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It’s not about the Money, Money, Money…

Date Posted: 23/03/2012 13:38:54
Posted By: Geometry PR

The Government’s approach to alcohol abuse needs a PR Strategy, not a Fiscal policy.

HM Government is worried about alcohol abuse. A small proportion of the population cause a lot of trouble by not behaving responsibly. Their solution? A minimum price for alcohol. A price increase that everyone must pay, not just the abusers. This approach is sadly typical of governmental policy in recent years. Attribute a price to everything, then address it in fiscal terms. It won’t work. It will just artificially inflate the cost of living, and increase the proportion of income that some people spend on their, for want of a better expression, social life.

PR is the solution. Of course you would say that, you cry, you work in PR. Well yes I do. I have created and observed hundreds of PR campaigns in twenty years as a PR professional and I know for a fact that good PR changes attitudes and behaviour far more effectively than simplistic monetary policies.

Let’s focus on alcohol, before I’m tempted to digress. Take drink driving for starters. Our society’s attitude to drink driving in the UK was turned around in a decade. When I started working after school, in a weaving mill (remember when the UK used to have those?) it was normal for five people to cram into a car and go out drinking on a Friday night (Friday was when we were paid – in cash, in a little brown envelope – ah the nostalgia…). The driver was bought his drinks by the passengers. It was the decent thing to do. After eight pints all round, the driver drove (carefully – he’d been drinking after all) everyone home via the chip shop or curry house and dropped them off, usually to vomit on their own doorsteps. This was normal behaviour, remember. I saw the same thing happening after sports matches, university parties, dinner parties, generally every facet of social activity. Yes it was illegal, but the chances of being caught were negligible if you drove carefully and didn’t kill anyone. NOBODY thought it unusual or, scarily, terribly bad. If it happened today, there would be a public outcry, the tabloids would vilify the participants and people would, quite rightly, end up in court and possibly in jail.

I remember alcohol being an essential part of business lunches right into the 1990s, some of which regularly developed into afternoon-long drinking sessions, all “normal” business behaviour. I don’t think I’ve had a drink at a business lunch this century. I would certainly question the professionalism and competence of someone who did.

Our attitudes have changed. Dramatically.

What caused this shift in attitude? Was it an increase in alcohol prices? Hardly. Was it a government initiative? Well, yes it was. The public were informed through a persistent, intensive series of information campaigns, of the error of their ways. The police and judiciary backed it up, but the result was, to someone who has lived through it, quite astonishing. The vast majority of the population chose, of their own free will, to not only do the right thing, but to think it. Now THAT is great PR.

To address a societal attitude issue with a fiscal act is the measure of a government which, in the time honoured expression, “knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”. I (and every other competent PR professional in the country) would love to sit down with our public servants and construct an educational, informative issues-based campaign designed to change the attitude of our society to alcohol abuse. It wouldn’t involve fining everyone for the behaviour of a minority – that’s Nanny State-ism at its worst. But it would involve changing perceptions of what constitutes acceptable behaviour. It would take a while, but it would work, permanently. What’s more, in a decade or two, people would look back at the twenty-teens and say “We were a bit stupid back then, weren’t we?” Let’s hope, for all our sakes, that we do.