Our Recent PR – A Clarification And An Apology

    

Some debate around a story doing the rounds over last couple of weeks, when Rentokil Pest Control‘s PR Agency released numbers calculated on a hypothetical worst case scenario, which were presented as “average” or “typical”.

I thought it might be helpful to explain how we arrived at the numbers and where things went so wrong.

We had tested our new Entotherm technology on a bus and various buildings during the last three years of its development. So, when asked for a worst case scenario situation, we based our hypothesis on:

  • A bus, or anything else, being left by itself in an isolated place
  • With no external factors to affect the mortality rate (so the population would be left unchecked)
  • Then we assumed that there is a perfect male to female ratio that allows optimal breeding numbers
  • That the environment would be controlled to a constant temperature, with no extremes
  • Finally, there would be a plentiful food supply to support the numbers of insects

On the above totally theoretical basis it’s possible that very high numbers of cockroaches and bed bugs/fleas could survive, although it’s clearly a worst case scenario.

Now, obviously real life is not a hypothetical model. There are loads of contributing factors that would affect any insect infestation. For example regular cleaning, people unwittingly stepping on insects and, as in real life, there is not a perfect male to female ratio! All of which means that, in our experience, it is very rare to find heavily infested buses, trains or other forms of transport in the UK. Standards will vary around the world but UK standards are very high.

The point of the story was about a new process we launched – and are very excited about – to combat bed bugs and cockroaches.

We’re really sorry that the numbers that appeared in the media were wrong and misleading and we’ve put in place a number of measures to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

If you are interested, the original press release can be viewed here.

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77 Comments

  1. Craig
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    So the numbers given in the articles are just hypothetical maximums and they were mistaken for average numbers/actual findings by the press?

    These numbers?
    In an average train carriage…

    Up to 1,000 cockroaches (living behind lighting panels, ceiling panels & under the floor)
    Up to 200 bedbugs (in seat fabric)
    Up to 200 fleas

    On an average bus…

    Up to 500 cockroaches (living behind lighting panels, ceiling panels)
    Up to 50 bedbugs (living in seating fabric)
    Up to 50 fleas

    Source: Rentokil.

    These hypothetical maximum numbers that came from ….
    http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23811475-cockroaches-and-bedbugs-found-on-trains-and-buses.do

  2. Posted March 12, 2010 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    I just followed you link but I couldn’t see any of the figures. You said
    “our PR Agency released numbers calculated on a hypothetical worst case scenario”
    The link did not have any numbers in it; can you just print them on your blog here to make it easy to find them.
    Thanks

  3. JerryM
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    So, who is your PR Agency and will you fire them now?

    Or will you pay them to undo the damage you’ve done to Train and Bus Companies UK-wide?

  4. Ben
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

    I couldn’t see the numbers that got quoted in that press release. Is it the correct one?

    Can we see the release that actually got sent to journalists – the one that mentions 1,000 cockroaches.

  5. David Driscoll
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    Ha ha- busted! Now putting your hand up for a world record backstroke time?

  6. Andrew Palmer
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    Would this apology have happened if you hadn’t been found out? Just thought you could scare people? Not good. Good Badscience.

  7. Posted March 12, 2010 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    Sorry, but there’s more than a whiff of BS in the air round here. The ‘press release’ you link to quite clearly isn’t a press release but a product article. It doesn’t mention numbers of cockroaches, bugs, blah de blah – so did the newspapers all make that bit up? With the same figures? Simultaneously? And why did they all relate your ‘press release’, which contains no mention of public transport, to, er, public transport? Did they make that up too? Simultaneously?

    “We’re really sorry that the numbers that appeared in the media were wrong and misleading and we’ve put in place a number of measures to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

    Are those measures “Fib better next time”?

  8. Jamie Pullman
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

    Can we all presume that you will be contacting the same amount of newspapers and letting them know about the mistake, and if they somehow fail to print the correction that you will take out adverts explaining what the actual facts are?

  9. Honest Bug
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    Wow, very solid PR-speak!

  10. Alex
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    Muppets.

  11. Simon
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    I was interested and clicked on the link to the original press release. It appears to be completely unrelated to your post, and has no numbers of pests found on any type of transport. It talks entirely about the new process, and nothing else. Could it be that it links to the wrong press release?

