If you visited the BBC News website late last week then you have have seen this story prominently featured in its education news section:
More than half of parents do not think sex education should be taught to children in school from a young age, a survey suggests.
Of 1,700 parents of UK 5-11 year olds surveyed by the BabyChild website, 59% said they disagreed with the practice.
The most common reason given was that it is “inappropriate to teach children about sex”.
The survey comes after a Bill calling for girls to be “taught to say no” passed its first reading in parliament.
If you didn’t see it on the BBC, then you may well have caught up with the story via the Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror or the Yorkshire Evening Post. In a sense, it doesn’t really matter where you saw the story because they were all churned from the same press release, which had been put out by a Gloucester-based PR agency called 10 Yetis, and they all, to varying degrees of cut and paste, uncritially reported at least some of the contents of the press release.
And, as you might already have guessed, the news coverage of this survey was quickly picked up by Nadine Dorries and spun as evidence of public support for her ridiculously misogynistic sex education bill:
My office was swamped with messages of support. We are excited that a very high profile individual, not from the world of politics, wants to come on board. Pollsters conducted snap polls and the results were so favourable, I was shocked. Which makes this following link to the BBC report re parents concerns re sex education in schools, no surprise.
It is also, as you may also have already guessed, a complete and utter load of bullshit from start to finish, and that’s really what this particular article is all about.
Perhaps the first thing you need to know here is that our PR agency, 10 Yetis, likes doing surveys. In fact they really like doing surveys.
In the last 14 months, 10 Yetis has put out more than 330 press releases via a free press release website called yourstory.org and the overwhelming majority of these pre-packaged articles are based on surveys. By all mean check for yourself, the six accounts used by 10 Yetis are email@example.com, intern1 (who’s clearly to embarrassed to leave a name),Emmayeti, Shannon Yetis (there seems to be a bit of Ramones going on here), firstname.lastname@example.org and Charlotte.
Looking down the list of press releases, I feel that we should be eternally grateful to this company for the fascinating sociological they provide into the nature of modern British society. Without their sterling efforts, how else would we find out that half of all women believe they perform better at work when they dress ‘sexily’, or that the most accident prone people in Britain live in Dundee, let alone that the most pampered women in Britain are in Birmingham while Essex girls are apparently the cheapest dates – mmm, I have my doubts about that one.
I’m sure you’ve got the general picture by now. 10 Yetis specialises in ‘PR-reviewed research’ which consists of running shitloads of contrived but otherwise entirely meaningless surveys in order to generate a stream of equally contrived and meaningless, but tittilating, ‘news’ stories in the hope of scoring a bit of free publicity for their clients, almost all of which are white label web stores or comparison websites whose core business model is, perhaps, best described as ‘parasitical’.
As for 10 Yetis, its business model could easily- and reasonably – be described as ‘polluting the news media for profit’.
For all their surveys are actually worth, they might just as well be making up the numbers on the spot because the only information in their press releases that they actually care about is the name of company that paying them to get their brand name in the press. As things stand, it does at least look as if the company does actually conduct its surveys for real – A bit of digging around with Google turned up an old forum post (May 2008) touting a dieting and healthy eating survey which shows, predictably, that they’ve been using SurveyMonkey to generate their ‘data’.
What this, of course, means is that their sample methodology is best described as ‘anyone who can be arsed to fill in an online poll’, which I think neatly explains why the company isn’t a member of the Market Research Society and isn’t, therefore, required to muck around with of the awkward stuff, such as using representative samples and compiling demographic data of survey respondents, that other, reputable pollsters have to undertake.
So, we’ve pinned down the PR company but what about its punters?
What kind of businesses actually buy into this crappy PR business model?
Well, there a very big clue to be found if we return to the sex education survey non-stor, which quotes the opinions of the co-founder of ‘BabyChild’, the survey’s ‘sponsor’, as follows (text from Daily Mail article):
Babychild.org.uk co-founder Andy Barr said: ‘I am not surprised by the results of the study, with the majority of parents against the idea of sex education in a school environment.
‘This is a sensitive subject and parents have their own way to approach it and want to control what their children know, even more so at a young age.’
If you want to talk to Andy directly about his opinions on sex education then you could also look him up on twitter where he tweets under the name @10Yetis.
Yes, Andy Barr is also the co-owner of the 10 Yetis PR Agency, which he’s been using, lately, to try to fluff his own businesses, including BabyChild, which is nothng more than a white label baby goods webstore.
Andy also shows up from time to time as a spokesman for another white lable store, mycelebrityfashion.co.uk, as does his business partner Jill (sometimes Jilly) Tovey, who’s also ‘Head of Creative’ at 10 Yetis.
Andy’s other sideline, according to his profile at LinkedIn, is as the co-owner of PeToBa Media Limited, part of the Markco Media portfolio of companies, which leads us back to the UK’s self-styled dicount voucher king, Mark Pearson. I’m sure you won’t be at all surprised to find that Pearson’s main operation, a discount voucher website (myvouchercodes.co.uk), is one of 10 Yetis’ most prolific clients and a would-be regular source of ‘research’ material for the press.
