’s Legal Division, and Nigel Rowley from Mackrell Turner Garrett. John Donovan and Roger Sotherton represented Don Marketing. They correctly identified the type of half note concealed in 7 out of the first 10 envelopes and then guaranteed a 100% success rate for all subsequent envelopes. They achieved this feat without opening the envelopes. Shell’s representatives did not take up the offer to continue with the demonstration. Our subsequent offer to identify the flaws in the security of the Make Money envelopes was declined by Shell’s lawyers because, as they indicated in a letter, “Shell could see no advantage in knowing.”

Despite knowing that the game was totally insecure, and that as a consequence, dishonest forecourt staff could identify and remove all winning game pieces before they were given to drivers, Shell run the game for its full promotional period. So much for Royal Dutch Shell Business Principles. Shell senior executives involved in these events, including Malcolm Brinded, David Pirret and Tim Hannagan, remain at Shell.

John Donovan displays Shell Singapore “Make Money” POS display – a multi-national promotion devised and supplied by Don Marketing. The same promotion was also conducted in the UK and in Ireland. Photograph from Marketing Magazine article “Games people play“, 18 September 1986

ROGER SOTHERTON: Don Marketing Executive

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