MEDIA: PERSPECTIVE; Abuse of PR power makes pre-vetting posters necessary

It was with some astonishment that I discovered last week that both the Daily Mail and the Daily Express had introduced self-imposed bans on covering those sensational ‘shock horror’ poster stories. Hooray.

It was with some astonishment that I discovered last week that both the

Daily Mail and the Daily Express had introduced self-imposed bans on

covering those sensational ‘shock horror’ poster stories. Hooray.



At last, I thought, here’s one part of the media that has rumbled how

some advertisers and agencies make a budget go further by stirring up a

fuss and maybe, if they’re lucky, getting banned.



As somebody who spends a lot of time dealing with enquiries from the

press, radio and TV about the advertising industry, it never ceases to

amaze me how easy it is to trick the media into doing those types of

stories.



The sequence of events goes like this. 1) An advertiser (funny how

they’re almost invariably those companies with a small budget of whom

you’ve never heard) sticks up a deliberately controversial poster, say

with strong images or naughty words. 2) A PR company is hired to claim

that the good citizens of Birmingham or Vauxhall are outraged or to tip

the media off. 3) One of the tabloids, often a willing accomplice, jumps

in with both feet (sometimes this happens before anybody’s actually seen

the poster). 4) Desperate not to be left behind, the rest of the media

pile in. 5) First in are the radio stations, anxious to fill all those

empty hours. Knowing that advertising is a good phone-in (i.e. cheap)

subject, they phone Campaign and demand reporters put aside at least 30

minutes to participate in the discussion. 6) The daily newspapers tut

tut about these dreadful advertisers, but print large pictures of the

offending poster, and ask really sharp questions like ‘So will all this

publicity be bad for the advertiser?’ (You have to wonder sometimes,

don’t you?)



Now, it would be foolish of me to claim that it was wrong of the media

to cover these stories. It’s as instinctive as Gazza gobbing. But, for

their part, the media should realise, as the Express and the Mail have,

how they’re being used. Equally, however, we have to recognise that

using PR to multiply the effect of your campaign is a perfectly

legitimate and sensible tactic. And if you can get your ad written and

talked about in the media, so much the better.



The problem, of course, comes when advertisers and agencies deliberately

and cynically set out to court controversy or to get themselves banned.



Individually, isolated examples of this don’t amount to much.

Collectively they do, with a consequent long-term effect on the public’s

view of advertising.



To my mind, there is only one practical solution, which is that all the

poster companies - and Mills and Allen and More O’Ferrall seem to be

dragging their feet at the moment - should use pre-vetting to weed out

the most likely offenders.



Naturally, people will cry ‘censorship’. But what’s the alternative? A

government that introduces statutory pre-vetting and regulation? I know

which I’d prefer.



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