Jeremy Lee on Media: No news is not good news
A view from Jeremy Lee

Jeremy Lee on Media: No news is not good news

By using a PR hoax to fool other outlets The Sun undermined its own credibility as a news source.

When The Sun announced the launch of its own fragrance last week, reporters generally took the story at face value, swiftly filing their copy before returning to feed the greedy master that is today's news machine.

They dutifully reported that The Sun had teamed up with perfumer Roja (born 'Rodger') Dove to create a scent called Buzz, which was, we were told, being exclusively sold at Harrods for £59 a bottle. Many outlets even chose to reproduce the quote that the perfume 'seeks to bottle the concept of pure entertainment', and the gushing nonsense that claimed it was inspired by the style of Sarah Jessica-Parker, the charisma of Sophia Loren and the charm of Cheryl Cole. 'Each ingredient combines to create feelings of premieres, debuts and red-carpet moments,' we were breathlessly informed.

The launch was supported by a marketing campaign that comprised two scented six-sheet posters outside Harrods, planned and bought with remarkable skill by Sun owner News International's media agency Mindshare, which may be considering submitting the work for an IPA Effectiveness Award.

The Sun producing a premium perfume? Surely not? Well quite. Obviously the brand extension and subsequent story was utter tosh and the whiff of a rat, rather than Cheryl Cole's charm, should have been overwhelming.

Yet such is the state of some news journalism; it has an obsession with keeping things 'fresh', occasionally at the expense of professional integrity and pretty much all else of value.

In fairness, most readers would have viewed this morsel of quirky 'news' as, at best, mildly intriguing, and, while it may have been picked up and turned into online chatter (or should that be buzz?) by a few bloggers, ultimately, nobody was harmed by this hoax.

Fast-forward one week and the real reason for The Sun's PR stunt becomes apparent to the public - the paper has replaced its Saturday TV Mag with an entertainment title, featuring TV and showbusiness stories as well as celebrity interviews. It's called Buzz - geddit?

As marketing teasers go, it's certainly no prize-winner, but it's not the worst ever seen. Aside from providing grist to the mill of commentators concerned about the future of journalism, it might just about have elicited a groan from those consumers who had noticed the story the week before.

The Sun's marketing director, Barnaby Dawe, who was responsible for the teaser campaign, can therefore be forgiven for giving himself a pat on the back for coming up with a wheeze that temporarily fooled some people in the ephemeral world of online news. Yet, it is precisely this kind of stunt that many consumer brands now tediously insist on including in their marketing strategies, particularly for product launches.

Despite The Sun's well-known red-top levity, there are inherent risks in a newspaper - or any other news outlet - performing such an action. It exposes how reliant it has become on the far-fetched stories that are handed to it as supposedly interesting or entertaining snippets of information, but which are, in fact, part of a wider, often coldly cynical, marketing campaign.

Dressing up snippets of PR releases or self-serving research conducted by a brand as news has long been the media's dirty little secret. However, by creating a stunt of its own, The Sun has pulled back the curtain, thereby casting doubt on the credibility of how it sources its content. This is one marketing technique that the media industry would do best to leave to other brands.

- Jeremy Lee is associate editor of Marketing. Read his blog.

30 SECONDS ON ... Barnaby Dawe

- Barnaby Dawe was appointed marketing director for The Sun and News of the World in January and took up the role in April. He joined News International from Turner Broadcasting, where he had held the post of vice-president of marketing and communications.

- After studying at the University of Bristol, Dawe began his career at Corporate Finance Publishing. He was part of an MBO of Investor Relations magazine and was a joint founder of business media company Cross Border.

- In 1997, Dawe became Channel 4's marketing manager. This was followed by a series of posts at BSkyB including director of marketing, Sky Networks.

- In 2005, he became managing director of Heart FM and left the channel two years later when Chrysalis was bought by Global. He joined Turner Broadcasting in 2008.

- When asked in 2006 what newspapers he read, the 40-year-old mentioned The Independent, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph, but no News International titles.