@BelfastAirport and the problem with “the girl in the Santa suit”

The previous blog post was supposed to be my last (of 2013 anyway). I’m supposed to be on holiday.
But here I am blogging.
And I can think of one other PRO who will have to postpone Merriment this morning.

Last night the local Twittersphere came alive when a PR photo emerged to accompany Belfast International Airport’s news about their Christmas parking rates. I know, dull as dishwater right? A PROs nightmare trying to flog that old horse. But surprisingly it made it into the paper, the Belfast Telegraph to be precise. Why? Well it’s not for me to question the literary quality of a publication but based on my daily reading I can make the educated guess that it’s because a pretty girl dressed up as Mrs Claus while holding a sign:

Was it highly creative? No. Was it overly attractive? Matter of opinion. Was it offensive? Judging by my Twitter timeline you’d have thought Benetton had reintroduced their shock tactic advertising of the 90s. Believe it or not, in a country that can barely hold it’s proverbial together politically while we get bombed weekly, we have head space to get worked up about this. Some called it disgraceful, distasteful, objectifying women. They said it should have been a man in a Santa suit. The campaign hashtag #EverydaySexism was bandied about.

Now people are entitled to their opinion, but I have a few problems with all of this. So much so that I’ve postponed my holidays to blog about it!

1. Objectifying women aside, in my opinion the only reason a man in a Santa suit would be different to this image is because stereotypical Mr Claus is fat. And hairy. And not sexy. If that girl was wearing a christmas jumper, no one would bat an eyelid.

2. Problem is, if she was wearing said jumper, her photo probably wouldn’t have ended up in the paper. It’s the same reason Miss Northern Ireland is wheeled out to promote everything from bake-offs to soft drinks. “The best looking girl in the country” (debatable but democratic) may not be scantily-clad but she’s still promoting irrelevant stuff every week and no one has a problem with it (except me).

3. And never mind objectifying women, what about the other guaranteed PR photo call gold… CHILDREN! From cooking in ickle chef hats to dressing up like mini builders holding shovels, throw a few small people in and you’re on to a winner. Pardon my ignorance but I’m more concerned by this than any objectification of grown women. I own a 5 year old myself and, despite his high IQ, I’m pretty sure his media permission to use his image wouldn’t hold up in a court of human rights, even after the best of PR briefings. We USE children.

4. Wanna know what else we do in PR? We live and breathe #EverydaySexism. Not by choice of course, but this is an industry overrun with females on the ground yet severely lacking women at anything above managerial level. This is an industry where women fear maternity leave long enough to render their skills out of date. This is an industry that often displays the most stereotypical of female attributes…


And herein lies the biggest problem I had with yesterday’s debacle: PR people turning on their own folk. Some asking who was responsible for the idea. Some querying why it was taking so long to remove the image from Twitter. Others even questioning the future of the PROs job.

In the name of the baby in the manger.

You lot know who was responsible. At best it’s an in-house team or agency, at worst it’s a lone worker, juggling all the balls for a pretty big company. You know why it took so long to remove - we shouldn’t feed the fallacy that we monitor social media 24/7 and have no real home lives. And to question someone’s job security when they’re already in the middle of Crisis Comms…

Have a heart! Of course people should comment on such topical matters (that’s what I do after all) but don’t get your wooden spoons out and join the villagers and their pitchforks baying for PR blood.

We’ve all had bad days. He who hasn’t made foam letters, photoshopped an iPad screen, had a suit line-up or used cute children, cast the first stone. If you haven’t had a bad day, don’t worry it will come. Because just like the airport, one random day a formula that is tried and tested (to the point of overkill) will be the day it makes you public enemy number one.

And me and my little blogging fingers will be waiting for karma to bite you in the bum.

For now though I’m off to start the holidays as they should begin, with festive flavoured coffee and mince pies.

And I might even don a Santa suit for the craic!

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