Monday, May 23, 2022

Has the poppy lost its appeal? – By Greg Simpson, founder of Press for Attention PR

Greg Simpson, founder of Press for Attention PR and Enterprise Nation Champion for Nottingham talks about the poppy and public relations.

‘Attention seekers hijacking a symbol to push their own agenda’?

That was the opinion of Tory MP Johnny Mercer in the Telegraph earlier in October but not about the red poppy, this was about the white poppy.

Some might argue the same could be said about ‘attention seeking’ for anyone wearing any poppy or badge. The point is to draw attention to a cause.

I might add, I often wear charity-related pins and will be wearing the red poppy myself.

‘Hijacking’ though, that’s another story.

As with many things, especially with regards to public relations, it comes down to perception and the wider narrative. The more traditional red poppies began being used as a symbol in 1921 to help to remember those who fought in war.

The flower was chosen because it grows wild in many fields where some of the deadliest battles of World War One took place.

Mr Mercer is a former soldier and appears to have taken exception to the white poppy, which ‘represents all war casualties, regardless of alliance’.

They are endorsed and distributed by the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) but according to Mr Mercer they are “attention-seeking rubbish” and he has called for people to “ignore” those wearing them.

Watching the breakfast news last week I noticed that all of the presenters and guests were wearing their poppies. I tend to watch Sky News in the morning as I prefer it for the business briefings versus the more light-hearted BBC offering. However, on switching over at the time I did not see one of the BBC presenters wearing one.


Was this a calculated move by Sky? Was it a calculated move by the BBC? Perhaps it is a fluke that I looked at this at 8.30am and by 10am I would have seen a few Sky reporters sans poppy or even with a white poppy. Meanwhile by midday the entire crew on the BBC might well have been bedecked in red.

By the way, on flicking on the news channels right now on November 6th, EVERYONE is wearing a poppy and they are all red.

I mention this because a few years back, the brilliant Jon Snow over on Channel 4 described the backlash against him and others for not wearing one on air as a wave of ‘poppy facism’ – a highly charged choice of phrasing but an interesting one.

The PPU sells circa 100,000 white poppies a year and has reported that they may well exceed their record this year. Meanwhile, this year is the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1 and the British Legion expect to sell 40m.

In the run up to Remembrance Day, I will work on at least 10 stories that picture clients, most of which will be using fresh photography for each story. Will I tell them to wear a poppy? No way.

Will I worry if they don’t? No, unless they wanted to and forgot it. It is their choice and either wearing one or not wearing one should not be part of the story unless that IS the story.

I have no doubt that for some, on both sides of the debate, wearing one or not will be the story. However, the fact that we can have the debate at all is what I will focus on.

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