Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sentinel Dream Wedding promotion turns to Nightmare

A wedding competition being run by the Sentinel, the North Stafforshire newspaper, is running into considerable difficulties with competitors, thanks to 'print errors' and other editorial bungling.

The competition relies on those entered getting friends, relatives, and work colleagues submitting votes by buying copies of the paper and submitting the forms including within them. About 180 couples have entered, and yesterday was the last day that coupons were printed in the paper. The ten couples who get the most votes at this stage will enter the next round. The prize is a wedding package of almost £16,000. Multiple votes are allowed, providing they are on unique handwritteen forms from the newspaper. The publicity announced that coupons purchased on 20th April to will count as double.

I know a little about this as I know two couples who have entered - one of whom is our eldest son and his fiance. Personally I dislike this kind of competition. Clearly it is a promotion which will sell very many more copies of the newspaper than usual, and though I wish my own son well, the chances of winning (although rather better than the National Lottery) are rather slim.

Be that as it may, the family and friends have been working hard buying copies of the Sentinel and filling in the coupons up to yesterday - the final day in which coupons appear in the paper. Yesterday, between them, they bought several hundred copies of the paper - probably like many others.

And it is yesterday's paper which has caused the trouble.

First, the paper included an article about the efforts of one couple to promote themselves - on the last day coupons were printed. My son was one of many to protest - according to the Sentinel switchboard and the journalist who he spoke to. An interesting story - yes. But why not run the story after the last coupon had been printed, rather than promote one couple on the day of the last and indeed double coupon? The answer: there will be articles about other couples in the next few days. I'm afraid this is not much of an answer.

And secondly, the paper indeed printed the coupons - which are intended to count double - but thanks to 'a printing error' forgot to indicate on the coupon that it is indeed from the 20th April and so a double coupon. If cut out and submitted, then it could only count once - there is no way of distinguishing it from the other coupons. A query to the newspaper admitted the error (with some exasperation - again not the only call) and suggested that the coupons be submitted with the surrounding article so that it is clear which paper they are from. Of course - you would only know this if you had (1) noticed the mistake (2) asked the Sentinel what to do.

I am sure my son and his fiance is not the only couple who have bought - or encouraged others to buy - large numbers of the newspaper yesterday (and also of course in the past few weeks). My son says he is so sick of the mess that he is going round to the Sentinel offices with 500 copies of the paper to ask for his money back. I don't suppose he will do this quietly - or that he will be the only one to complain.

It is a bad mess up for the Sentinel - who are not a bad paper and whose journalists I respect. It's not so much bad journalism as bad management, which the paper can ill afford. Local papers are struggling everywhere, and promotions like this will be more and more important to maintain a reader base. The paper has recently moved to morning, rather than evening publication and is now making a big effort to embrace some of the new media technologies. Of course, in new media a mistake can be quickly corrected. What is set in print is set in print. Oh dear.


Potter1 said...

Fr Peter,

I'm sorry that you're so offended by our wedding promotion. However I don't think what's happened qualifies as a nightmare.

There was an error on the voting coupon which we published last Monday (April 20). It should have stated that the coupon was worth two votes (as entrants had been told it would). It didn't and I'm sorry.

The coupon will still, however, count as two votes. What's more, we've written to all the couples to tell them this. Genuinely, no-one should lose out,

We've had calls from friends and family of up to seven of the 186 couples who entered. It's seven more calls than we wanted to have. But I don't believe anyone has been compromised.

As for the competition entrants who hired a double-decker, that was a straightforward news story. It certainly wasn't published to promote the couple in the picture. We'd consider printing a similar piece about anyone who drives round Stoke on a Saturday with their face plastered on the side of a bus - whatever their reason!

As you know, there are ten places for couples in the final of the competition. Hopefully I'll see you there.

Mike Sassi, Editor-in-Chief, Staffordshire Sentinel News and Media.

(There's a relevant piece on the Sentinel's website: http://www.thisisstaffordshire.co.uk/news/Double-votes-Sentinel-s-Win-Dream-Wedding-competition/article-920283-detail/article.html )

Fr Peter said...

Dear Mike,

Thank you for your prompt reply, and for the accompanying explanation, apology and assurances, which I do appreciate.

