Here are some issues that make news - the environment, art, Europe,
the Internet and wearing fur. Which of these would you advise your
client to go furthest to avoid as a subject for a PR campaign?
Cynics who say Europe narrowly beats fur for untouchability should look
hard at what has happened in the last fortnight.
First, 23 captains of industry attacked ’extreme Euro-scepticism’. Then,
companies like BP, BAT, Vauxhall and Guinness were willingly identified
as backers of the European Movement’s Europe 97 campaign, featuring ’97
reasons to be in Europe’. Those reasons include facts, figures and
quotes from Richard Branson, Sir Iain Vallance, Niall FitzGerald and a
range of small and medium size firms.
Why? Europe is rough, controversial territory. If these people want to
invest in their reputations, they could sponsor a sculpture exhibition
or a survey of e-mail users.
The reason is simple: Europe matters to their companies. They also know
most people don’t have a clue about it, and with a referendum in
prospect, ignorance is a dangerous thing.
The up side is that there is a good story to tell. While doom merchants
have spent decades murmuring about conspiracies and superstates, the
real EU has got on with providing firms with the biggest home market in
the world, dismantling trade barriers, slashing paperwork and creating
But research shows this has passed the public by. Only seven per cent
can identify the single market from a brief description. Only 14 per
cent claim good knowledge of EU issues. Still, two in three are prepared
to support closer links between EU countries if convinced they are in
This is why the Europe 97 campaign is built on fact, with a tabloid
newspaper supported by advertising, information packs, regional activity
and high-profile endorsement -like a statement of support from 97 MPs of
all main parties.
The cross-party aspect also poses a challenge - because a debate
straddling party lines has limited appeal to the Westminster media. One
correspondent said: ’It’s the Reds versus the Blues - nothing else
matters’. Issues like Europe only have political news value inasmuch as
they play into the inter-party or, more often, intra-party arguments.
Hence Europe remains a football, always being kicked around but rarely
examined for its own sake. No wonder three-quarters of people in a
European Commission survey said coverage of Europe was unbalanced and
Too many editors are failing to stage a proper debate on Britain and the
EU because it interferes with the neat Red versus Blue contest. Those
who set news agendas need to think hard and fast about how the Europe
debate in Britain is covered - in fact, whether it is covered at
Otherwise the referendum might as well be the toss of a coin.
Given the strength of feeling in business, both pro and anti Europe,
perhaps part of the answer is to see Europe as more of an economic
issue, and less a political one.
Sir Bernard Ingham, who takes a gloomier view on Europe than the
European Movement, was nonetheless dead right to say last week that many
politicians are running away from the issue and that PR’s duty is to arm
people with the facts. What might surprise some in PR is how readily
their clients will agree.