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Sainsbury's Spinning in Control PDF Print E-mail
Supermarket Debate
Written by John Eager   
Thursday, 26 January 2012 00:00

Evidence has come to light as to how Sainsbury's is spinning the local media to get its message across to councilors and the wider public and how it  influences supporters for its proposed off-centre grocery hypermarket on the outskirts of Ledbury.

Sainsbury's is paying the public relations company Gough Bailey Wright to influence the local media and to coordinate local support for the grocer's.



In a document (attached below), a campaign the public relations company undertook on behalf of the grocer's is highlighted. It advises about the strategy used to push the Sainsbury's planning application though at Leek.

Leek pdf

The document reveals how Gough Bailey Wright targeted the senior reporter of a local newspaper by "developing a positive relationship" with that journalist. It would then supply the reporter with "advertorial features" - described as "vehicles for the latest 'rebuttal message'" which would " promote the general benefits of the development."

An 'advertorial' is an article written by the PR company that appears to be a news article, but is actually a paid for advertisement. The newspaper receives revenue, Sainsbury's benefits from a prominent promotional article in the newspaper, which some readers may believe is an objective, professional  piece of journalism.

Wikipedia describes advertorials thus: "In printed publications, the advertisement is usually written in the form of an objective article and designed to look like a legitimate and independent news story. The tone of the advertorials is usually closer to that of a press release than of an objective news story.

"Advertorials differ from traditional advertisements in that they are designed to look like the articles that appear in the publication. Most publications will not accept advertisements that look exactly like stories from the newspaper or magazine they are appearing in. The differences may be subtle, and disclaimers—such as the word "advertisement"—may or may not appear."

Gough Bailey Wright informed the Ledbury Community Portal today that such an advertorial supporting Sainsbury's would be appearing in this week's Ledbury Reporter.

I asked Ledbury Reporter editor, Peter John, about the use of advertorials in his newspaper. If a company is paying the newspaper for advertising, can the newspaper remain objective in its reporting about that company? Mr John's response: "We are not on anyone's side. We offer balanced editorial coverage. Anyone can advertise with us."

The document also reveals how Gough Bailey Wright organises the supporters of Sainsbury's by encouraging them to write letters to the media and to attend the planning committee meeting. It recommends supporters to arrive early for the best seats and to wear orange to show their support of the multinational grocer.

The PR company describes the Sainsbury's supporters as the 'Silent Majority': "Ensure the silent majority found a voice to communicate its support to planning members."

These chosen words have been repeated in the Ledbury Reporter: "“The silent majority” of more than 1,100 residents who have put their name to a petition backing the scheme." But where did Ledbury Reporter writer Gary Bills-Geddes get his quote from - Sainsbury's supporters or Gough Bailey Wright propaganda? The Ledbury Reporter editor believes it is clear from the article that the quote came from Sainsbury's supporters.

The use of 'silent majority' is clever. It creates an assumption that these supermarket supporters are both silent (nice and quiet, unvocal or perhaps even denied a voice) and in a majority.

It is unclear if they are a majority or not, but the one chance the town had to find out - a Parish Poll - was scuppered by LESS's own lack of enthusiasm for it. Did they not trust their own instinct despite their unsubstantiated claims? Or was there a PR company in the background advising that a parish poll was not the best foot forward?

Secondly, they are certainly not silent or quiet, but are just as noisy and outspoken, if not more so, than LOTS, the anti-out of town centre supermarket group. On this website two pro-Sainsbury's members/supporters have been banned for using abusive and offensive language against LOTS members.

Comments made today on the Ledbury Reporter have been removed that were discussing the behaviour of LESS members who, like LOTS members, took to the streets last Saturday to put their points of view across to the public.

What were these comments and why were they removed? The Ledbury Reporter's editor could not tell me.

Both sides have their own Facebook pages to publicise and organise and promote their causes. This is hardly a 'silent' group. One  supporter has even replaced their house's obsolete 'Vote BNP' banner for a 'Ledbury Supports Sainsbury's' banner - surely a loud and antagonistic gesture.

The supporters of Sainsbury's should not be described as a silent majority. This out of county PR spinner is myth making for a corporate giant.

The PR company also supplied councilors' contact information to the hypermarket supporters to ensure that councilors were "being constantly reminded that the scheme had strong public backing by the residents themselves."

The document also reveals that the PR company had "regular meetings with councilors and stakeholder groups."

Gough Wright Bailey told the Ledbury Community Portal that it did not target councilors or committee members, but did have 'discussions' with them.

Councilors, both parish and county, may scoff, but should be aware that many of the letters they are receiving are being prompted and directed by both LOTS and LESS. However, there is an unsubtle difference between them. LOTS is a group of local people, who fear that an out of town Sainsbury's might turn Ledbury into just another ghost town, boarded up and anti-social, because the life and vitality out of the town centre will be sucked dry by an oversize hypermarket at its edge. Doomsayers perhaps.

LESS is another group of local people who want more choice, cheaper food and more convenient shopping - all under one roof (and who can blame them?) This local group has the backing of a PR company and a multi-national corporate giant, neither of which is local, and cannot be said to have the best interests of the town at heart. Sainsbury's are coming here for profit, your dollars and mine - bottom line. Gough Bailey Wright are here to spin for Sainsbury's.

