A few things upfront.
I don’t plan on making a habit of writing about bad PR in the news. This is done on a much more regular basis by much better people than I. One of the best examples is by Michael Marshall (Marsh) of The Merseyside Skeptics. Not only does he do it, he does it very well indeed. Marsh has a wonderful grasp of the topic and makes his points much more creatively than I can. I thoroughly recommend his Bad PR blog.
Secondly, most of what’s written below was actually part of an email I wrote. I was a paragraph or so short of sending it to Marsh, before I realised I wasn’t asking him anything and had basically summed up my opinions on this particular piece already. So I figured I might as well post it myself!
I made note of a fluff piece on GMTV (or whatever ITV call their morning show these days) about left behind items in Travelodge hotel rooms. The segment went on to list many strange and expensive items left in hotel rooms over the past year. I googled this and, with no particular shock, found a Daily Mail article published on the same day on the subject.
Now, this doesn’t fall exactly into the ‘Company X says we should do something that involves a product we sell’ but it still feels like blatant self promotion. The article mentions how dedicated staff attempt to reunite customers with their belongings. That in these busy times of people trying to get from A to B valuable possession can be left behind. It’s also interesting that a quick search of the Daily Mail website reveals similar press releases over the past few years. The 2008 article shows a less PR savvy Travelodge, who get the details of items mentioned, but don’t mange to get the all important ‘sound-bite’ into the piece.
So, as i said, this seems to fall into a slightly more grey area. It’s not exactly a straight up sales pitch, printed parrot style by the Mail. In fact, why should Travelodge take any blame for this at all? Surely they have every right to play the PR game?
Yes. Well, probably. I mean, sure its a cynical way of getting free publicity, but if they’ll publish it, print it and broadcast it, then why not? The problem here is seems to be twofold.
One, while journalists are put under the pressure they are to produce more and more content, stories like this and much worse, will continue making it onto the shelves. Two, while people keep buying papers like The Daily Mail, nothing will change.
I’m not going to suggest a solution. Because there doesn’t appear to be an obvious one. Getting the press to change what has become so culturally ingrained in their work seems an almost insurmountable task. Jon Stewart of The Daily Show refers to Fox News as ‘Bullshit Mountain’, because of the almost constant right wing propaganda that they flow. I liken this sort of news to that.
A landslide of bullshit covers each and everyone of us everyday! Some defence can be taken behind Marsh and his bad PR blog, in order to deflect some of the damage. But the only real defence is ourselves. Constant vigilance, constant questioning. Critical thinking is your best defence against the media onslaught.
The media, print media especially, has very little interest in anything other that making money. This does, of course, come with some fine journalistic exceptions. Papers like the Guardian do, in my opinion, show a greater level of care. Every paper has its share of bad PR, some out there are just much worse than others.
I know it sounds obvious and I know I could have saved about 500 words by saying “don’t believe everything you read”, but it’s important to be reminded once in a while!
It’s something I have to remind myself of, on a daily basis. Navigating your way around bullshit mountain can be a perilous journey!