Product placement, where brands pay TV shows and films to feature their products, is widespread in other parts of the world, but is currently banned in the UK.
Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw, in his speech to the Royal Television Society this week, is expected to signal that the Government will reverse the ban for commercial broadcasters.
Product placement has traditionally been the preserve of the advertising world via media agencies. Prop placement, where programmes makers can use branded items as they see fit, is often managed by specialist agencies in the UK such as Rogers & Cowan.
But senior comms professionals have urged the PR industry to swoop on the territory.
‘Although these will be paid placements, my sense is that PR agencies are in a stronger position to take the lead, given that our job is essentially to tell compelling stories, to make the messages resonate and not be too promotional,' said Tonic Life Communications' CEO Scott Clark. He argued that PR could provide subtlety. ‘Overwhelming product promotion will turn consumers off. Giving it a more subtle treatment by weaving a product into a bigger story is more in our thought processes,' he said.
The Red Consultancy's head of broadcast Neil Henderson agreed: ‘Advertising always targets the viewer. We have inside knowledge of what the shows want and we have a relationship with them.'
But Rogers & Cowan account manager Kate Abrey said lack of specific experience would count against the PR industry: ‘The UK prop placement industry has been running for 26 years. We're experts in our field and have strong contacts with production companies.'
Simon Willis, head of programming at Mindshare, agreed that PROs lacked key knowledge. ‘How do you know what product placement is worth? We know how much programmes cost to make, so we can make sure our deals are measured against real financial criteria,' he said.
Cohn & Wolfe regional director Mark Cater felt the most effective approach may be an alliance between PR and media agencies. He said: ‘PROs' role will be to ensure the product placement is aligned to the client's brand values, while the media agency will buy the space. PR agencies that think they will be able to do this alone may find they are left behind.'
How I see it
CEO, Ketchum Pleon
I think the field is wide open to those who best understand the connections between brands, programmes and consumer, whatever their discipline. PR people should
be in a great place to advise clients on placement opportunities.
Who would have thought the media business would have to rely on £100m worth of product placement? This is symptomatic of the terminal decline of advertising and mass media. Lots of agencies will be figuring out what their product placement offering should look like. I don’t think it’s particularly good for engagement, but it can be good for awareness.
26 Number of years UK prop placement industry has existed
14 Number of specialist prop placement agencies
£100m Amount commercial broadcasters stand to make from law change
117,976 Placements across the US’ top 11 TV channels over the past three months