The PR company reveals that the Leek campaign cost £45,000, but refused to comment on how much the Ledbury campaign would cost.

The editor of the Ledbury Reporter told me he did not know how much an advertorial cost.

The question on councilors lips should be - what will Sainsbury's cost Ledbury?

But the cynic will tell you it's all a waste of time, as the decision was made months, even years ago. It's a deal already done. These manoeuvrings are dances with process, mediated, democratic and civic, but little else.

We will never know who made the decision, when it was made or even why it was made. It is concealed.

Perhaps the true cost is in the people of Ledbury. The friends and family, the neighbours and colleagues, who took sides against one another in defence of an historic imagined space against the threat an unknown, faceless, corporate giant.

Myth indeed.

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 February 2012 12:32
Comments (7)
Out of Town Superstore
7 Saturday, 28 January 2012 14:57
What a shame it would be for Ledbury to have an out of town superstore. Thank you John Eager for this well researched article. It is never going to be a life enriching experience to walk out of a car into a superstore while the life of the Homend and High Town, New Street and Bye Street become depleted. I walk along the Homend into town often enough and it always feels like being alive in the truest sense. Sunlight on the great variety of buildings the familiar and changing shops, unique and special. Some friends came to visit from Birmingham earlier this week and spent about four hours in Ledbury photographing reflections of black and white shopfronts and the array of goods, the alleyways, all the things they found special which brought it home to me - Sainsbury's instead? - It's just not a fair exchange!
More spin than a washing machine
6 Friday, 27 January 2012 11:09
martin alastair cooke
Another day, another opportunity to spin. ....

I see Colin Marschall has a two column spread (no, it's not glamorous )in the Ledbury Reporter today. There are no comments enabled - maybe this is a new tactic for the Reporter. The only thing I can say is [Ed. comment deleted] His grammar, use of punctuation and overall tenor of his extremely long and boring letter are exemplary His arguments are [Ed. comment deleted].
Coop Objection to Tesco Planning Application.
5 Thursday, 26 January 2012 16:17
Save Ledbury
"And how come Co-op didn’t lodge an objection to Tesco’s application? Was the Co-op looking forward to becoming Ledbury’s only in-town supermarket, whereas Sainsbury’s is a more formidable competitor?"

Once again Mr Lever your grasp of the facts is wanting. Coop indeed did submit a powerful objection to the Tesco out of town superstore proposal (from GVA Grimley) precisely on the same grounds that it has objected to the Sainsbury's out of town superstore proposal. The substance of the objection is: loss of linked trips between store and town centre, damage to viability and vitality of town centre, building on employment land, failure of the sequential assessment, and an overestimation of retail demand in order to minimise claimed negative impacts on trade diversion in the town centre.

I know you are not a planning expert, but you really should get up to speed with the planning policy rules before making such blatantly absurd statements as: 'there no logical reason why Ledbury should not have a thriving Town Centre as well as its own out-of-town supermarket.'

As we have said, there is not a single town in the land where an out of town retail development has not had a highly negative impact on its town centre. This fact is the supporting reason why there is a presumption against out of town retail developments, and why, a 'town centre's first policy' has been enshrined in planning guidance for nearly fifteen years now.

Finally, we do know that you were opposed to the Tesco proposal. Many people remain puzzled to say the least why you do not apply the same logical principles to oppose Sainsbury's proposal. Even so, planners and politicians, rather than amateurs like us, must always apply a consistent approach, and since the policy objections to an out of town Tesco are the same as an out of town Sainsbury's, there can be only one possible judgement in this matter. It must be rejected at planning committee.
Not a done deal at all
4 Thursday, 26 January 2012 13:58
Andrew Warmington
Where to start?

This is an excellent piece of reporting, John, though somewhat undermined at the end by the implication that Sainsbury's application will be waved through and everything was sewn up long ago. That is not correct.

Given that the basically identical Tesco application was poised to be recommended for refusal in November, the odds are heavily that this will go the same way, at least in the first instance. Otherwise Sainsbury's would hardly bother paying a PR company handsomely to stir up controversy. In fact they know this application is hanging in the balance and they think it worthwhile to create the impression that there is a majority - silent or otherwise - in favour locally.

As a magazine editor myself, I'll defend advertorial. The way that the internet has shredded paid-for print advertising, everyone takes it and there is nothing sinister about it as such. The piece, as it appears in the Reporter today (Friday 27 January) clearly says that it is an advertisement feature.

What IS possibly a bit sinister is the card distributed with the Reporter on behalf of LESS, which supporters of Sainsbury's are meant to fill in and post to the planning officer at Herefordshire Council. Given that LESS claim to be a group of ordinary people on low incomes, one has to assume that Sainsbury's - either directly or via a third party - paid for it.

