Government housing agency Scottish Homes showed great naivety and
insensitivity when it tried to pull an April Fool’s stunt, says
independent PR consultant Gerry McCusker.
April Fool’s Day is traditionally a time when PR bods and the media
loosely conspire to bandy about pseudo-news stories. But when Scottish
Homes sent out an official release announcing plans to remove empty
inner city housing stock and reinstate it in rural communities to
address housing shortages, the move raised no laughs but instead, a
storm of protest.
First point: did Scottish Homes not think to ’loosely conspire’ with
friendly journalists who, I’ve found, are usually open to acting as a
sounding board for stunts of this ilk?
Generally speaking, the idea behind sending out an April Fool’s story is
to show a more light-hearted aspect of organisational or product
personality which can, in some instances, be good for business, or can
help to communicate or reinforce corporate or brand qualities.
Second moot point then: does a national housing agency, whose core
business involves serious social issues, really need to exhibit a sense
Unfortunately for Scottish Homes, their attempted rib-tickler turned
into a kick in the ribs because the joke touched, not a funny bone, but
a raw nerve. The ’humour’ was judged to be not mainstream, not creative
and not particularly funny.
The furore created does overshadow the fact that some of the contents of
the release - the uprooting of lampposts and pavements for example -
were palpably jocular and absurd.
What cannot be hidden is that to assist credibility, Scottish Homes said
that the new initiative was unveiled in Easterhouse, the Glasgow housing
scheme long-associated with poor housing conditions, poverty, crime and
Although rearguard PR activity - in the shape of a formal apology -
following the outcry was quick and totally genuine, a joke on any of the
aforementioned social ills would be considered off-colour in many
quarters, not least the damp, cramped and even temporary accommodation
quarters of those people for whom tolerable standard shelter is an
So when Scottish Homes sidled up and asked ’Did you hear the one about
the ...?’, they got an earful of retorts from the media, pressure groups
and even political parties who, in defending the position of the
homeless, all managed to emerge with a bit of positive PR for
So, at least for some, this April Fool’s Day joke eventually created a
reason to smile, but not to laugh.