How do you judge a PR campaign

How do you judge a PR campaign that appears to successfully connect with its target audience but irritates or angers just about everyone else?

Bookmakers Paddy Power’s latest wheeze involved doctoring the ancient Cerne Abbas Giant monument in Dorset by changing its club into a tennis racket and placing a ‘ball’ above its left hand. Coinciding with the start of Wimbledon, it was intended to encourage punters to bet on the tournament.

But the stunt has appalled the National Trust, which commented, “The Cerne Abbas Giant is protected… and we are very concerned about any publicity stunt that may in future encourage damage to this fragile site.”

As reported in PR Week,, Paddy Power’s response was, “We’d rather beg forgiveness, than ask permission.”

This is very much in line with Paddy Power’s long history of cheeky, irreverent advertising, marketing and PR. For example, in June the company erected on the white cliffs of Dover a 110-foot cardboard cut-out of PM Theresa May dressed as Britannia and flicking a V across the Channel. The same month, they tried to place an ad depicting Theresa May kissing DUP leader Arlene Foster outside 10 Downing Street. No newspapers agreed to take the ad, but the controversy still gave Paddy Power the publicity they wanted.

So, being naughty is part of the Paddy Power brand – and it works. The company’s 2016 annual report described revenues increasing by 18% to more than £1.5 billion, profits up 44% to £330 million and dividends standing at 165p.

The Cerne Abbas Giant stunt has therefore continued Paddy Power’s highly lucrative approach to persuading people to hand over their cash.

But their vandalising of an iconic monument has also annoyed a lot of people, and their £5,000 donation to the National Trust just looks like a contemptuous attempt to buy off their critics.

Only Paddy Power can, in the light of their huge profits, say whether they give a flying one about their brand’s wider reputation. But if they want to avoid being seen as an arrogant corporation that puts profit ahead of any other consideration, and if their PR agency is in any way bothered about the reputation of our industry, maybe next time they should stick to Photoshop.

I suspect, however, that they just don’t care whether they irritate people or not – it’s all just grist to their mill. And me writing about it here just adds to their coverage and, therefore, the success of the stunt. Damn!

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