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

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