Why is the Daily Mail promoting a site that appears to be little more than an escort agency?

As the Daily Mail celebrates success in their online porn campaign, Michael Marshall explores the PR influence behind their headlines.

Sun, sea and sex: More than 40% of women under 30 admit to having one-night stands on holiday.

This was the important sociological research covered in the Daily Mail on 18 June last year, outlining the effect a summer getaway can have on the female population of our nation.

"The poll, which explored the nation's sexual habits, found that holidaymakers are more likely to have casual sex abroad than when they are at home."

The findings were clear: a woman on holiday is far more likely to sleep with someone she doesn't know than she would be if she were at home. What may not have been apparent to the casual observer, however, is that this research came not from a respected sociological study, but instead formed part of a marketing campaign for a "travel dating website".

"The findings were revealed in a poll for dating website MissTravel.com, which asked its 30,000 female British members ten questions about their sexual habits during their summer holidays."

For the unacquainted, MissTravel.com's "travel dating" model is rather simple: members join as either a "Generous" member, or an "Attractive" member. If you're a wealthy, generous man looking for a "miss" to take on holiday, MissTravel.com will pair you with your ideal travel date – an attractive young woman looking for a free holiday. And while the site does allow for the generous woman and attractive man, it’s little more than tokenistic – as a glance at the site’s homepage will confirm. Even the logo displays a sassy silhouette in tottering heels. The implications are quite apparent.

Given the source of the data, the nature of the findings becomes highly questionable – although a sample of 30,000 is very large (if, indeed, all purported 30,000 female members took part in the survey, which is far from clear), that the sample included only women who had signed up to a site pairing them with strangers for free a holiday makes extrapolation of the results to the wider British population a totally meaningless exercise. It’s fair to say members of MissTravel.com don’t necessarily represent society as a whole.

To anyone well-versed in the nature of PR, the signs in the Daily Mail article were clear - not least in the handy quote from the dating website's founder:

"Commenting on the findings CEO Brandon Wade, said: 'It is clear that women become much more sexually liberated when they are out of their comfort zone

'Once they get into their bikini or travel to an exciting new city our members' thoughts turn to sex."

The message, then, borders on explicit: "if you take a girl away on holiday, you're far more likely to get laid - and we have the perfect site for you". In terms of business model, it's bears a reasonable resemblance to an escort agency. In that respect, it's a perfect fit for CEO Brandon Wade - founder of two other "themed dating" websites: SeekingArrangements.com (describing itself as "The elite sugar daddy dating site for those seeking mutually beneficial relationships", replete with secretive, shushing women and smug, satisfied businessmen), and Whatsyourprice.com (where generous members bid to secure dates with attractive members, in a business model most frequently witnessed at your local livestock auction).

Say what you like about Brandon Wade, but when he finds a formula, he sticks with it. What may be slightly surprising, however, is how willing the Daily Mail were to print promotional material for a site which appears to be little more than an escort agency. The Mail, lest we forget, are the newspaper spearheading the campaign to introduce a nationwide block on pornographic images – a campaign they’ve deemed a success after gaining the attention of David Cameron.

What’s more, the article in June was by no means the only article published in the Mail to promote Wade’s escort services. Take, for example, from 15 November:

“Ten ways to leave your lover: 'I'm not ready for commitment' is the line used most by women when dumping their partner, while men go for 'it's just not working'

... Dating site SeekingArrangement.com asked 1,000 of its male and female members why and how they would dump a partner.

Going against the stereotype of the commitment-phobe male, the most popular line used by women in ending a relationship is: 'I’m not ready for commitment yet.'...

... Interestingly, money – and the earning power of their partner – is far more important to a woman than a man.”

With the implication that there are an abundance of women for whom relationships and commitment matter less than money and fun, it isn’t hard to see why this article was released by Wade’s "Sugar Daddy Dating" site.

In fact, Wade’s PR machine has found an astonishingly fertile home in the Mail Online – including the revelation that Carlisle is the most promiscuous city in Europe (9 October), women officially get old at 28 (17 October), single women in their twenties are pining for the exes (8 October) and that single women routinely sleep with their ex while looking for a new partner (30 October).

In all, between January and November, there were no fewer than 29 stories in the Daily Mail highlighting dating services run by Brandon Wade – an average in excess of one per fortnight. Articles ranged from faux condemnation (“I love to be treated like a princess: Meet the young women seeking sugar daddies online as disturbing trend hits UK” – 22 May), to the bandwagon-jumping (“Fifty Shades Of Grey effect turns British bedrooms red hot as women copy scenes from smash-hit 'mummy porn' book” – 3 July), to the obscure (“It started with a kiss... How use of Xs in texts and emails spark more than HALF of office affairs” – 23 August), to the outright blatant (“'They give me sex, I give them money': Meet the real-life Christian Grey entering into 'mutually beneficial contracts' with students” – 23 November).

Fortunately, at least, even the Daily Mail has limits. In July 2012, seeking to capitalise on an event from the headlines in order to publicise his "dating auction" site WhatsYourPrice.com, Wade released the following press release:

In the event of a tragedy like the Dark Knight Massacre, who would you want by your side on a first date?

According to the results of the survey... men who make between $80,000 to $150,000 per year are more likely to take a bullet for you on a first date.

Thankfully, not even the Daily Mail were willing to run with this article. However, for a newspaper so publicly committed to preserving morality, the Daily Mail would be wise to be more discerning in its choice of bedfellows.

Michael Marshall, Vice President of the Merseyside Skeptics Society, regularly writes and lectures on the role of PR in the tabloid news. He tweets as @MrMMarsh

The website for MissTravel.com.
Nicola Sturgeon and Tony Blair. Photo: Getty
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Nicola Sturgeon's SNP, like Tony Blair's New Labour, is heading for a crash landing

The fall of Tony Blair should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP.

