Paperchase’s corporate cowardice

Paul Seaman

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Topics Free Speech

A few thousand tabloid-loathing Stop Funding Hate campaigners, exercising their wrist action on Twitter and Facebook, have persuaded Paperchase to abandon an advertising promotion. Paperchase was offering readers of the Daily Mail two free sheets of Christmas wrapping paper.

Stop Funding Hate told Paperchase that it was wrong to advertise in ‘hateful’ tabloids. How do we explain the fact that readers of the Daily Mail (circulation 1.4million), the Daily Express (400,000) and the Sun (1.5million) were told that they were not morally fit to shop or get freebies from Paperchase?

It gets worse. Following the pressure to denounce the Daily Mail, Paperchase made a grovelling apology on Twitter: ‘We’ve listened to you about this weekend’s newspaper promotion. We now know we were wrong to do this – we’re truly sorry and we won’t ever do it again. Thanks for telling us what you really think and we apologise if we have let you down on this one. Lesson learnt.’

Stop Funding Hate, founded by Richard Wilson (a former corporate fundraising officer at Amnesty International), claims to believe in free speech – and to be politically neutral. And yet, these are the things it labels as hate speech: speaking out in support of Brexit; tougher immigration policies; opposition to Islamism; and support for Christian values on marriage and gender. Everything Stop Funding Hate does is aimed at closing down the freedom of speech and the economic viability of the tabloids it despises for expressing political views it opposes.

Of course, activists were pressuring companies long before social media existed. Perhaps the most significant debacle that confirmed the grip of cowardice on the corporate psyche was Shell’s sudden decision, under pressure from Greenpeace activists and despite the weight of evidence in favour of the oil firm’s preferred option, not to drop the Brent Spar oil platform at the bottom of the Atlantic in 1995. (See my How PR Sells Firms and Trust Short.) But when it comes to campaigns, Stop Funding Hate almost makes Greenpeace appear virtuous.

We need to talk about why the communication industry has mostly advised corporations to grovel in the face of protests by unrepresentative groups that are out of step with mass opinion and common sense. Why have advertising, marketing and PR industries not been able to put some backbone into corporate bodies?

Most people can make their own minds up about what they read in the newspapers. Stop Funding Hate clearly has an elitist and prejudiced view of readers of the Sun and the Daily Mail. The time has come, surely, to stand up for free speech, and for a bit of business backbone against hypocritical activists.

Paul Seaman is a communications professional based in Zurich, with specialist interests in energy and crisis management. Visit his website here.

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Topics Free Speech