Freud was this week appointed for the Change4Life campaign after a four-way pitch handled by the Central Office of Information.
Food charity Sustain was sceptical about the appointment. Its children's food campaign co-ordinator Richard Watts said: ‘The Government has to be very careful about bringing companies on board because people are very sceptical of the good that it can do. Freud and the Government have to show they are really independent in how this campaign is run.'
Meanwhile, it is understood two agencies that pitched for the account were told their existing clients in fast food and confectionery meant they would not be considered. But a Department of Health (DH) spokesperson said: ‘Some of the other agencies we use also deal with food companies.
It's not about right or wrong; it's about doing things in moderation. The agencies we use are getting the message across to eat more carefully.'
One of Freud's biggest clients is PepsiCo, which owns the Pepsi and Walkers brands, among others. Pizza Hut, KFC, Nestlé and Birds Eye are among its other clients. The agency also recently added confectionery giant Mars to its client list.
A spokesperson for Freud justified its work with food clients by pointing to the positive healthy eating campaigns the agency has handled for them: ‘We have been instrumental in driving change within many of the UK's leading food and drink businesses, positively affecting the nutritional profile of core products.'
Freud also pointed out that a consortium of media and food brands had contributed £200m to the campaign.
Companies including Cadbury, Mars, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kellogg, Nestlé and Kraft said they would ‘work with the Government to promote healthy lifestyles'.
The DH announced in January that the PR campaign would be part of the Government's Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives strategy. It has earmarked £300m for marcoms, with M&C Saatchi recently appointed to handle the £75m advertising account.
Health PR campaigns
July/August 2008 - Department of Health (DH) selects PR and ad agencies for £300m anti-obesity campaign
May 2008 - £6m DH Know Your Limits anti-binge- drinking campaign launched by Fishburn Hedges
May 2008 - Department for Children, Schools and Families appoints Blue Rubicon for teenage safe-sex drive
January 2008 - DH appoints Fishburn Hedges to handle latest stop-smoking campaign
December 2007 - DH appoints Red Consultancy for a £143,000 campaign to raise awareness of good hygiene in the face of a potential flu pandemic
BY THE NUMBERS
33% of English children are overweight or obese*
67% of children are expected to be overweight by 2050*
30k Britons die each year from obesity-related conditions
£300m Total government spend on marcoms campaign
£75m Total allocated for ad campaign by M&C Saatchi
BEHAVIOURAL CHANGE DH says campaign is not about ‘finger-wagging' but about providing information
Agency faces tough task getting people to alter diet
Freud Communications will have its work cut out persuading people to change their diets, warn public sector PROs.
Geronimo MD Laura Oliphant said the success of previous government behavioural change campaigns could stand in the way of this one.
‘There have been so many other campaigns saying "don't drink and drive", "don't smoke", "don't binge-drink". People could respond by saying, "Now you're telling me not to eat?",' said Oliphant, whose agency topped the latest PRWeek public sector consultancies league table.
Demographic, regional and generational differences would make the development of a single, unified campaign difficult, she said. Further, the call to action for anti-obesity is more complex than previous campaigns. ‘With smoking, it's simple - "don't smoke". Obesity is a bit tricky. You can't sum up in five words what you're asking people to do.'
Communications Management MD Pam Calvert advised Freud to engage health professionals who were ‘really influential and trusted by the target group'.
A DH spokesperson said the campaign would not be about ‘finger-wagging'. It would be aimed at ‘helping people by providing information on things such as local projects'.