Nothing underhand – except for journalism

Everyone is getting very excited about The Sunday Times’ “sting” attempting to show that brands were being illicitly being placed in BBC productions (Torin Douglas, MW last week). Nothing could be further from the truth. I should know as I was the victim of this particular piece of “journalism”, and I use the word guardedly.

I was contacted by a David Thompson from Goodman Volhard & Weber, communications consultants (fictional) to discuss a new Vodka Mix (fictional) client from Lithuania (real) of all places. I’ll give these guys credit, they may have the morals of a junkyard dog, but at least they have imagination. The brief was supported by 10x8s of the packaging, media briefs, the lot.

As I get calls from media agencies and PR companies every day of the week wanting to discuss their client’s needs, this came as no surprise. We arranged to meet at the Savoy, which in retrospect should have set alarm bells ringing. Nice coffee, though. Media agencies, please note.

The meeting was very normal, although the two blokes in their cheap suits kept trying to steer the conversation towards payment, which I had already explained was against the rules. One of the first things I cover at a new business pitch is the Ofcom rules and BBC guidelines. Their hearts must have sank when they realised that transparency is central to our pitch.

The central theme of The Sunday Times article was that the BBC show Spooks was loaded with products that were cynically placed in the programme. Not true.

All legitimate placement agencies work from an existing script. If a product is required, from a car to a jacket, we will supply it, provided all parties – both production and client – want it to happen. If either thinks it’s not right, it won’t go ahead. Period. All products are only supplied from an official BBC order, have to be fully insured and are returned when the scene has been shot. Should the product be damaged we invoice full retail value.

As for giving our clients giving products to the actors – I don’t think so.

We save the BBC, other networks and independents a fortune with the free supply of product. With budgets cut to the bone, without us major dramas would struggle to be made. We’ve been in business for 15 years, work on dozens of BBC shows every year and the free supply of brands is just a day-to-day part of television production. Yawn.

Oh, and one final point: in this week’s Spooks a Times newspaper is heavily featured as part of the plot, and is shown close up, and in long shot. It’s dated December 2, 2005, so it’s a prop copy.

If that ain’t product placement, I’m Rupert Murdoch.

Steve Read

Managing director

1st Place

Linton, Cambs

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