I think it would be an exaggeration to say that I am offended by the promotion. The use of the word 'nightmare' was suggested by the promotion - some newspapers like sch headlines. Obviously I realised that the competition is a lot of fun for many and a helpful promotion for the Sentinel. I'm not out to attack the Sentinel which is a very important part of the local media in North Staffordshire. The space given to stories about the fight to keep open the Coachmakers in particular is something I appreciate. Others, no doubt, have also valued the opportunity which the supporters of Trentham High School have had in presenting their views through your pages.

I realise that promotions like this always have been, and perhaps in the future even more so will be important to Newspapers. I don't like them much myself, but my personal taste is neither here nor there. I do know, however, from my own family, how important they can be to those who take part, and perhaps it is a measure of the current financial situation in North Staffordshire that some couples are working so hard for this prize.

So sometimes, the media (old or new) become the story rather than just report on it. That must be a bit of a surprise and a little uncomfortable: it is certainly to your credit that you have responded so promptly.

However, it is a bit of special pleading to say that 'only 7' complained in the first 24 hours - or that the bus campaign is indeed an interesting story. Both these points are about timing, and timing is everything.

I suppose the great challenge of the new media as they are called is that stories like this can gather momentum very quickly, but they can also get a rapid response, and in your case a sympathetic, helpful and conciliatory one.

Thank you.

Shirley Weatherby said...

Dear Potter 1.
I am Allan's Mum and the person who over the past 4 weeks of this promotion has been going into the sentinel office buying in bulk. Of course every couple who have entered are hoping to be the lucky pair, and we have no problem with the young couple whose picture is "plastered on the side of a bus", as you say, yes! I totally agree with you, it is a great way to promote themselves, and good luck to them too! But what was wrong, was that you, the sentinel have chosen to draw attention to that one and only couple, (you could have written an article asking for the couples to write in or phone to say you wished to write what lengths couples are going to, to win this). But, no, you have chosen to do this, by just drawing the public's attention to one couple! albeit, whether they are on the side of a bus as you say! The point is, you have done it on the night of the double vouchers, (that should have been)! OOps, another blip you made! I was personally told by one of the promotions staff to cut out the voucher differently to how we have been told to cut them out in the terms and conditions, so that you will be able to determine which vouchers count as a double and which don't! Bit late, when we have cut out a few hundred of the already purchased 600 last night. 500 from our family, and 100 by our daughter -in law's to be father! Had we not rang when we noticed the error, we'd have lost the chance of another 600 votes!...Not good enough! (Sorry, is easily said)! Also, the fact you are going to write about other couples ...Well of course you are! Now it has been brought to your attention! Really, honestly, do you really think we were born yesterday! Fr Peter's title to his blog is very accurate indeed, it has turned into a nightmare, and you have I believe been chasing your tails in the Sentinel over this, even verifying with the trading standards what needs to be done to put it right. You would be much more respected if you were to just publicly say one big apology for taking the fun out of this competition, and it would go along way too, if the editor of the Sentinel were to reply to my calls....but there again, like I said to the Sentinel office today, I have more chance of having high tea with the Holy Father! (I don't mind you publishing this article in the sentinel, but somehow, I don't think you will be as so eager)!

Allan Weatherby said...

Dear Mike AKA Potter1.

Please may i also thank you for your reply. May i also thank you in calling me today with regards to the issues/problems that have occured over the last couple of days.
As you are aware i have been into the Sentinal office today and had a brief meeting with Shaun (Win a Dream Wedding Promoter) He was very helpful indeed and explained to me what measures had been put into place to ensure this competition stays FAIR....
I would like to say that (And underline) that i have not just done this for Me and Kerry but for all the other couples entered into this Compitition.
With regards to the Couple who had advertised themselves on the side of a bus, What a brilliant idea, i take my hat off to them for the efforts. But it isnt about that... As my parents have highlighted it was in My eyes a "Little unfair" to publish the story on the very last night of voting. If it had been the case that other couples had been given the opportunity to have a story published on what they had done it would of been just as interesting to the public "CLASH OF THE TITANS" could of even been used as the headline. Rather than ONE story of that couples journey.
But as you explained on the telephone no offense was meant by the article but i hope the Sentinal have learnt from this.

Again thank you for getting back to me today and giving us the answers we deserve.

Kindest regards