One of Australia’s biggest media companies, the out of home provider oOh!media, has fallen prey to a charity fraudster to the tune of over $1 million in free advertising on its network.
Last night the ABC’s 7.30 ran a 15-minute investigation (which you can watch in full here) into a charity called Walking Wounded.
The group was founded by ex-serviceman Brian Freeman (below) with the aim of rehabilitating army veterans returning from Afghanistan or aiding the families of those killed in action.
However, 7.30 alleges that Freeman misappropriated some $1.3 million in donations for his own personal use. While victim’s families interviewed for the program claimed none of the money had gone to the promised counselling and rehabilitation services.
Following a number of complaints, Walking Wounded was stripped of its charity status and it is reported that the Queensland Police are now investigating Freeman’s actions.
In 2016, Walking Wounded won oOh!media’s “Million Dollar Pitch”, a competition which saw the winning entrant receive $1 million worth of free advertising on oOh!media billboards to promote its particular cause. The poster campaign was created by independent creative agency BCM.
However, there is no suggestion that oOh!media or BCM were aware of Freeman’s actions at the time.
Following the successful and hugely publicised campaign, oOh!media released Walking Wounded Case Study (Effectiveness and Brand Innovation in Out Of Home Advertising) to show the effectiveness of its products to potential advertisers.
Following last night’s 7.30 story, a oOh!media spokesperson told B&T the company was “shocked and disappointed” to learn of the revelations against Walking Wounded and Brian Freeman.
“We felt that the campaign’s message that 46 were killed in service but tragically 239 committed suicide upon their return was an important one for all Australians to hear and as a result announced advertising agency BCM as the winning entry,” the spokesperson said.
He added that Walking Wounded’s message about post-traumatic stress disorder in returning servicemen was still a poignant one and “while it would have been preferable that Walking Wounded wasn’t wound-up, there were clearly strong community positives from the work we did with them in raising awareness of PSTD.”
oOh!media wasn’t the only company to be seduced by Walking Wounded’s claims. Another sponsor, Sunny Queen Eggs, told 7.30 it ended its association with Walking Wounded in late 2016 after donating $300,000 in cash and in-kind support.
The company said it did so after becoming “increasingly uncomfortable with Mr Freeman’s lack of transparency in terms of how the funds raised were being utilised and with his increased focus on the adventure trekking side of things.”
Freeman himself refused to be interviewed on camera for the 7.30 story, however, denied he’d misused donations and said the charity had paid for a number of veterans to go on treks to places like the famed Kokoda Trail.