Publicity how not to do it, Part 2: Pennbury “Eco Town”

Previously I suggested four lessons learnt from failed publicity campaigns:-

1. Respect your contacts.

2. Tailor publicity for contacts.

3. If you do misfire, don’t be afraid to apologise. Passing the buck = you don’t care.

4. Never acknowledge that you have more important clients/publicity projects. No one likes to feel they’ve been pushed to the back of a queue.

Now I’m going to suggest how to publicise a large project with an illustration of how not to do it.

1. Find out if similar projects have been launched before. If the public was negative and strongly objected, you’re not going to have an easy ride.

2. Find out what potential objections (threats) lie ahead. List them. Explain how you’ve addressed these objections.

3. Be contactable. Not necessarily in person but at least via a website.

4. Give details. Don’t hide your project behind positive sounding buzz words. People are wary of secrecy.

Let’s take Pennbury, the “Eco Town” project that bafflingly made the government’s short list. The Co-operative Group knew this project was going to be unpopular. They had already applied to build 5,000 houses on the site, a proposal that had been rejected on the grounds of lack of intrastructure, lack of sustainability and damage to wildlife and loss of green wedge. The Co-operative Group, therefore, knew that building 15,000 houses plus businesses, shops, community facitilities, etc was going to raise strong objections.  They even knew what those objections were. Has the Co-operative Group even attempted to address those objections? The public consultation period is open now. Where are the details?

The Chief Executive of Harborough District Council took the unusual step of publically complaining that they hadn’t been given any details. The consultation period ends on 30 June. The Co-operative Group have used press releases to talk about “carbon neutral housing”, “restrictions on car use”, “restricting households to one car”, “park and ride schemes”, “new station at Great Glen” but details? Where are they? Not one objection has been addressed.  Not one public query answered.

Only the Co-operative Group themselves are guilty of shrouding Pennbury in such secrecy, that no one can support it. In the process they’ve built a classic example of how not to win public support.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t

Publicity is elusive: everyone knows what it involves until you actually have to do it. Consequently, there’s more ‘how not to’ advice than ‘how to’. On one hand a publicist is criticised for allowing an email to “echo into silence” and fail to get back to someone keen to help publicise a book. On the other, publicists are criticised for pretending to have met someone they clearly haven’t and then compounding the problem for firing off round robin emails obviously based quantity rather than quantity. Then there’s passing the buck: Argos inadvertently allowed some gamers to get their hands on an Xbox 360 Halo 3 game before the release date but left it to Microsoft to confirm early use won’t get gamers barred. A job that Argos really should have taken responsibility for. Argos recently sourced some sofas from China – no problem there, they not the only furniture distributors to do so – but this particular batch of sofas was treated with a combination of chemicals that caused severe skin allergy reactions in some people. To their credit Argos have removed the sofas and are offering a refund or replacement sofa to customers, but surely this is a missed opportunity: swift action, an apology and promise not to use this source again would have easily have won over loyal customers. Instead some have turned to the internet for information that should be forthcoming from Argos.

Lessons learnt:-

1. Respect your contacts – if someone’s eager to help with publicity, follow up.

2. Tailor publicity for contacts – it’s time consuming but everyone remembers a personal note whereas a round robin or press release obviously sent to as many media outlets as in the publicist’s email address book will simply be moved to the delete box.

3. If you do misfire, don’t be afraid to apologise. Passing the buck = you don’t care.

4. Never acknowledge that you have more important clients/publicity projects. No one likes to feel they’ve been pushed to the back of a queue.