Is women’s fear fair game for promotional press releases?

Is it reasonable for public relations practitioners to exploit womens’ fears to get press coverage?  I ask after reading a press release from “Europe’s largest vehicle auction group”, that claims to be helping women sell their car safely .

Without evidence of real danger, the release issues a “warning that women motorists selling privately are potentially exposing themselves to fraud, theft or even worse.”

The 2004/5 is used to claim women are “three times as likely as men to be worried about physical attack and 14% have high levels of worry about car crime”.  

However, when I checked data from the most current 2005/6 survey, it showed worry about car crime is actually falling – and the report states there was no difference between men and women for worry about car crime.  Younger people are more concerned than older people – and fear is higher in those reading national tabloid newspapers.

Also the latest survey shows the reality of car crime is an ongoing fall in vehicle related thefts since the mid-1990s.  Indeed, actual and attempted theft of and from vehicles is half the level of 1995.  There is no mention of thefts occurring when selling cars.

But those facts are less “sexy” than fearful women – which the release exploits before presenting the solution – the car auction. This offers a “secure option for sellers.”  Indeed: “BCA’s Sure-Sell service at offers impartial advice to private motorists, as well as a secure way to sell and guarantee payment.”  And so into the pitch for Sure-Sell – plus a “useful set of Do’s and Don’ts” for female car sellers.”

Although using selective statistical data – and possibly being exploitative in this example, does fear work as a behaviour changing technique?  Bettinghaus & Cody (1994) report studies showing fear appeal messages are effective in raising anxiety and levels of worry.  But, less effective in changing behaviour.  Indeed, high levels of fear produce an avoidance reaction that negates the effect of persuasive messages.

In my view, this puffy press release lacks news (see ) – and so comes up with the angle of women’s fear to seek to gain coverage for the client’s auction service. 

It will probably get regional newspaper coverage as few journalists will probalby spend the time to check the data or reflect on the lack of news value.  So does that justify the approach?

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

6 thoughts on “Is women’s fear fair game for promotional press releases?”

  1. I don’t think the fact that journalists are rushed off their feet should be a reason for people to exploit their lack of time to check facts, which is what I would like to believe is the reason why sometimes journalists don’t check facts.

    This campaign could have been directed to males and females trying to sell their cars privately; the fears are the same.

    But “sexy” angles are a good hook, but that doesn’t make it right.

  2. I agree with you that if our credibility and integrity as PR professionals is to count, we shouldn’t exploit busy journalists. It is no wonder that PR has a poor reputation among media if we are carefully selecting or deliberately obfuscating facts.

    Although some would argue, it is fair game if the journalists cannot be bothered to check. The bigger picture is that publications are too reliant on reproducing press releases – the under-investment in qualified journalists and consequent lack of care over checking facts is quite shocking.

  3. Yes, I think it could be viewed as fair game.

    Someone once told me I’d have to sharpen my pencil (I take time to research and they thought speed equaled efficiency). But to sharpen it to the possible detriment of anyone I’m writing about or who I’m targeting? Definitely not!

  4. I’ve bought and sold my own cars – including a brand new one at a garage – and I never had any problems. Men stand just as much chance of being conned.

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