Potholes and PR

A wonderful example of the work of PR firms – and the care needed to be taken by Journalists checking sources -landed on our desk today.

Recently there has been a spate of pothole related stories in the national media. Today, the AA released its own views on the pothole problems the UK is faced with.

Insurers paid out an estimated £2.85 million in claims last month to people whose cars were damaged by potholes, research has shown.

AA Insurance said around 1,900 pothole claims were made by motorists during February after roads were damaged by one of the most severe winters on record.

The group said pothole claims have soared by around 600% during the past three years, as councils struggle to maintain the road network.

This information is not disguised and is obvious what the source is and what agenda the AA have in the pothole debate.

However, we also received a press release from Kia today, listing the top 10 counties affected by potholes, based on the number of repairs by Kia dealers across the country.

Surrey came top, with a massive 1,998 potholes. Kia even estimated potholes were costing motorists £750 a time. Worrying figures, and even worse, we actually had two motorists with horror stories of their own.

Motorist Bianca Lee-Chang, 29, from Tadworth, Surrey, said:

"You’re hard pushed to move a few hundred metres without falling foul of a pothole in Surrey and there doesn’t seem to be enough being done about it. Last week I had a nasty encounter with a particularly large pot hole and spent two hours waiting for recovery, followed by a £200 bill for the pleasure! Given the amount we pay for Council Tax I would expect more to be done about this."

The problem? A five minute Google search later discovered poor Bianca is not just a motorist, but a PR expert, employed by ‘brand alchemist’ firm Publicasity. The same Publicasity we are advised to email for more information on this story. What are the odds? The same week Bianca has to pay £200 for pothole repair damage, she is given the job of promoting Kia via a pothole survey.

The second motorist is father of two Adrian Leighton, 39, also of Surrey. He said:

"The widespread growth of potholes has been attributed to the coldest UK winter in 30 years. However, aged tarmac is also a major contributor to poor road surfaces. According to statistics, £8.5 billion is required to bring the country’s roads up to scratch, with local authorities claiming a lack of funding has created a 13 year backlog in road maintenance programmes.*

The statistics Adrian quoted are from the Annual Local Authority Road Maintenance Survey (ALARM). Another quick Google search reveals ALARM is conducted by the Asphalt Industry Alliance, made up of the Mineral Products Association and Refined Bitumen Association – the consolidated voice of the bitumen supply industry, whose five members supply nearly all of the country’s bitumen.

So here we have a press release with ‘statistics’ from a source who wants the Government to pay them £8.5 million to fix potholes on the day the Government 2010 budget is being widely discussed.

In just five minutes it was easy to dig out the origins of this ‘non-story’.
Or so we thought.

While potholes do remain a problem across the UK, we should be wary of statistics thrown about by people with vested interests in the situation.