If there was one thing the SNP and New Labour had in common, it was the hope. Both offered themselves as a burning torch of optimism to publics that had become tired of the same old gang running things in the same old way. Both promised a fairer, more equal society and a fearless embrace of the modern world with an appealing freshness and energy. The voters bought it: both won big, repeatedly.

The thing is, if you’re elected on a mandate to be different, you’d better be different. In many areas, for a long time, New Labour managed to be just that. The smiling PM with the huge majority pushed through radical policies, some of which even worked. Tony Blair’s methodology was so successful and so convincing that the Conservatives and the Lib Dems reshaped themselves in his likeness. Arguably, a form of New Labour won in 2010 and 2015.

But, as they say, it’s the hope that kills you. When the inevitable attritional realities of governing start to weigh, when you make, as you will, bad decisions, when the list of enemies grows long, when you’ve just had your time, you’ll fall like all the rest – only, when you’ve soared so close to the sun, you have that much further to plummet.

The fall of Blair and of Labour should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP. Sunday night’s debate between the Scottish party leaders was, I think, a foretaste of what’s coming – a public that until recently was politically and emotionally invested in the Nats is growing restive. In time, this will turn to disenchantment, then anger, then revenge at the ballot box. This is the unbreakable cycle of democratic politics.

Some of us have warned since the start that the SNP had over-promised and could only under-deliver. Its raison d’etre is independence; everything else - literally everything else - is just another brick to build the path. And so education reform cannot be either radical or unpopular, even if it needs to be so to work, because the SNP cannot afford to alienate teachers or the teaching unions or parents. Bricks, you see. Same with the NHS and doctors and health unions and patients. All the separatists have done – all they could have done, given their nature - is deploy the rhetoric of the radical while in reality body-swerving hard choices and conflict at any cost. And where they have found themselves taking flak, they’ve pointed south to Westminster: "it’s no’ our fault, it’s theirs".

But voters show signs of wearying of the predictable blame game and waking up to the time-limited strategy of show-over-substance. Middle Scotland is either ignored or maligned by the middle-class socialists who drive the nation’s political debate, but it is where elections are won. The SNP has secured the support of enough of these people to win every recent election in style, but somewhere along the way the party seems to have forgotten this was a mandate not for independence, but for good government. Ten years in to SNP rule, each new audit of public services seems to wail like a warning siren – things aren’t just not improving, they’re getting worse. The SNP is not keeping its part of the deal.

So, during Sunday night’s debate it was Nicola Sturgeon, not Ruth Davidson or Kezia Dugdale, who found herself in the audience’s cross-hairs. It will have been a strange experience for a woman more used to public adulation and a clamour for selfies. There were the teachers, who complained about the damp squib that is the Curriculum for Excellence, the SNP’s flagship education policy; who pointed out that a fifth of primary pupils are leaving without basic literacy and numeracy skills; and who warned that lowering the standard of exams in order to push up the pass rate was not a mark of success.

Then there was the nurse who said she had been forced to use a food bank (the existence of which has been used repeatedly by the SNP as a stick with which to beat the Conservatives and Westminster): ‘I can’t manage on the salary I have [which is set by the Scottish Government]. You have no idea how demoralising it is to work in the NHS. Don’t come on your announced visits, come in in the middle of any day to any ward, any A&E department and see what we’re up against.’ She delivered the evening’s killer line: ‘Do you think your perceived obsession with independence might actually cost you… in this election?’

The list of reasonable criticisms is growing and will grow further. The ideological obsession with free university tuition for Scottish students is increasingly seen as a sop to the better-off, while in England the fee-charging regime has seen the number of students coming from poorer families climb. Ms Sturgeon’s demand for a quick second independence referendum, when a worried middle Scotland was focused on what Brexit might mean for its future, was tone deaf.

The SNP has another problem (one that New Labour, for all its flaws, didn’t face): its doctrine of infallibility. The Nats’ constitution explicitly prohibits its elected members from criticising the party, its policies or each other. While total unity is useful when you’re on the climb, it starts to look bonkers when the cracks are showing. Allowing public self-criticism, far from being a sign of weakness, is a necessary vent for inner tensions and a sign to voters that a political party is something more than a cult.

That ‘cult’ word has long dogged the SNP and its supporters. The party has tried hard to normalise its electoral appeal while keeping the flame of independence burning bright, but it has been a difficult balancing act. The pro-independence mob is an ugly thing when it is unleashed (and it has suited the leadership to open the cage at times). Claire Austin, the nurse who criticised the First Minister on Sunday, has found herself at its mercy. Immediately after the debate, the Nats briefed (wrongly) that she was the wife of a Tory councilor. The SNP branch in Stirling said Tebbitishly that if she was having to use food banks "maybe she needs to tighten her belt a bit more?" Joanna Cherry, a QC, MP and the SNP’s Home Affairs spokesperson, was forced to publicly apologise for spreading "Twitter rumours" about Ms Austin.

The ravening horde has largely kept its head down since the 2014 independence referendum, but we now see it hasn’t gone away - it is not enough for the SNP’s critics to be debated, they must be destroyed. This isn’t the behaviour of a normal political party: it’s the behaviour of a cult.

I might be wrong, but I have a feeling that when the SNP does fall it will fall quite quickly. Its belief in its infallibility, its inability or unwillingness to do self-deprecation or apology, will increasingly aggravate voters. There is nothing to suggest the current public policy failings will be addressed, and plenty of signs that things will get worse. How, then, do you arrest your fall?

The SNP offered hope and promised it was different, and the voters believed. The sense of betrayal could make for a very hard landing indeed.

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland). 

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