History of the Tobacco Retailers' Alliance
'How to set up a Tobacco Alliance'
In 1983, a TA employee, Tony St Aubyn, the then assistant director of the Public Relations subcommittee of the Tobacco Advisory Council, gave a presentation to a public relations workshop in Washington called 'How to set up a Tobacco Alliance'. He explained that UK tobacco companies saw it as part of their "total communications package", with the TA being " born as a communications network for all those who work in the industry, for the industry or whose livelihoods depend upon it". There was an emphasis on encouraging others to campaign for their 'rights' and 'freedom', and one of the TA's aims was "to help put forward the case for individual freedom to counter any moves that might further restrict the right of individuals to enjoy smoking".
Furthermore, tobacco manufacturers wanted to present the Alliance as independent from cigarette companies:
- Early on we decided that it would be preferable to keep the Alliance at arms length from TAC and the industry and with its own identity and address, to emphasize to supporters, as far as is practical, that it had a degree of independence. Thus while the industry determines policy and provides the funds, the day to day management is the responsibility of our PR agents Daniel J Edelman. (TAC is the Tobacco Advisory Council, the predecessor to the Tobacco Manufacturers' Association)
The TA presentation also highlighted "the concept of Alliance 'supporters' rather than 'members' which would have required their blanket agreement on policies and views. Such agreement would have been virtually impossible in view of the diversity of the various groups".
When the Tobacco Alliance was established the industry stated that it “would encourage its supporters to act either as individuals or as representatives of their own organisations” in order to appear as a separate entity to the industry. It was also “stressed that the Alliance was needed because in order to be heard the entire tobacco family must speak with a unified voice and with confident command of the facts…”
Public Relations Strategies in 2000
Until 2000 public relations (PR) firm Edelman was contracted to represent the TA, but in late 2000 the TMA re-tendered the contract.  At the time, strong evidence was emerging that tobacco manufacturers were heavily involved in tobacco smuggling (see the pages on Imperial and Gallaher Involvement in Tobacco Smuggling and BAT Involvement in Tobacco Smuggling). There was mounting concern among the public and politicians about the amount of money being lost to the public purse as a result of the companies’ complicity. This was a central issue that the successful applicant would have to address.
An internal tobacco industry document, including a ‘summary of agency pitches’, reveals that four PR companies were invited to present their proposals. All information and quotations in this section are from this document unless an alternative source is cited.
Below is an overview of how each agency pitched their proposal to the TMA.
'Reposition TA as an originator of research'
Corporate Responsibility Consulting (CRC) – a firm that works for British American Tobacco and has run the TMA-funded Atmosphere Improves Results Initiative since 1997 – put in a joint bid with public affairs company BFi. The team for the presentation included Oliver Griffiths and Charles Baldwin for CRC, and Dee Fernandez and David Armstrong for BFi.
Their main proposal was to “emphasise damage to retailers”, “broaden the ally base", “reposition TA as originator of research studies” and “talk up community dimension” including a possible campaigning called ‘Community Action on Tobacco Smuggling’. Their budget was £197,000.
The TMA’s verdict was that CRC had a “good global overview based on current knowledge but plans overambitious within constraints of current budget. ‘Mix and match’ with BFi potentially a difficulty".
'Change TA’s name'
Brook Wilkinson (BW) put in a bid with a company called Media Strategy “to augment [its] political and media expertise”. BW was already working for the TMA. The presenting team included *Rosemary Brook and Trudi Smith for BW, and Charles Lewington and Karen Alcock for Media Strategy.
BW wanted to “redefine TA objective to limiting tobacco tax rises to level of inflation”, “act fast to take advantage of ‘election fever’”, “widen TA's partner base”, “change TA name in order to remove ‘tobacco’ - Shopkeepers Opposed to Smuggling suggested” and “encourage greater dialogue/feedback with retailers”. Their budget was £150,000 plus “extra disbursements” including “party conference stands”.
The TMA’s verdict? “Realistic approach based on existing knowledge of TA achievements to date. Involvement of Media Strategy will add value but at a cost. Paul Mason [spokesperson for TA] not keen on new name for TA.”
'Gather intelligence and have instant rebuttal'
The third agency that was invited to present was PR21, who’s presentation team included Jonathan Hopkins, who was responsible for planning, Joe Brice client management and Nick Tennant for media relations.
The TMA noted that PR 21 provided an “in-house Labour/Conservative mix. Hopkins ex Labour Party/Trades Union campaign adviser. Brice former adviser to Sebastian Coe".
PR21 proposed to emphasise “relationship building programmes”, “play up community angle and personalise the argument - eg, your shopkeeper, your town, etc”, “work on key decision makers and the circles of influence around them, especially in regions”, “gather competitor intelligence and have instant rebuttal response”, “use website to capture and manage information” and “set up ‘Working to Stop Smuggling’ round table forum in August. They would charge £169,900.
The TMA thought PR21 had a “sharp edged ‘New Labour’ approach to the brief” and would provide a “smooth adoption and harmonization of the Edelman pedigree”. They would offer a “no frills programme which could achieve least disruptive transition”.
'Rebut manufacturers' complicity
PPS offered a core team based in London “but supplemented by PPS regional network in Edinburgh, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Southampton, Cambridge and Leeds”. It suggested promoting “greater public awareness through advertising campaign and regionalized campaigning”, “personalising the cost - criminality, counterfeit, cost per voter/household”, “changing of TA name to ‘Anti-Smuggling Alliance’ to achieve common cause with other sectors”, “rebuttal of ‘manufacturers' complicity’, ‘doesn't affect me’, ‘can't stop smugglers’” and better use of technology “to keep retailers informed and motivated”. Their charge was £114,000 “plus flexible disbursements on projects”.
The TMA thought PPS had a “well researched and presented pitch, manifest commitment to the project and advantage of ‘fresh blood’ approach. Strong intellectual rigour with likely, but untested, ‘hands on’ application. Regional network a bonus.”
It is interesting to note that the PPS proposal emphasised defending tobacco manufacturers against allegations of complicity in smuggling, even though the proposal was to represent retailers who were being undercut by the illegal trade.
The TMA decided to award the contract to PR21 in December 2000. The company started the work on 15 January 2001.
- Tony St Aubyn, How to set up a Tobacco Alliance, Tobacco Alliance, 20 September 1983, accessed 31 January 2012
- TMA, Tobacco Alliance Account, 19 December 2000, accessed 30 January 2012
- TMA, Tobacco Alliance Account Summary of Agency Pitches, undated, accessed 30 January 2012
- CRC website, Our work, undated, accessed 24 January 2012
- Air Initiative website, Air Initiative homepage, undated, accessed 24 January 2012
- Tobacco Manufacturers' Association, Campaign Group Meeting, 10 December 1998, accessed 23 January 2012
- TMA, Tobacco Alliance Account, 19 December 2000, accessed 30 January 2012