You may not believe this but most journalists have occasional regrets about what they write. I do not just mean “regret” over a factual mistake or using a wrong turn of phrase but actually about having to write the piece in the
If I am honest, it does not happen often. As a journalist, I fulminate against someone or something, even harshly, but I generally pick on corporate or individual targets that should be able to handle critical, even negative scrutiny.
There have only been two times when I have regretted writing something. In both cases, the regret is caused by the fact that sometimes there are innocent bystanders who may be hurt in the process.
The first was in the late 1980s when I filed a story for my local paper about a married man fined for “cottaging” in a public toilet. I found out later he lost his job and his family fell apart as a result of his conviction. In that case, I tried to rationalise my own role by telling myself the story itself was not the root cause of his family’s troubles, it was his arrest.
The second regret is over the column you are reading now. Because I am about to have a second go at the Seven Families initiative, which some of you may recall I criticised nine or 10 months ago, shortly after it was announced.
Seven Families is the brainchild of the Income Protection Task Force, which was “formed to promote awareness of income protection among all parts of the life and health insurance industry and among consumers”.
According to IPTF chairman Peter Le Beau last year, the idea was to help “seven families where the breadwinner has been struck down with a serious illness or by an accident and cannot support his or her family financially”.
By funding them with up to £20,000 over the next 12 months, Seven Families aimed to prove safety nets like income protection can affect the lives of entire families.
At the time, I criticised Seven Families and said it would not work. 10 months on, I feel moved to return to the project, partly because of an article in last week’s Money Marketing, where Seven Families was mentioned in passing as “ a good start” towards educating the public about the benefits of income protection products.
Separately, a story in another magazine earlier this month attributed a rise in the number of IP inquiries experienced by two main quote portals, The Exchance and iPipeline, to the impact of the Seven Families campaign, which finally launched in November.
Le Beau was quoted as saying: “While we can’t claim categorically that the Seven Families campaign has contributed to this, the coverage across media and social media of the campaign has, we hope, helped to engage people on the importance of this issue.”
Peter’s caution is entirely sensible. To gauge the extent of public interest in Seven Families, I spent time on the campaign’s YouTube account going through the various videos and learning about the four cases so far identified for financial assistance by the project.
Let me state at the outset each of the four individuals are fantastic and inspiring people. Former car dealer Paul Pickford is overcoming a physically devastating brain stem stroke that left him completely paralysed and is planning a return to work.
Nikki Thornley, a police officer, is recovering from a motorbike accident in 2012 that left her in a wheelchair. She is preparing to return to work.
Daniel Pinder was born deaf and has epilepsy. In 2009 he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Tracey Clarke was born with limited vision in her left eye and began losing the sight in her right eye in 2011. She and her husband both became unemployed and were forced to sell their home.
Hopefully all four will be able to realise their dreams, which mostly appear to revolve around a return to the workplace and achieving greater independence.
The problem for me is not the individuals but the fact that, from what I can see, the campaign itself seems so low-key as to be virtually comatose. In the past five months the 12 videos so far posted on YouTube have barely racked up 4,000 views in total.
As of last weekend, the campaign’s Twitter account had a grand total of 425 followers, most of them from the financial services industry in various guises. Its Facebook page has picked up 850 likes in total after six months: I have had friends’ charity head shaves achieve more Facebook likes in three weeks.
It would be easy to blame those running the PR side of Seven Families – half of the £340,000-plus raised from the 18 insurers taking part supposedly goes to pay for this aspect of the campaign.
Yet this it is not really about good or bad media campaigns. The real fault lies with the idea that you can lob a few thousand quid each at seven families in desperate need and hope people will not realise this is a product marketing initiative masquerading as a charity project.
The people I feel really sorry for are the disabled ones used to front the campaign. Still, I might be cynical but Seven Families beats me hands down in that regard.
Nic Cicutti can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org