Prime Minister David Cameron gave strong backing on Monday to recommendations set out in a six-month independent report by Reg Bailey, chief executive of the Mothers' Union.
The report, Letting Children be Children, calls on businesses and the media to play their part in protecting children from the increasingly sexualised 'wallpaper' that surrounds them.
The report focuses largely on advertising, music videos and broadcast media, but PR professionals are not exempt. In particular, a section of the review highlighting 'peer-to-peer' marketing and the use of 'brand ambassadors' is likely to affect the way the PR industry engages with children.
'It won't affect a vast number of agencies, but for some this will be very significant,' said PRCA chief executive Francis Ingham. 'It's a difficult thing to balance creative ideas that are commercially viable with the reality of how parents feel about these things. My advice to agencies would be to welcome the recommendations.'
In his response to the report (see box, below), Cameron called for an end to the process whereby firms pay children to publicise and promote products in schools or on social networking sites by banning 'the employment of children as brand ambassadors and in peer-to-peer marketing'.
A number of major PR agencies are signed up to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association and a survey of 'word of mouth' practitioners by the Advertising Association found that 21 per cent had used teenagers aged 16-17 as 'brand ambassadors', while six per cent had used 13- to 15-year-olds.
'I'm aware of some children's toy brands and music artists who have used younger ambassadors,' said Liz Bendall, director of Lexis PR.
However, many agencies that work with children's brands said children were rarely the target.
'Most of the time, purchasing power comes from parents and we end up targeting the parents and grandparents,' said Seventy Seven PR managing partner, Alan Twigg.
'If you look at the children's media that you can hit, in a traditional editorial sense, there's not a lot of media that they consume, other than TV or online.'
- 'To make public space more family-friendly by "reducing the amount of on-street advertising containing sexualised imagery in locations where children are likely to see it".'
- 'To ensure children are protected when they watch television, are on the internet or use their mobile phones by "making it easier for parents to block adult and age-restricted material" across all media.'
- 'To stop the process whereby companies pay children to publicise and promote products in schools or on social networking sites by banning "the employment of children as brand ambassadors and in peer-to-peer marketing".'
- 21% of companies had used teenagers aged 16-17 as brand ambassadors
- 6% of companies had used 13- to 15-year-olds as brand ambassadors
- 79% of companies had never used under-18s as brand ambassadors
- 1,025 parents of five- to 16-year-olds took part in a face-to-face survey*
HOW I SEE IT
PR professionals on how the new proposals to protect children could affect the industry
FRANCIS INGHAM, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, PRCA
It's a difficult thing to balance creative ideas that are commercially viable with the reality of how parents feel about these things.
It won't affect a vast number of agencies, but for some this will be very significant. In the industry, I can't imagine anyone other than a tiny minority would not welcome the recommendations.
The PRCA certainly won't be fighting on behalf of agencies that oppose the guidelines.
LIZ BENDALL, DIRECTOR, LEXIS PR/HEAD OF SIX PR
Most of our clients have stringent regulations about marketing to children already, so it would not have a big impact on the work we do.
It could cause toy manufacturers and the music industry to rethink their approach.
This, combined with the call for age ratings on music videos and for less sexualised performances on pre-watershed shows, means the music industry could be most affected by the report findings.
PETE FLATT, MD, PPR PUBLICITY
We run PR campaigns for children's products - books, DVDs, music, concerts and so on. We reach our younger audiences through print and digital channels through reviews and features, but we deal with editorial staff, not minors.
There is possibly a grey area around blogs and social networks, where it is not always possible to know the age of contributors reviewing or recommending products.