The vast majority of Bad PR stories I cover tend to pass un-noticed and un-remarked-upon into the news, marketing messages laundered into public discourse along with the credibility of the mainstream media.
Occasionally, however, the company behind the PR get the angle wrong, or the commercial angle is too overt, and the public spot the man behind the curtain. Take, for instance, a pre-Father’s Day PR study from M&S Bank, which the company tweeted out themselves:
To regular readers and trackers of the Bad PR world, there’s little remarkable about this tweet, or the associated ‘research’ that found that people are more likely to ask their dads for financial advice than their mums.
It’s a PR trope we’ve seen innumerable times: offer survey respondents a 50-50 choice of two answers to a survey question (I assume along the lines of “Who do you ask about financial matters: Dad, or Mum?”), force them to choose one or the other if they want to be rewarded for completing the survey, and then headline whichever option gets the higher response.
Given the proximity to Father’s Day, I assume there was something in the question to nudge respondents toward favouring their father’s advice, but even if the answer had come up the other way – that mum’s advice ruled – with a minor tweak the press release could have coped: “End of the Financial Dad-Visor: People now prefer to ask MUM about money”.
Still, as routine and commonplace as this gender-cut of marketing survey data is, by tweeting the story M&S Bank broke the PR spell, and the coverage the received focused on their faux-pas rather than their commercial message:
Marks and Spencer sexism row over ‘dads better than mums with money’ tweet
Marks and Spencer has become embroiled in a sexism row after saying dads are better with money than mums.
The high street giant’s banking arm faced a backlash after the ill-judged tweet which has since been deleted.
M&S Bank tweeted: “We found that many people ask Dad for advice more so than Mum – making him the Family Bank’s ‘Advice Administrator’.
“Do you agree? Let us know. #FamilyBank.”Source: Mirror, 13th June 2019
While we might be tempted to congratulate the Mirror on calling out this sexist story, and reporting on the kerfuffle it caused, we should bear in mind that (as I’ve demonstrated in recent Bad PR posts) the Mirror now routinely print un-edited press releases from the PR company behind surveys similar to the one behind M&S Bank’s story, with just as much sexist stereotyping. Indeed, the Mirror even by-line the PR professionals behind these stories, as if they were journalists.
Finally, a thought: if M&S Bank hadn’t tweeted their survey out, how likely would the Mirror have been to publish the story themselves, as if the data were genuine? Would the Mirror have had the same level of judgement for the marketing hook of the story then?
And would there have been as much outrage and controversy had M&S Bank waited for the Mirror, or the Mail, or the Sun or the Star to cover the story, and then tweeted out their coverage? Based on experience, your Bad PR blogger thinks not.