Client: Periodical Publishers Association (PPA)
Campaign: 'Whesco' scheme abandonment
PR Team: MacLaurin
Timescale: July 2000 - Jan 2001
Budget: Around pounds 90,000
The launch of a scheme, known as 'Whesco', aimed to monopolise the
magazine distribution system. It would have given Tesco control of up to
15 per cent of magazine sales in the UK, and WH Smith control over the
distribution of more than 50 per cent of all magazines sold, potentially
crushing smaller publications' market presence and greatly reducing
MacLaurin's work to persuade retailers Tesco and WH Smith to abandon
'Whesco' netted the agency the IPR Excellence Award for Industry and
Strategy and Plan
The MacLaurin team, headed by director Ian Monk, pinpointed key issues
showing the negative impact the plan could have on small retail outlets,
which would struggle to compete with the supermarket giant. It revealed
WH Smith would undermine press freedom by dictating which titles reached
The agency team individually briefed more than 50 national newspapers,
trade and broadcast journalists, highlighting these issues and creating
case histories of rural and high street newsagents whose businesses were
threatened by the plan.
Simultaneously, MacLaurin launched a parallel campaign with readers of
Bella and Best magazines - titles banned by Tesco in an attempt to
pressurise the publisher into accepting national distribution.
The sudden-death tactics of Tesco's strategy hit home with major
national, regional and trade, who supported the PPA campaign through
August and September 2000.
In September, an independent report launched by the professor of retail
strategy and industrial organisation at Loughborough University, Paul
Dobson, revealed the 'Whesco' scheme could cost as many as 10,000 jobs
in the small retail sector, adding fuel to the fire of mounting media
and public pressure.
Measurement and Evaluation
The media swiftly became allies in the case. The Guardian and The Times
both covered the press freedom issue, while City coverage focussed on
the rising disquietude of Tesco and WH Smith shareholders, who had
increasingly hostile perceptions of Whesco.
Safeway, meanwhile, which had been set to join the scheme, jumped ship,
making it clear that it would remain within the industry consensus.
The campaign led to 150 national news and feature pieces, in addition to
around 200 regional articles and 90 trade articles.
In October 2000, MacLaurin helped the PPA launch its own blueprint
proposals for updating magazine distribution.
This final push ensured that within three days Tesco had withdrawn from
the planned partnership and returned to the negotiating table as part of
the blueprint process.
In mid-December, WH Smith finally backed down, announcing that it too
would be scrapping the scheme - a move that cost pounds 15m.
The campaign has cemented the PPA's own blueprint process in place,
safeguarding diversity, choice, jobs and press freedom.
Both WH Smith and Tesco are now playing an active role in the blueprint