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.
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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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