Philips in row over World Cup 'game'

Electronics giant Philips has been criticised for offering Middle East journalists the chance of an all expense paid trip to the World Cup in exchange for writing positive stories about the company.

In a letter sent out to selected journalists in the UAE last week, Philips says the trip can be won by a journalist who gives it the "best coverage" over the next two months.

The letter has been branded an attempt to buy editorial by those in the publishing and PR industries.
The letter states: "This year Philips Proud Sponsor of FIFA World Cup 2006 [sic], is inviting you to experience yet another exciting opportunity: a fully paid trip to Germany to watch 1 of the matches live.

"How? During the upcoming 2 months, Philips news and product press releases will be sent out to selected newspapers/magazines.

Each and every newspaper/magazine will get the chance to enter the game by simply giving greater attention to Philips news in the appropriate sections of your prominent titles.

"We will be looking for the best coverage in all titles to choose the winner who will fly to Germany and watch a match of the FIFA World Cup 2006 live."

The letter, from Philips Middle East and Africa PR manager Galia Rizk, was enclosed with two press releases.

Tony Metcalf, editorial director at 7Days, predicted the move would backfire on Philips. "It is pretty obvious what they are trying to do. It is not very subtle," he said. "I admire creative ways of getting things into the press and I almost admire their cheek. The idea that you can buy editorial coverage is so last century. Any company that does this will regret it. It undermines editorial worth or value and, in the long run, the brand itself will suffer. I think it is a very blunt, short termist approach." ~

And Sadri Barrage, chairman of the Middle East PR Association, said that had any of its members been involved with the letter, they would have faced expulsion.

He said: "MEPRA condemns any and all initiatives to sway the media's editorial integrity, including the offering of incentives, gifts and or advertising in return for coverage or opinion."
Philips sets down its company ethics in an official document called General Business Principles. Under the heading 'Business integrity', it states:

"Philips insists on honesty, integrity and fairness in all aspects of its
business. Bribes in any form are unacceptable."
Philips issued a statement refusing to withdraw the offer. It said:

"The issued Philips letter to the media was merely part of our efforts to engage with some targeted media and not an offer for coverage.

If the wordings of the letter led to some misrepresentation then we sincerely apologise.

"The letter in question communicates an exciting opportunity - a 'game' - in association with FIFA World Cup 2006. This should not be labeled or perceived as a 'bribe'.

"Philips holds the media and journalism in high regard and abides by media mandates.  Philips respects the media's discretion to choose stories based on their merit, relevance and newsworthiness."

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