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Graham Awards


Mr Bates, the Post Office, and Property Industry Marketing

Like so many I’ve been infuriated by the injustice meted out to sub-postmasters and postmistresses over many years. 

I was aware of it all, and annoyed by its unfairness, some years ago thanks to the press coverage; but, again like so many, what really made me angry - and made me cry even - was the dramatisation of how the Horizon scandal hurt good, ordinary people. 

This isn’t a criticism of the media’s efforts to bring it to our attention in the past. Although some commentators predictably, and lazily, say news outlets should have done more and said more in years past, the reality is that the story did get massive coverage.


Over 15 years (yes, over FIFTEEN YEARS) the press has run literally thousands of articles on the scandal.

To be precise, and with thanks to The Sun’s political editor Harry Cole for doing the research on this, there were 383 articles in The Times before the screening of the ITV drama Mr Bates and the Post Office over the festive holiday. The Telegraph ran 234 articles in the same period, the Sunday Times 152, the Express 127, the Sun 101, the Guardian 91 and the Mirror 83.

Other publications ran other pieces, including the specialist accountancy and computer press - and then there were the online stories, both on those newspaper’s websites and on internet-only news services.

Photographs and stories

You get the point: the story got huge coverage but for whatever reason the abstract story of a scandal didn’t get traction until it was made clear that real people (albeit 

as played in a drama) were affected; and the dramatisation did not spare the details or the pain of those who were victims of the Post Office.

So what has this to do with the significantly less dramatic world of property industry marketing?

The answer is simple and important - human interest.

Let’s face it, many houses and apartments look much the same and to anyone outside the industry, and to those not currently buying or selling, issues like price per square foot, EPC ratings, modular building methods and the like are dry as dust.

But use people and case studies and tell their stories well, and the least interesting of subjects can be made lively and engaging.

New build developers don’t need telling this.

For years they have abandoned sending journalists or marketing people photographs of look-alike homes on look-alike estates: instead they send out press releases with photographs and stories of early buyers on a scheme. Perhaps they are first timers, or downsizers, or people who had a nightmare living in their old energy-inefficient properties and instead love being in a new home.

No one is advocating that marketing a property listed for sale should go down this route. Members of the public scrutinising Rightmove and itching to sell and/or buy their dream property absolutely DO want the price per square foot, EPC ratings and those modular building methods. And if the home for sale is a great looker, of course that should be front and foremost in the photographs.

But if your agency or developer wants to build a brand or create a buzz about a scheme, forget the photographs of homes which (in most cases) might not stand out from the crowd. Instead, play up the human interest - it works, looks better on an online or print story, and captures the imagination of a wider number of readers. 

Let’s hope the real Mr Bates and those depicted in the dramatisation get their proper rewards after years of misery - but remember, the turbo-charging of their story into public consciousness through using human interest has a lesson for the rest of us, too. 


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