  12. Barry
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    “…we’ve put in place a number of measures to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

    Wonderful! What are they, and which individual is responsible for them?

    Thanks!

  13. Chris
    Posted March 12, 2010 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

    What measures have you put in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again?

  14. Posted March 12, 2010 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

    So, let’s be clear. Your PRs seeded a story about how many bugs existed on public transport in London – a story guaranteed to send shivers up the spine of every commuter. Turns out not only was the data not based on any research into public transport in London, it didn’t refer to any real world scenario at all, only a set of obviously invalid assumptions. It was, in fact, made up.

    And your idea of “an apology” for this is to dance around Ben Goldacre all day on Twitter, hoping the whole issue will just magically go away, and finally post a blog entry that tries to make it sound as if there was something reasonable about releasing junk data to journalists, then links to a press release that doesn’t even contain the claims referred to, which, as Goldacre has already established, were made in separate communications that you decline to make public.

    All this, you say, was to publicise “a new process we launched – and are very excited about – to combat bed bugs and cockroaches”. Those same bed bugs and cockroaches that, we now know, may exist only on “a totally theoretical basis”.

  15. George Porter
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 12:35 am | Permalink

    I’ve reviewed your alleged “original press release” linked to above. It does not contain any numbers. Did the press make up the numbers they used? If so it is remarkable that they all got the same answers.

  16. keith
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 12:48 am | Permalink

    Hi,

    Was interested to see your apology.
    But you said you would explain “where things went so wrong”.

    The link you have given to the press release is the wrong one, not the one with the numbers and quote in it.
    Can you publish a link to the correct one?

    Thanks

  17. Andrew
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 2:24 am | Permalink

    The press release you link to clearly isn’t the original press release as you claim.

    Surely misleading people at the end of an article in which you’re apologising for misleading people is somewhat self-defeating. I mean, the ‘measures’ you claim to have put in place haven’t even prevented you from misleading people in the following sentence.

    Way to regain the public trust.

  18. Big Dave
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 2:55 am | Permalink

    This is pretty disgraceful. The hypothetical scenario Rentokil have created is manifestly absurd. It is certainly not a worst case scenario, in that it is far worse than any practically possible infestation could ever be. Even in a worst case scenario, buses get cleaned. Trains do not have constant temperatures. People tend to get on and off buses and trains, taking pests such as fleas with them. This exercise bares so little relation to reality that you may as well have considered how many pests could live on a bus if you poured in a sack full of live bedbugs every day.

    This simply amounts to a deliberate lie told to the public in order to scare us into swelling Rentokil’s bank balance. Rentokil should indeed apologise, but whilst you are still mangling the truth in order to make feeble excuses for this mess, your apology rings somewhat hollow.

    Nice PR job guys. Stay classy.

  19. Anthony Tortorici
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 3:27 am | Permalink

    I notice you still have not released the emails you sent to journalists where you gave these numbers. Is this because you deliberately misled journalists to think that these were real numbers you found on an actual bus? If you were not engaged in dishonest conduct why won’t you release the information you actually sent to journalists?

  20. Rob
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 5:40 am | Permalink

    What kind of measures do you need to put in place? (1) When a reporter asks for some numbers, and you don’t have any, don’t make them up.

  21. JB
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    “We’re really sorry that the numbers that appeared in the media were wrong and misleading and we’ve put in place a number of measures to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

    Yeah of course you are. At least you now know which publications will run with anything unchecked.

  22. Posted March 13, 2010 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    Just came across this via Bad Science. Just shows how you have to be very very careful how you release stuff to the press whether or not you want to intentionally mislead people. I just looked at the entotherm page too . . . my first thought was how bad do cooking cockroaches smell?

  23. Joe
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    This doesn’t look like the original press release to me? It doesn’t mention “bus”, “train”, “average” or anything else in the original story.

    Where is there press release that sparked the Daily Mail stories abut infested trains?

    This is a real PR FAIL.

  24. Posted March 13, 2010 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    You’re all excited about your new process, but we don’t give a damn about it. We’d be mildly interested to know what are the more correct or realistic figures for cleanliness and pests in the trains we travel in. You’ve polluted that information pool, deliberately. We’d quitel ike to have media which are honest and informative as well as entertaining. You’re being deliberately unhelpful in an attempt to make even more money. Therefore we’re cross with you and ridicule your PR efforts. You could still rectify this I suppose.