Pearson recently found himself on the receiving end of a bit of media coverage he won’t have appreciated after another of his companies, a group buying website called ‘Groupola, was censured by the Office of Fair Trading for running a bait-pricing IPhone sale which mislead his customers:
The OFT has taken enforcement action against Markco Media, the company behind group buying website Groupola, after it heavily promoted a sale of Apple iPhone 4s when it only had eight handsets available.
The OFT’s investigation found that Markco Media used ‘bait pricing’ to promote a sale of iPhone 4s at £99 (normal retail price was £499) to entice consumers to join Groupola and sign up to receive daily email alerts from the company. Following extensive promotion of the iPhone sale, including via a press release, a national newspaper interview and marketing on Facebook and Twitter, almost 15,000 people signed-up and registered with Groupola for the sale.
The sale took place shortly after the much anticipated launch of the iPhone 4 when many people were keen to obtain one. People were not informed that there were only eight handsets available and so almost everybody attempting to buy an iPhone 4 at £99 was left disappointed, after incurring time and effort providing personal details to sign up to Groupola.
During the promotion, a sale progress bar at one point indicated over half of the iPhone 4s were still available and above this was a caption stating ‘202 bought’. At the time, the company itself claimed that ‘over 5 million’ users attempted to visit the website during the sale.
Of particular interest here are the undertakings given to the OFT in regards to the company’s use of social media:
The OFT was also concerned about misleading comments made by one Groupola employee on the company’s Facebook page at the time of the sale. The employee represented himself as an ordinary consumer and made positive comments about the company.
As a result of the OFT investigation, the company and its director have signed undertakings that prevent them from:
- offering for sale products in circumstances where there is a disproportionately inadequate supply of those products when compared with the scale of advertising and marketing
- making statements (including comments on social networking and blogging websites) without clearly and prominently disclosing when the author is an employee or has another relevant relationship with the company.
Oh dear – bait pricing and astroturfing – all a bit naughty.
That just leaves us to deal with the BabyChild sex education survey, a copy of which was obtained by Tim Ireland over the weekend.
First things first, the email sent to Tim claims that the survey was conducted using an opt-in database that has access to over one millon consumers, which suggests that punters were sent a marketing email with a link to an online survey and – given the kind of sites we’re dealing with here – they may well have been offered a discount voucher as an inducement to take part in the survey.
That said, I’m a little dubious when it comes to the ‘one million consumers’ claim, largely because a one million punter database seems very much on the large side for a website (Babychild) that’s operating on a shared server with seventy other websites.What this suggests is the database used here is probably that of Mark Pearson’s My Voucher Codes operation, which runs on a dedicated server alongside a small number of other voucher sites, all of which appear to operating for the same databases.
The survey results are, to say the least, short on demographic information. We’re told only that 1732 people completed the survey, all of whom are parents of children aged between 5 and 11, and that last fact alone explains why the survey came down so strongly against sex education in schools.
The first question the survey asks is ‘Do you agree with the fact that sex education is often taught to children in schools, even from a young age?’, leaving respondents to figure out for themselves what ‘sex education’ actually means.
Inevitably, this means that many of those taking part in the survey will have assumed that sex education means the biology and mechanics of sexual intercourse, contraception, STIs, etc. which pretty much guaranteed that the survey would generate a strong negative response that could readily be peddled to the tabloids with their well known predeliction for crass moralising.
Can we be sure that this is how the question was actually interpreted?
Yes, I think we can as one of the follow-up questions asked respondents to give their view of the earliest age at which it would be appropriate for schools to provide sex education – 48% said ‘at least 13’, a figure which seems very to confirm that the survey results are entirely skewed by parental assumptions about what sex education means, assumptions that, in reality, bear little ot no relationship to the contents of the sex and relationships education curriculum that is actually taught in schools.
So, the survey itself is entirely meaningless because if you were to define sex education in narrow terms as meaning education about sexual intercourse, contraception, STis and then ask professional sex educations whether that should be taught to five year olds, most, if not all, would also answer no, because they perfectly well that content of that kind is not appropriate for that age group.
In short, the survey tells us nothing we don’t already know and it provide no support whatsoever for Nadine Dorries’ ridiculous abstinence bill – the survey, like its originators at 10 Yetis, is full of shit.
I’ve already noted that Tim Ireland set the ball rolling on this article by chasing down and acquiring the survey results, and it would be entirely remiss of me not to also thank Richard Bartholomew and Cath Elliott for their input and research towards this article. I am particularly endebted to Richard for his description of 10 Yetis Facebook page as ‘a cornucopia of crap’, which gave me both a damn good laugh and part of the title for this article.
Yep, ‘A cornucopia of crap’ sums up the 10 Yetis business model very nicely indeed.