Campaign: Personnel Today adds to obesity debate

Personnel Today annually polls its readers, looking at topics such as ageism and bullying in the workplace. For the 2005 survey, and to coincide with the October relaunch of the trade publication, it focused on discrimination against overweight employees.

Campaign Survey on Obesity in the Workplace
Client Personnel Today
PR team Midnight Communications
Timescale October 2005
Budget Undisclosed

Although the obesity debate had been running for some time, the workplace angle had been largely untouched. Retained agency Midnight Communications was asked to ensure the findings of the survey got as much coverage as possible.

Objectives
To highlight Personnel Today's commitment to human-interest business stories and position the brand to a wider consumer audience. To promote its journalists as experts on workplace discrimination and encourage use of the website.

Strategy and Plan
Midnight planned the survey with Personnel Today, devising questions likely to provoke interesting answers. The survey was emailed to 26,697 readers of the magazine during the summer of 2005, and more than 2,000 HR professionals responded.

It found that one third of HR professionals would consider obesity as a valid medical reason for rejecting an applicant; 15 per cent admitted that their organisation would be less likely to promote an obese employee.

The news hook was 'fattism – the last bastion of employee discrimination'. A release was distributed to consumer-interest TV programmes and national newspapers. This included a case study detailing an obese worker's plight.

Personnel Today  editor Karen Dempsey was also made available for print and broadcast interviews.

Measurement and Evaluation
Coverage was impressive, with the BBC, Sky and Five providing TV exposure. Newspapers from The Guardian to the Daily Star picked up the story, with the latter running the headline: 'Lardies have fat chance of a job.'

Other coverage included The Sun, The Times and the Daily Mirror.
Local press interest ranged from the Nottingham Evening Post to the Belfast Telegraph, while various BBC stations featured items. On Radio London, for example, Vanessa Feltz chaired a phone-in on discrimination against the obese.

Dempsey was used mainly for radio interviews, and for getting quotes into online reports.

Results
Personnel Today says hits to its website jumped 'drastically' following the survey. According to Dempsey, the poll was the biggest in the magazine's history in terms of generating interest, with 73 per cent of readers spontaneously recalling the story, according to internal research.

The survey was still generating leads long after the initial press-release blitz. Midnight was later contacted by The Times' Mind, Body and Soul supplement after the main paper had printed an article, wanting to use the research in its Survey of the Week section.
Sky News later ran a feature in which overweight people (including Pop Idol contestant Rick Waller) did talking-head pieces aimed at dispelling the myths surrounding obese people – Waller was used as an example of someone who had achieved a degree of success despite his weight.  

Pat Wilson, member services manager at weightlossresources.co.uk, says the story revealed 'the heartbreaking nature of the discrimination'.

She adds: 'It was important we covered the results of this survey and contributed to the debate.'

SECOND OPINION

Joshua Van Raalte, managing director of Brazil, has worked
on a number of B2B campaigns

Obesity in the workplace is a serious subject and this campaign had great media impact because it was emotive yet furtive. While the research findings may not come as a great surprise to most people, the interesting aspect was that bosses were clearly admitting to discrimination.

While I have seen many PROs executing a campaign of this nature with just a press release, the PR team was right to develop a case study and to prepare for other news angles. This added a sense of realism: statistics alone are limiting to news pieces.

Any PR campaign around controversial research should both highlight the problem, which Midnight clearly accomplished, and provide a solution. I am not certain if the latter was achieved.

With media interest guaranteed, Personnel Today should have focused more on the in-depth aspects of the subject, further dispelling the myths of obesity and related health issues while getting to the root of the discrimination.

The campaign should also have addressed what employers should be doing to improve the health and wellbeing of their staff, especially if all these reports of an increasingly overweight society become a reality.

The real PR opportunity is to go in-depth and become the source of best practice on the issue.

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