Freelance journalist Emma Lunn received a press release from The Drum Consultancy last month that she claims borrowed heavily from a story she wrote for The Telegraph in May about investing in student accommodation.
In Lunn’s piece for The Telegraph, dated 28 May, she quoted Mark Harris, CEO of SPF Private Clients, who said: "While not impossible to obtain finance to buy a student pod, it will not be through a traditional buy-to-let provider, so you will not be able to get any of the leading buy-to-let rates."
Drum’s press release, sent out on 18 June, followed the same premise as Lunn’s Telegraph piece and reattributed the quote sourced from Harris to Drum’s client, Mish Liyanage, managing director of The Mistoria Group.
Click the image below to see the full release.
On receiving the press release from Karen Hughes, MD at Drum, Lunn replied: "I’m not sure copying my story, making it into quotes from your spokesperson, then pitching it to me is going to work...," including a link to her original article.
Hughes replied: "Thanks for getting back to me Emma. No worries. Take care. Karen."
Lunn said she was astonished at Drum’s nonchalant response to the accusation it had used her work in its press release.
Fellow freelance journalist Donna Ferguson, who also received the Drum press release, confronted the company to say she was appalled that it had copied heavily from The Telegraph article and "shocked" that it had reattributed the quotes to its client.
Hughes admitted the press release "should have credited The Telegraph piece" in an email to Ferguson but said the incident was an "unfortunate one-off error".
But when Lunn and Ferguson began to investigate, they claim it emerged that The Drum Consultancy had used the same tactic before, using pieces written by journalists for the This Is Money website and the Daily Express.
In the Express article, about the rise in illegal lettings, part of a quote from the leader of Harrow Council was reattributed to Drum’s client, the Association of Independent Inventory Clerks.
And in a strongly worded response to Hughes last week that followed Drum continuing to send her press releases, Lunn accused the agency of "ripping off both the original writers" and Drum Consultancy’s clients.
She added: "I’m surprised you still send me press releases after ripping off my Telegraph story last month, completely copying it and passing off the expert quotes I’d used, and my research, as your clients’ views – do they know you do this? Interestingly, I’ve realised it’s not the only time you’ve done this. I came across an AIIC release where your client’s quotes were copied from a Harrow councillor quoted in the Express... It’s not PR, it’s a joke and you’re discrediting the whole profession."
Hughes replied to Lunn to say the incidents she had raised had been investigated and admitted "it was no accident".
Hughes continued: "It appears that the problem lies around the perception of what is already in the ‘public domain’ and ‘out there’. There is also an element of laziness. We have had an internal meeting on this and given team members strict guidelines around sourcing third party research and what content is not acceptable in press releases. I can only again apologise for this and assure you that we have tightened up our checking procedures and it won’t happen again."
Commenting on the accusations via email, Hughes told PRWeek that two stories for two of its clients had contained material from stories written by journalists without crediting the source, though did not state which these were.
Hughes added: "As goodwill, we have agreed to pay Emma Lunn for her time to develop the content, some of which we used. We have also reassured her that in 16 years of trading we have built a reputation for providing a professional service; we take this error of judgement very seriously; and we will ensure it does not happen again."