A hard case for soft-selling

As a basic human need, security should be at the front of everyone’s minds. Yet even after the September 11 attacks, the UK seemed to lapse into a false sense of safety – at least until the London bombings on July 7.

The Government last week kicked off a review of security checks at airports, and is testing new scanning equipment on passengers boarding the Heathrow Express train service at London’s Paddington station. But for Whitehall and the security industry, managing the public’s fear while highlighting a greater need for vigilance is a fine balancing act.

Douglas Greenwell, marketing director of G4S – the name of the merged Group 4 and Securicor security services companies – believes the sector throws up some unique marketing issues.

“Security is a funny product,” he says. “It has always been very close to people’s hearts, not just since 9/11 or 7/7. The Government has to be careful not to overstate the problem.”

While G4S and its 2,000 UK industry rivals would naturally seek to highlight services following national crises such as terrorist attacks, Greenwell is aware of the dangers of overselling. He thinks UK mainland IRA campaigns, along with this summer’s carnage, have given the public an awareness of potential terrorism and an acceptance of “a uniformed presence that is doing a reassuring job”.

But he also cites James Hart, the City of London police commissioner, who in August declared that 50 per cent of the companies in his area didn’t have sufficient security in place, and that an attack on the financial centre was “inevitable”. “We wanted to follow that up, but we are conscious of not being seen as ‘ambulance chasers’,” says Greenwell.

Carolyn Stebbings, managing director of FCBi London, which was appointed to handle G4S’s marketing earlier this year, says: “The person buying the product is often more concerned about how much it costs the company, rather than what it does, and that’s an attitude we’ve got to change. It’s a big issue because security makes staff feel safe, and is on far more people’s minds since July.”

Stebbings believes the tone of the message is vital: “If you make the marketing too glib, you could defeat the object by not establishing the brand the way you intended.”

James Murphy, chief executive of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, which develops advertising campaigns for defence specialist BAe Systems, adds: “You are talking to an intelligent market of procurement specialists who aren’t going to be sucked in by saccharine advertising. They want to know exactly what makes the products and technological expertise relevant.”

G4S works with QinetiQ, partly created from the former Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, to develop technology-based answers to security problems. But Greenwell warns: “Although technology is great, it’s only as good as the operator. You should always make sure there’s a balance between people and technology or the systems could fail.”

G4S plans to increase marketing activity in 2006, when new laws under the Private Security Industry Act 2001 should help eradicate “cowboys” from the sector. But Greenwell concedes: “People have very short memories. Leading up to 7/7 we noticed a tail-off in awareness of security issues. The industry only seems to be noticed when it prevents an act, or fails to.”

Ian McCawley

Latest from Marketing Week

NOT REGISTERED? IT'S FREE, QUICK AND EASY!

Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now

THE BEST CONTENT

Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.

THE BIGGEST ISSUES

From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.

PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3711 or email subscriptions@marketingweek.com

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here