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Relationships, recommendations… and Roy

Last week, eight million Coronation Street fans saw character Roy Cropper say he had tickets to the live Strictly Come Dancing show, Midnight Tango, currently on tour in Manchester. Strictly star Flavia Cacace, with her 75.5K followers, then tweeted a message of thanks to the ITV drama. It was a plug which would have delighted her PR agency, yet one party that wasn’t left dancing with joy was the UK’s television regulator, Ofcom.

Was the soap simply trying to connect with its prime-time, TV loving audience and jump on the press’s band wagon of speculation concerning the 2013 Strictly Come Dancing line up? Perhaps. Although, according to online media magazine, The Drum, a TV insider said: “It does seem an incredible coincidence. They (Coronation Street) clearly plugged a commercial business run by Flavia to more than eight million people, three weeks after her fiancé is announced as a new character on the soap”.

So, a rare moment of soap realism seems to be a commercial fix and as the required product placement logo wasn’t displayed at the start of the program, rules may well have been breached;  tut tut, Roy.

As PR professionals we are no strangers to placing products in the media for free in exchange for exposure – it’s a tool in our armoury. In fact, I know of more than one London PR agency which has been set up to do one thing and one thing only: product placement. It specialises in maximising brand reach through core print titles read by target demographics to influential TV shows.

Product placement has been allowed on UK television programmes for a couple of years now, governed by a list of Ofcom rules and regulations outlining what type of product can be placed in programmes, where the placement is allowed and how it is featured. Obviously in this case the ‘product’ is the show, but is its mention just a verbal prop or an outright plug? The lines are blurred.

Whether script writers had been careless with this reference or not, the case illustrates the power of relationships and recommendations. Getting a brand noticed is more often than not about knowing the right people and an implied endorsement is an incredibly valuable tool.  It can appear in many forms too, from a mention in a TV soap right the way through to a business recommendation on LinkedIn.  Admittedly there is a time and place for these plugs and Coronation Street (without correct measures in place) might not have been it, but this case should remind us all to help each other out where we can and give pals a plug or a bit of public praise;  generally there’s little harm in back-scratching.

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