SWNS is a news agency which is owned by PR company 72 Point… who also own perennial Bad PR pollsters OnePoll. This story is the clearest possible demonstration of the way in which commercial quasi-advertising copy is laundered into the media unchecked:
Lize Earle skincare hires PR company to incorporate the marketing/advertising hook into some content marketing copy
PR company uses OnePoll to create data that backs up the PR angle they’ve already decided on
PR company creates page-ready copy and publishes it via news agency SWNS, where it is disseminated for pick-up by media organisations (who might not have the time or inclination to check the source or verify any of the findings)
Newspaper looking for something to fill its pages publishes the ad-driven copy as if it were a real story.
Gone are the days when newspapers even bothered having their junior desk reporters sift through PR copy to find stories ‘worth’ churning into the news – nowadays, they by-line the PRs who are being paid by their clients to secure space in newspapers.
In my opinion, the only reason this kind of practice doesn’t receive any outcry is because the Mirror don’t signpost which of their stories are written and by-lined entirely by PR companies. They pretend these stories are real journalists, and rely on their readers not to question it.
Before you spend too long trying to work out the logistics of doing up a zip with your teeth (which, according to this “research” 4% of people have done), bear in mind that this whole story was put together by a charity with a keen interest your teeth:
The Oral Health Foundation, who conducted the survey, has warned against using our teeth for anything other than eating.
Now, I’ve no issue with the Oral Health Foundation, and it’s tough for a charity to get attention in the modern world (trust me!), but it’s always disappointing to see a respectable charity grab cheap headlines using the kind of unreliable PR surveys we cover here at Bad PR.
Who might benefit from highlighting just how widespread and popular CCTV cameras are?
The company CCTV.co.uk is also predicting that this figure could rise to over a million by 2025.
Given that CCTV.co.uk sell and install CCTV cameras, it’s little surprise that they’re predicting a rise in sales… especially when they’re paying to put stories in the media about how popular CCTV cameras are. Their spokesperson isn’t at all shy when it comes to emphasising the value of the products they sell, either:
Jonathan Ratcliffe, of CCTV.co.uk, said: “The number of cameras being installed in the capital is growing at a much faster rate than ever before due to private households installing smaller cheaper systems.”
He said: “People are genuinely scared and sharing CCTV footage on social media when the police don’t act fast enough is standard practice these days.
“Doorbell cameras and cheap DIY systems have seen the number of cameras increase, and new commercial buildings have CCTV installed as standard.”
One commonly used PR trope could be termed the “Stat reversal”: where a headline-grabbing stat runs contrary to the perceived aims of the company behind it, but that stat is immediately recontextualised or reversed in the copy, to suit the commercial needs of the client.
For example, take the following story that 72 Point published in the Mirror:
Posting more than EIGHT holiday photos on Instagram is seen as ‘spamming’
It’s official – posting more than EIGHT holiday photos on social media is seen as ‘spamming’, a study has found.
A poll of 2,000 Instagram users found that rather than enjoying their friend’s travel snaps, followers are more likely to be annoyed by a deluge of pictures.
And two thirds think seeing too many of someone else’s holiday snaps leaves them feeling like they are missing out.
The client here is a holiday company, and on first glance it might seem like the message “people get annoyed by seeing too many holiday photos on social media” would run contrary to their business aims. However, fear not, because the fourth paragraph of the story turns the original stat on its head:
Despite this, the research, by MSC Cruises, revealed 54 per cent do like to see friends’ holiday photos, with these getting the most engagement on Instagram.
They prove to be more popular than pictures of pets and group shots with friends, although 28 per cent of Insta-fans claim their carefully-crafted shots don’t get as many likes as they deserve.
So barely three sentences into the story, and the original line “people get annoyed by your holiday photos” has been morphed into “people really like seeing your holiday photos, and they get great engagement”. We’ve done a full about face! And now we’ve turned the stat on its head, we can go even further:
It also emerged beautiful landscapes, iconic locations and images of the sea are the most loved types of holiday imagery.
Now, not only are holiday photos more desirable and engaging, but images of the sea in particular are most loved – a handy message to send when you’re a cruise company.
Which company wants to get you thinking about your finances, and your financial relationships?
The M&S Bank research claims 49 per cent of millennials (23-38 year olds) provide financial support to their parents.