  25. Ian Nicholson
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    Clearly that’s not the original press release as it contains no numbers at all. So could we have a link to the orignal press release please?

  26. mus
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    “We’re really sorry that the numbers that appeared in the media were wrong and misleading and we’ve put in place a number of measures to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

    You call that an apology? Weak sauce, really. It will hardly be enough to combat the image problems you just got yourselves into by this misleading (I’m tempted to use the “b-word” here) press release and pseudo science.

    Yeah, seems you were busted by the Intertubes, lead by a certain Ben Goldacre – badscience.net.

  27. Kevin
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    You’re not sorry at all. You got your outrageous numbers in the papers and did your best to scare the ignorant among the public and now you’ve been called out on it.

    Pathetic.

  28. Gregory
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    What is the difference between PR and telling lies?

  29. Charles
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    The linked press release does not say anything about bug numbers.

    It’s very hard to believe it is the press release that sparked the problematic stories.

    Your discussion would have a lot more credibility if you linked to the relevant press release.

    As it is, it looks like you’re attempting to deflect attention from the original release. I’m sure you’d like to correct this impression.

  30. David Singer
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    So, would you publish the press release(s) you sent out that triggered this? (Here)

  31. Dean Morrison
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 11:50 am | Permalink

    Could you please publish the information you supplied to journalists which gave the incorrect information? The ‘original press release’ you link to makes no mention of these figures.

  32. ethics?
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    Do you have an ethical code around how you do business? Misleading people in such a way was pretty low. Shame on you.

  33. Joeks
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    What “measures” have you put in place, exactly? This wouldn’t be more marketing fibs, would it?

  34. Posted March 13, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    So I hope Rentokil will now be offering large payments to the train and bus companies, as compensation for telling complete lies that will have damaged their businesses.

  35. Posted March 13, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    That doesn’t look to me like it’s the original press release, since it doesn’t mention any of the controversial numerics which drew people’s attention in the first place. Can we see the real original press release which was sent to journalists and that included the numbers, please?

  36. Gordon Campbell
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for explaining where things went so wrong: the numbers appeared in the media. I see.
    ps – linked press release doesn’t mention buses, trains or public transport.

  37. Posted March 13, 2010 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

    It’s not the Endotherem press release that everyone wants to see (where you say “viewed here” at the end of the above blog).

    What everyone wants to see is the Press Release that caused the story of the bus and train infestation reports – the one you seem to be withholding. Care to publish a link to that one?

    Ling
    LINGsCARS

  38. BackgroundCheck
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    try reading this for the background on this humiliating climbdown for Rentokil

    http://www.badscience.net/2010/03/rentokil/

    but this blog still doesn’t cover
    1. Why Savvas Othon of Rentokil seems to have told Ben Goldacre a different story or

    2. Why the press release linked on this page is a product description and NOT a link to the material supplied to the newspapers for those articles. Why would the papers think “average” if you meant “worst case”?

    This stinks and Rentokil’s credibility and that if this blog is too

  39. RobH
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Not only does the linked “original press release” not have the numbers quoted in the press, it also doesn’t mention trains or buses and was issued a couple of days *after* the first “1000 cockroaches in average carriage” news stories quoting. It clearly cannot be the actual press release which sparked this story.

  40. LM
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    What a graceful apology. Here’s hoping you get sued for slander by ……… It’s the least you deserve after peddling such manifest lies under the guise of science. ‘Worst case scenario’? No, sorry, a scenario involving an isolated and undisturbed bus kept at a constant temperature is not ‘worst case’; it’s way outside the realm of reality. Cut the bull and admit it – you made these numbers up and you got caught out for it.

  41. Runner
    Posted March 13, 2010 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    I would hope that you would provide a real explanation, and a real apology, not the nonsense you posted above, with a clearly inappropriate link.

    You should be ashamed.

  42. Harry
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 12:03 am | Permalink

    Dontcha hate it when that happens? The rotten old meejah believe your made-up story and print the made-up figures (sorry, “hypothesis”) you sent them without checking? Damn those gullible journos, eh?

