The Children’s Society runs three of Britain’s four safe-house
refuges for child runaways. In 1995 the society ran a ’Game’s Up’
campaign which showed that children as young as ten were involved in
child prostitution and being cautioned and convicted. The ’Child
Prostitution in Britain’ campaign was launched on 6 March 1997 to
implement the earlier findings with professionals working with young
To raise public awareness of child prostitution and the work of The
Children’s Society. The charity also wanted to change the perception of
child prostitutes from criminals to victims by targeting the adults who
abuse young people.
In January 1997 an in-house team organised a national conference on
child prostitution for 6 March 1997. The event took place at Regent’s
College in London and was chaired by broadcaster Anna Raeburn with Allan
Levy QC as the key speaker.
This coincided with the launch of the Society’s book Child Prostitution
in Britain, edited by David Barrett of the University of Luton.
An advertising campaign was organised through ad agency Impact FCA! to
promote these two events. This ran in the national and regional press,
local radio and cinemas.
Unfortunately, a story on the local press ad broke earlier than expected
on Monday 24 February in the Bournemouth Evening Echo. The ads asking
’Why travel six thousand miles to have sex with children when you can do
it in Bournemouth?’ kicked up a storm in the area. As a town that relies
on its tourist trade, it felt it was being unfairly targeted as a centre
Ads also ran in other regions, naming Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and
South Wales, where the Society also had projects, but these caused less
offence than those in Bournemouth.
Despite assurances that the ads naming Bournemouth were only used
locally, the story hit the national press and there was a question
raised on BBC 1’s Question Time. Ian Sparks, chief executive of the
society, issued a statement the following Tuesday, apologising to the
town for any offence caused and the ads were withdrawn from the
Over 250 childcare professionals attended the conference and the Society
is confident that the book will more than cover costs.
Media coverage was initially concerned with the advertising campaign
which the Observer described as ’irresponsible’. This was further
complicated by questions over the accuracy of Peter Kominsky’s ITV
’docudrama’ on child abuse, No Child of Mine, which was shown
coincidentally in the same week, on 25 February.
However the conference did receive extensive national coverage, ranging
from Radio 4’s Today programme to the Daily Telegraph. Regional interest
ranged from the South Wales Argus to BBC TV’s Look North News in
Sandra Horniman, PR manager for The Children’s Society, has no regrets
about the advertising campaign. She says: ’We always knew it was going
to be controversial, but sometimes you have to be shocking to get the
message across.’ She is unhappy the national spotlight fell on
Bournemouth, but feels that the local media rather than the charity were
Tim Clarke from the Bournemouth Evening Echo complained that the charity
took over a week to apologise. However, Horniman says the newspaper got
the wrong end of the stick.
A controversial campais is a tried and tested way of generatingmassive
extra publicity. It worked well here although the charity had to work
hard to avoid the row overshadowing their message.
Client: The Children’s Society
PR Team: In-house
Campaign: Child Prostitution in Britain
Timescale: January - 6 March 1997
Cost: pounds 10,000 (excluding costs of conference and book)