Campaign: CA reveals problem of aggressive salesmen - Public Affairs

Campaign: Door-to-door salesmen Client: Citizens Advice PR Team: In-house Timescale: September 2002-ongoing Budget: £5,000-£10,000

Citizens Advice (CA) has seen reports of aggressive and dishonest sales tactics by door-to-door salesmen increase rapidly in recent years. The association wanted to raise awareness about this issue with both politicians and the public. Objectives

To persuade the Government to review its consumer-protection legislation.

Strategy

In 2001, over 1,500 CA 'clients' - many of them elderly, disabled or vulnerable - suffered problems with doorstep sales, involving a wide range of services. CA decided to publish a report highlighting these cases and making recommendations about how consumer protection against doorstep sales could be strengthened further.

To emphasise that the report was not merely an attempt to raise awareness about this problem but a call for action, CA submitted a 'supercomplaint' to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) on the day the report was published.

Since it was only the second time a super-complaint had been issued and CA was one of the few organisations that could make such a complaint, the team used this as a news hook to sell in stories about the report to the national consumer and social affairs press.

It ensured that clients with powerful stories to tell were available for media interviews and organised a photocall of the moment CA handed the complaint to the OFT. To provide regional news outlets with a local angle, CA created model press releases for bureaux throughout the country to target local media contacts. The organisation also persuaded Age Concern to endorse its recommendations.

The team identified MPs, MEPs and top British and EU civil servants interested in consumer protection and sent them the report. It also encouraged MPs to submit and sign Early Day Motions (EDM) and asked regional CA offices to lobby their local MP.

CA also sent the Direct Selling Association and the Direct Marketing Association copies of the report and worked alongside Trading Standards to ensure the doorstep-selling industry was aware of its recommendations.

Measurement and Evaluation

Nationally, four TV channels, six radio stations and six national newspapers covered the campaign, including The Guardian, BBC News and Radio 4's Today.

Regionally, two TV channels, 12 radio stations and 74 newspapers ran the story. Three EDMs were signed by approximately 70 MPs.

Results

The OFT held an 18-month investigation into CA's complaint, concluding that 'doorstep-selling laws (are) inadequate'. It made a number of recommendations for changes in the law that correspond closely with CA's recommendations and launched a campaign to educate consumers about the issue.

The Department for Trade and Industry has announced that it will consult on proposals to strengthen consumer protection against aggressive doorstep salesmen. Most of these proposals are based on CA's recommendations and the consultation is expected to lead to tighter doorstep sales legislation.

'The campaign gave me an insight into the real problems of real people,' says ITV News consumer affairs editor Chris Choi.

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