    What exactly is the value of this “worst case scenario”? I mean, given that a bus “left by itself in an isolated place” with no passengers is hardly a threat to anyone. Nor would it be at a constant temperature, or full of food left behind by those non-existent passengers. It’s a bit like saying “if your kitchen was really filthy, look how filthy it would be!”

    Surely you must be able to bullshit better than this. I mean what are PR people for?

  43. Harry
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    So let’s get this right, you’re “apologising” for the fact that some journalists made the mistake of actually printing what you toold them to print? You’re sorry that it’s all their fault for believing you??

  44. Martin
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 1:50 am | Permalink

    Got caught didn’t you?

  45. Luke
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 3:21 am | Permalink

    I agree with all the other comments on here; we’re still not being told the whole story.

    I always assumed this was what PR companies did all the time, but it’s quite funny to see you get so publicly busted!

  46. mike
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    when I need a professional company to give reliable advice on the safe use of hazardous pesticides, I know which one to remove from the short-list….

  47. Richard
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Two comments:

    1) Some of the commenters on this page are over-reacting.

    2) It’s a shame that you have behaved in a way that puts PR companies – and the normally excellent work that they do – in a bad light.

    I work in PR and I would like to add a personal comment.

    In my line of work when I lie, I do my best to make sure that my lies stay undiscovered. *If* I was semi-busted, I would stop digging myself deeper into trouble. Instead I would come clean, (or maybe tell a really big lie, hopefully getting myself OUT of trouble once and for all.)

    Good luck!

  48. Roy M
    Posted March 14, 2010 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Because of this, I’d rather eat my hair than use rentokil or any other associated companies.

  49. Posted March 14, 2010 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    So, your PR company’s lied through their teeth to the media and the public – and what have you done? You’ve put this pretty poor excuse for an apology (which sounds like it’s been stolen from Blue Peter to be honest) and the artful blogger now knows that there’s more BS around your offices than there are insects on public transport.

    All of which begs the question, when are you going to place a full page ad in the Metro clearly explaining that your figures were false?

  50. david morgan
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 1:15 am | Permalink

    Busted!!

    Remind me never ever to use Rentokil Initial for any business in future…

    (ps. Sack your PR company now..!)

  51. Harry
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 1:54 am | Permalink

    Love Richard’s comment. The noble art of PR has been sullied by these inexpert liars, apparently. When PR people lie, they should “tell a really big lie”. “Good luck” with that “excellent work”!

  52. David
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 2:13 am | Permalink

    Unbelievably embarrassing, apologising for lying by lying more. Even when you get caught and know you’re being scrutinised the lying is so ingrained you just can’t stop yourselves can you?

    “If you are interested, the original press release can be viewed here.”

    Yeah, right.

  53. Posted March 15, 2010 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    happy to report that news of your shonky PR schemmozzle and lame “apology” has reached Australia.

    Any publicity better than none?

  54. Posted March 15, 2010 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    “We’re really sorry that the numbers that appeared in the media were wrong and misleading and we’ve put in place a number of measures to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”

    What measures, pray tell? How about sticking to killing bugs rather than paying PR companies to big up how awesome you are at killing bugs in future? PR companies don’t really cut it in the internet age do they?

  55. Jon
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    “The point of the story was about a new process we launched – and are very excited about – to combat bed bugs and cockroaches.”

    So you tried to take up space supposed to be used for news to run a scare story with the purpose of (free) advertising for your new product? Is it just me or does this seem some somewhat unethical?

  56. Timmy
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Your great big louse-infested pants are on fire.

  57. Wrong1
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    My guess is that the original press release sent to the journalists is damning to the point where we’ll never see it.

    If it doesn ever come out, don’t be surprised if it goes well beyond offering up hypothetical figures. This could very easily be construed as seeding to boost demand for their new extermination product.

  58. Paul
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Blah blah blah.. oh no we got caught telling porkies… boooohoooo.

    WOnder how much this dodgy behaviour will cost you.

  59. Woodward
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    I don’t want to alarm anyone, but…

    If cloning was invented,
    And Richard Nixon was cloned,
    And all the Richard Nixons decied to work at the same company,
    Then Rentaspill could be staffed entirely by Richard Nixon?

  60. Bad Scientist
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Cockroaches.

  61. symball
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Is there any reason why the transport companies stated you told them you would retract these figures weeks ago- but you have only done this after being caught with your pants down?