That’s M&S Bank, who only recently were heavily criticised for their PR story promoting the notion that dads are better than mums at handling the family finances. This is the latest in their run of stories analysing the way in which families share resources – perhaps because they’re pushing a “family bank” PR campaign.
Paul Stokes, head of products, M&S Bank, said: “Despite common perceptions about the bank of mum and dad, what we are seeing is that the ‘family bank’ works both ways, with people ‘depositing’ and ‘withdrawing’ from the family finances at different times in their lives.
“While millennials or Gen Z-ers may be boomeranging back to live in the family home at some stage in their adult lives, with parents often supporting their children to get a foot on the property ladder, this support is not a one-way street with many younger generations also helping parents, and other family members.
A slight change of pace now, with the news that hayfever symptoms can strike at any time:
THE MOST AWKWARD HAY FEVER MOMENTS: FROM SNEEZING THROUGH JOB INTERVIEWS TO UNCONTROLLABLE WEEPING
Anyone who has hay fever will know all too well that the struggle is real come April and May.
While most people look forward to lunches on the grass, drinks in beautiful pub gardens and picnics on Hampstead Heath, those of us without our antihistamines will be spluttering and streaming miserably in a corner.
Whose behind this story, and the reason it made it into the Independent? Unsurprisingly, it’s Piri – manufacturers of the hayfever remedy Pirinase.
In fact, the ‘article’ is actually native advertising – in which Piri wrote and produced the content, and paid the Independent directly to publish it. This is clear not only from the “In Association With Piri” below the headline, but also from the clear advertising copy at the end of the piece:
While spring brings warmer weather it also marks the start of the hay fever season. If you’re one of the 18 million people affected in the UK, it makes sense to try to help prevent the symptoms of hay fever. A single dose of Pirinase Hayfever Relief For Adults 0.05% Nasal Spray in each nostril once a day could help relieve sneezing, a runny nose, nasal congestion, and itchy and watery eyes. Find out more here, or click here to buy online at Waitrose.
Here’s where things get ambiguous for me: on the one hand, I do find native advertising deeply problematic, dressing up advertising copy as if it were editorial, and mimicking the styling of the host publication in what can only be an explicit attempt to disguise the fact that the entire article is an advert. That raises legitimate questions about how trustworthy the media title can be, if they’re happy to publish other people’s content, unchecked and unedited, for money.
Yet, on the other hand, at least with native advertising such as this the Independent are honest about the source of the copy. Sure, they’re doing their best to whisper their admission rather than shout it, but compare this to any other story I’ve covered on this blog – where the copy was provided by a commercially-driven source, but the truth of this is obscured from the reader, and the story is presented as if it were real news.
Native Advertising has a lot of critics, and has drawn a lot of public ire, and rightly so in my opinion. However, Bad PR rarely if ever gets the same level of public attention… and that’s because it lacks the transparency and even the basic level of honest of Native Advertising.
Eagle-eyed readers will spot that these two articles are word-for-word the same, and that the by-lined ‘journalist’ in both cases is Grant Bailey – Senior Creative Account Manager for PR company 72 Point. Here’s the original release on the 72 Point website:
This research was brought to you by, as ever, a company with a financial horse in the race:
Derek O’Carroll, CEO of retail operations platform Brightpearl, which commissioned the study, said: “Brits are famously awkward and averse to confrontation and complaining, but, with the rise of so many avenues for customer feedback, from online forms to social media, those habits appear to be changing.
“Consumers have started exercising their right to have a moan when they receive sub-par service – and brands need to start paying closer attention.”
Brightpearl are a retail operations and management software, who advertise their ability to help retailers respond to customers complaints quickly and improve customer relations – which makes sense, given what the spokesperson goes on to say:
The survey found that just 19 per cent of retailers have invested in technology or solutions to help them address the issues that most commonly cause poor feedback and ratings, such as problems with receiving items on time or overly complicated returns.
Derek O’Carroll added: “To help get the most out of online reviews, businesses need to consider solutions which allow them to fulfil the modern expectations of customers – from same-next day delivery options to real-time shipping, hassle-free returns and incredible response times.”
“With a great strategy – and the right technology – in place, firms can focus on generating the positive reviews and ratings which are more likely to capture the attention of today’s online shopper and lead to increased spend and better business.”
Not content with publishing a company’s advert, word for word as it was written by the PR company that company paid, the Mirror even go as far as to include an explicit ad call to action at the bottom of their article: