How Philips scored a spectacular PR own goal

Disappointingly, in my 17 years as a hack I’ve only been directly offered a bribe once — and that was a couple of jobs ago.

Well, I say directly. It actually wasn't entirely direct. After we'd fronted up the shady characters in question about their dodgy dealing and they'd failed in their attempts to scare us off with lawyers, they tried another tack.

"Is there anything we can do to persuade you not to run the story?"

"No, I'm sorry, I don't think there is."

"You don't seem to understand. Is there anything we can do to stop this story running? This could cost us money and we're willing to invest in it not running, if you catch my drift."

Catch their drift I did indeed and I was most grateful too, because they'd just confirmed any nagging doubts that these were dodgy people who deserved to be exposed.

And that's been that. Until this week.

So it was charming to hear from Philips that they're offering to give World Cup tickets to the journalists who give them the most coverage. As we reported last week, in a letter sent out to most of their press mailing list, apparently we'll "get the chance to enter the game by simply giving greater attention to Philips news in the appropriate sections of your prominent titles". If you catch their drift...

Now there are lots of ways to be critical about this.
First, the insult to the intelligence. Do they really think any hack is stupid enough to fall for this? From the sheer number of offended reporters who forwarded the note to us, from both magazines and newspapers, not many of them seem to be buying it.

Second, and probably most offensive, the casual assumption that hacks can be so cheaply bought. I'm certain that a few can, particularly in this market, but it's not particularly good for press relations to assume it's the case with all of their contacts. It doesn't show a great deal of respect for what they do.

And then, what does it says about Philips' attitude to consumers? By behaving like this, it's an obvious attempt to subvert a fair and honest press. Newspaper readers should be able to read an article and believe it's an honestly held view -- not wonder whether the journo has only written it so he can turn left when he gets on the plane.

It's very odd behaviour for one of Fifa's official World Cup partners.

Now don't get me wrong, it is often entirely legitimate to take journalists on a trip or entertain them. But the point is to invest in a two-way relationship -- not to buy coverage. A journalist can honourably accept the invitation if they think it's an opportunity to make contacts or get a good story. But they should never feel obliged to write it up if there's nothing there for the readers.

A personal example. I went to the Bahrain Grand Prix last month with Intel, who sponsor BMW. It was a good day, but in the end there just wasn't a new news angle to be had, so I didn't write a word about it -- nor did they expect me to. But I did get to meet the Intel management and I came away knowing that if I want to write about brand allegiances in the future, which we probably will, they'll make a great case study.

I think this one is going to backfire on Philips. There's going to be a fun Middle East media game to be played in the coming weeks. Look out for the vacuous Philips stories and wonder about the journo's motivations. Any sensible hack won't touch their stories with a bargepole. I've already spoken to one journalist who was planning a major interview and is now having second thoughts in case it makes him a laughing stock. Personally I can't wait to see who wins.

I think I'll play it safe. Apart from discussing this subject, Philips is now banned from the pages of Campaign until the end of the World Cup.

But hey, here's a thought -- I've just written
650 words about Philips. Do you think I might win?

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