    Will you be retaining the services of the PR company that has dropped you in the doo doo?

    Has anyone calculated the cost to your public perception now we have discovered that you are happy to lie at teh drop of a hat, just to sex up a story?

  62. Hanako
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    Put simply: We are sorry that you caught us. Obviously we were only trying to do one thing – create demand for a product that is not selling so well. We promise not to do it again (so badly).

  63. Dan
    Posted March 15, 2010 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

    Ha ha not the company they once were.

  64. Graham
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    It’s now five days since you posted this so-called clarification, and you still have not corrected the link to an irrelevant press release.

  65. Posted March 16, 2010 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Blimey. You lot are indeed getting your knickers in a twist just because the dude linked to the wrong press release.

    Get a grip. It’s a story about bugs. Do you really have nothing better to do than comment on blogs about pest control? You’d have to be a real loser to waste your time doing tha–

    @Richard. I used to work in PR and have to say your policy for getting out of a big old lie is superb. If only I’d know about it.

    The alternative I used after one PR disaster was to kill everybody who’d written about or read the story/release. Oh, and their families, too. (You have to account for that x3 readership multiplier, after all.)

    It didn’t work out so well.

  66. Jo
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    With this much BS in your PRs and blog entries, it may be worth doing a study on the population of dung beetles in your offices. This has to be closer to the “optimum conditions” you put forward above, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you got populations in the thousands.

  67. Paschal
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Any chance of using your products on some of the offices in the company? You’ve definitely got an infestation in there.

    Hope there’s nothing else breeding.

  68. JerryW
    Posted March 16, 2010 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    I am really impressed with how much worse you have managed to make the situation with your non-clarification and non-apology.

    The companies I work for won’t be using Rentokil again, so far as possible.

  69. Me
    Posted March 18, 2010 at 4:09 am | Permalink

    (because this is the bottom line) I will Never(!) pay for your services/products to aid my company.

  70. PaulW
    Posted March 18, 2010 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    To think you were once voted “Britain’s Most Admired Company”………..

  71. TheHitsKeepComimg
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    You have been BoingBoinged – that should help your PR somewhat.

  72. DaveP
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    I will never use your company again as I believe you to be liars.

  73. Dys
    Posted March 22, 2010 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    Um… How can we ever trust what you say again?

  74. BlackCat
    Posted March 25, 2010 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    I’m interested that no one is taking the journos to task here… could they not have asked perhaps ONE question about the numbers – or even just gone and looked at a bus (I did, I saw not one living thing) to see that this was clearly bunkum?

    Luckily for you, Rentokil, I hate the idea of killing things just because I don’t like sharing / can’t be bothered to vac so you won’t be losing any business from me. I deter all such little beasties with a thin layer of talc. Safe, easy and cheap.

  75. Posted April 13, 2010 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I’m curious as to why cockroaches would outnumber dust mites 2:1 even in your theoretical model. Aren’t dust mites pretty well ubiquitous?

  76. Car Leasing UK
    Posted July 28, 2010 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the clarification

  77. Nice-but-dim
    Posted September 23, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    i recently hired them to sort out noisy pests in my loft, only by the time they turned up days after when they were due to arrive, postponing this by lousy text message, i told them the noise had gone, yet they still filled me with horror stories of what damage rats and/or squirrels could do to my loft… so i agreed to them baiting to see if anything was up there as they couldn’t tell from a survey… and if they needed to they would retreat for upto 3 weeks for quite a fee (i’d booked rentokil cos i needed someone to assess the loft sooner rather than later incase any damage was being done). After 3 visits by the guy with the bait, all within a 8 day period, no bait was taken and it seemed to me that there were no rats or squirrels and further visits would be yet further waste of time and money, so as the surveyor had told me that if nothing appears to be present after a few visits they will curtail the treatment and adjust the bill accordingly… now, they last visited on tuesday and a got a receipt for the bill having been taken off my mastercard for the FULL amount… yes, i should have realised that them asking me upfront for credit card details and saying they could not accept cheque or cash, was a real big clue of what they were about, but… hey ho, I’ll have fun with this one. Phoned up to complain – another cynical plot unveils…

4 Trackbacks

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