CAMPAIGNS: Industry and Commerce - MacLaurin is champion of a 'free' press

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

consumer choice.


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 market.

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


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