Ironic that this is all in the paper that certain pro-superstore people used to refer to as the Ledbury Liar or the Ledbury Distorter before Gough Bailey Wright schooled them in the dark arts of spin! And I hope that this piece opens up our eyes to the cynical game being played by Sainsbury's and their PR lackeys for hire.
silent majority
3 Thursday, 26 January 2012 13:51
martin alastair cooke
The phrase 'silent majority' was one used, amongst others, by U.S. President Richard Nixon in a speech on November 3, 1969 in which he said, "And so tonight—to you, the great silent majority of my fellow Americans—I ask for your support."

We all know what happened to him.
Silent Majority
2 Thursday, 26 January 2012 10:55
Michael Lever
The "silent majority" is nothing new. One reason for its existence is that it takes courage/guts to speak your mind in any situation where people have strong views, and feelings may be running high; and in a small town like Ledbury where differences in opinion and attitude can turn into people taking things personally, all manner of (dare I say) psychological problems can be dumped on others, so much so that if you don’t have your wits about you or you’re not thick-skinned you could end being made to feel it’s your fault. For example, a man in LOTS - prone to writing sob stories about shopkeepers thereby (unwittingly presumably) doing them great disservice by airing their dirty washing (operational problems) in public (amongst shoppers, promoting sympathy for plight rarely cuts ice, but instead makes customers think it better to shop elsewhere) - whose views crossed swords with mine on Ledbury Portal (where I thought it would be safe to contribute informed comment), has told me and others unconnected with the matter he no longer wants to speak to me even though we were friendly beforehand (the others, having looked on Ledbury Portal, describe the comments as innocuous and cannot understand what all the fuss is about (and nor can I since the person that won't speak to me won't tell me why); and local traders having people come into their shops saying things like 'if that's your attitude, we won't shop here again" (which may cause the shopkeeper to breathe a sigh of relief), it's little wonder that most people would prefer to keep quiet about whose side they're on.

If the anti-folk are that concerned surely their shopping habits aren’t going to change just because there’s another supermarket in town? Conversely, since people clearly travel to supermarkets in neighbouring towns, wouldn’t it be better for them to travel down the road in Ledbury? And how come Co-op didn’t lodge an objection to Tesco’s application? Was the Co-op looking forward to becoming Ledbury’s only in-town supermarket, whereas Sainsbury’s is a more formidable competitor? As I've said all along, there no logical reason why Ledbury should not have a thriving Town Centre as well as its own out-of-town supermarket.

Whilst the supermarket is the obvious issue, I wonder if it runs deeper than that. Might it be about wanting to preserve community? Could it be that people that have moved into the area in recent years bought into what they saw and don't want things to change. Maybe they moved from places that for whatever reason had gone down in their eyes and don't want to stand back and watch Ledbury suffer that same fate. Fair enough. But surely they don't seriously honestly think those that support Sainsbury's, many of whom are Ledburians or who’ve lived in the area for most of their lives, would want Ledbury to go down either? The high-esteem and affection in which Ledbury is held is not a recent phenomenon. In my view, Ledbury’s community changed when the New Mills housing estates came into being. Contrary to the expectation that another wave of incomers would benefit, Ledbury also received an injection of cosmopolitan attitudes and considerable leakage (money spent outside the Town).

Most people I imagine are all in favour of constructive and passionate debate but if and when it starts getting personal then much better to keep quiet and become a member of the silent majority. That way, friendships and community are more likely to be preserved.
1 Thursday, 26 January 2012 04:10
martin alastair cooke
Well John

There's a lot to digest here.

In relation to the comments on the Ledbury Reporter, which I had read and will refrain from repeating here, I find it difficult to believe that the Editor of the paper cannot comment about them. Small minded provincial newspaper maybe??? Some legal issues maybe?? Who knows?? - seems to be a recurring theme in Ledbury - WHO KNOWS There were 55 comments which overnight dropped to one - a summary which reads:

murray kelso says...
11:39am Wed 25 Jan 12
All comments have been removed from this article and the comment facility has been closed.
if anyone has a problem with the conduct of certain individuals then they are advised to contact the group(s) concerned or, if the matter is deemed to be serious, the police.
Thank you.
MK - Digital Editor

Funnily enough the article with the banner still remains. Maybe I could be forgiven for thinking that the PR company have something to do with this. Firstly, perhaps thinking that the comments by some showed them in a bad light, not something the PR company would want. Secondly, because Ledbury Reporter actually supports the Sainsbury bid and have a local reporter who can hardly be described as independent. They too cannot be seen to be highlighting problematic issues. Any pretence at a 'free press' is laughable here.

This whole matter gets curiouser and curiouser. I have repeatedly asked about the role of the councillors to no avail. It appears to me these people like the prestige and the power of their positions but in no way want to be held accountable to local electors for their actions (sound familiar?). How can we know who and how many of them are involved in the Sainsbury bid, for example? On what basis can any of us believe what they say? Their performance during the Tesco application was pretty poor. They have been noticably absent during the Sainsbury bid. What is going on here??

With things like this happening there's no wonder a PR company fancies it's chances. They look like they are about to win the Olympics but not for Ledbury,no, for that famous non-local organisation called Sainsbury, who will drain Ledbury of it's life blood - it's what they do!!! It will take caring, clever, intelligent and vigilant people who care deeply about the town and its future to keep the vampires at bay.