I’ll come clean. Once upon a time, in a previous life, I was employed by a PR agency which promoted well known consumer products on behalf of some very large companies. The accounts I worked on ranged from toys to swimwear to toothpaste to toilet bleach.
Much of the job consisted of writing a press release about our “fantastic, fabulous, latest” wristwatch or bikini and sending it out, with a product shot, to hundreds of magazines and local newspapers. We knew that if the pictures were good, and the copy reasonably literate, hard pressed publications would simply reproduce them almost word for word. In one case, a large group of syndicated local newspapers used to publish everything we sent – lock, stock and barrel – which meant we only had to use one stamp to get free plugs all round the country!
Our clients were suitably impressed with the coverage. For peanuts, their brands were getting reams of advertising and apparent editorial endorsement, Sales would rise, our contracts would be renewed and promotions would be given. No one seemed remotely bothered that the reader was being misled. In fact, “more fool them” was the thinking!
Feeling distinctly queasy with this non job, I left the world of commercial PR and took my few skills elsewhere. But the memory has lingered on and is one of the many reasons why I feel so uneasy about product placement on television and why the recent talk of “churnalism” has rung so many bells.
And how often is it used to promote, not just products, but political messages?