MasterCard distances itself from 'highly inappropriate' coverage request

MasterCard has intervened in the controversy over UK-based agency House PR's apparent demand that a Telegraph reporter give the brand coverage in return for attending Wednesday's Brit Awards.

LONDON: MasterCard has intervened in the controversy over UK-based agency House PR's apparent demand that a Telegraph reporter give the brand coverage in return for attending Wednesday's Brit Awards.

“We have become aware of this situation and have been clear with our agency and attending media. Attendance at the Brits is not, nor has it ever been, a condition of coverage or endorsement. To imply such is highly inappropriate,” a spokesman for the credit-card brand said, in a statement.

The Brit Awards are the British equivalent of the Grammy Awards in the US, honoring top recording artists.

Journalists said that House PR, which won the account from the long-running Brits sponsor in December, made the demands in an email to the Telegraph's Tim Walker.

The email, published by UK journalism trade publication Press Gazette, though not directly seen by PRWeek UK, specifically asked an attending journalist to tweet about his excitement to be attending the awards, as well as other demands. These included using MasterCard-branded event images in their stories.

Walker, who criticized the approach on Twitter, later said the agency told him that he could attend the event without conditions.

House PR MD Ginny Paton responded by saying that PR agencies are employed “to pursue all coverage opportunities on behalf of clients.”

“This includes providing accurate brand references from the outset, for use across all platforms,” she added. “It is a two-way conversation between the journalist and the PR [representative] in order to reach a mutually beneficial outcome. Editorial control always remains with the journalist.”

The UK's Public Relations Consultants Association, of which House PR is a member, stepped in to say that its professional charter states all members have a positive duty to observe the highest standards in the practice of PR. The PRCA is an industry body for the UK PR industry.

In addition, its Media Spamming Charter stipulates that practitioners should not “guarantee” coverage unless it is contributed in nature or agreed by the publication for a particular purpose. Even then other editorial circumstances may dictate that the coverage does not appear.

PRCA director general Francis Ingham said “it would be wrong to comment on individual circumstances.”

“We have not received a complaint. If we do receive a complaint, we will follow the normal procedures to deal with it,” he said.

The episode prompted several sarcastic tweets mocking the “priceless surprises” hashtag that MasterCard is using to drive awareness of its sponsorship of the awards show.

This story originally appeared on the website of PRWeek UK.

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