SA Tourism’s cash for comment

Frances Ward

Frances Ward
Specialist B2B, IT and government PR skills is where Frances’ focus lies. For more than 10 years she’s enjoyed driving highly effective campaigns for local and international brands and spokespeople with great success. More info at solidink.com.au

I love Media Watch. Every week it presents a well-researched, entertaining look at a few of the hiccups, lies, blunders and contradictions that took place in our media landscape the week prior. And what a great show it was this week.

Even if you missed Media Watch on Monday night, you almost certainly would have seen the resulting reports in the press about SA Tourism’s ‘cash for tweets’ scandal. In a nutshell, SA Tourism has come under scrutiny for paying celebrities about $750 to tweet about Kangaroo Island. There’s a little more to the story but not too much more than that.

What I found so interesting and poignant about this story is that it’s thrown the spotlight on a PR and advertising issue that’s been lurking in the shadows for some time. The writing has been on the wall since social media blasted into our lives years ago – it was only a matter of time before a prominent organisation offered cash reward for celebrity endorsement via Twitter or Facebook under the guise of it being organic or natural. And in my opinion, all parties involved were always going to come off looking guilty of deceit.

My biggest beef with a communication strategy like this is that it works against what I presume SA Tourism fundamentally wanted to achieve: positive, social media banter about Kangaroo Island amongst as many people as possible. A ‘cash for comment’ type arrangement was never going to go undetected (thanks Media Watch) and so the strategy was flawed from the get-go.

SA Tourism argues that it was just getting the conversation started and that its strategy was product placement. I’d like to suggest that this theory is a little hard to swallow, especially when the PR agency involved in the campaign issues a blatant request for celeb endorsement that should not appear ‘endorsed’ but rather present as an ‘organic’ tweet. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Perhaps there’s a lesson in this for celebrity publicists and celebrities themselves too. The celebs that jumped on board ended up looking rather deceitful too and well, a little hard up for cash. Another negative connotation attached to this campaign, in my view.

But moving on…I think this story serves best as a reminder to be careful about the tactics we choose to embrace during a campaign and whether or not they stay true to our communication and marketing goals. Social media has created a raft of new engagement opportunities but I think it’s easy to become swept up in its ease of accessibility. Just like any other channel of communication there are some important, unwritten rules and considerations to play by if you’re going to make it work for you and your company.

I’d be interested in my peers’ opinions about whether they’d consider this a pure product placement scenario so please come forth and share your views. Perhaps I’m too cynical or altruistic in my outlook? But how do you compare this to Alan Jones’ ‘cash for comment’ scandal?

Regardless of where the truth lies, I come back to the issue of making sure your tactics engender the desired goals and response. Because I’m pretty damn sure that the resulting shroud of grey cloud hanging over this campaign and SA’s Kangaroo Island isn’t the ideal outcome for the tourism body.

Image attribution: Marco Fedele