No big deal for image campaign

Pitches to big business have so far failed to bring big donations for a TV campaign to promote engineering

What has been the result of attempts to get a multi-million pound television advertising campaign off the ground to promote engineering to teenagers? Nothing yet, is the answer. Recent moves to attract the industrial sponsorship which is vital if the campaign is to survive have been beset by bad luck.

At a dinner at the House of Lords last week to launch a parliamentary group to promote engineering, trade and industry secretary Stephen Byers had a speech prepared which included eloquent pleas to the senior industrialists in the audience to consider putting their cash behind the campaign.

`It will charm the birds out of the trees,’ one official who had seen the text said, before Byers stood up.

But no-one heard it. The division bell caused the speech to be cut short, and three pages were left out – including the piece the ad campaign organisers were waiting for.

Those running the campaign are becoming philosophical about such setbacks. `At least he agreed to include it in his speech in the first place, even if he was forced to drop it,’ said one insider.

But that after-dinner speech was to have been a decisive follow-up to board-level presentations by the Engineering Council, the Engineering Employers’ Federation, and the Engineering and Marine Training Authority (EMTA) to the largest engineering employers since last summer.

Final appeals were made this spring to the biggest players, including GEC and British Aerospace. The sums reqested are a commitment to provide £1m over the next five years, to help fund the expensive TV airtime. Byers has already said he will add to the Government’s £250,000 pledge if industry funding appears. But no firm pledges have been forthcoming.

Rolls-Royce, which takes on 300 graduates a year, has also been approached to back the campaign, but has yet to come to a decision. Like many of the biggest employers, it is already involved in working on securing its own future recruits. `We have not said no,’ said chairman Sir Ralph Robins. `But so many of us are doing these things already.’

Meanwhile, deadlines come and go and costs mount.

The three groups backing the scheme have spent more than £100,000 with ad agency J Walter Thompson to get the campaign to where it is now. They have also pledged £1m, split evenly between them, for a contribution to the eventual production costs and airtime. The Engineering and Construction Industry Training Board has come up with a further £250,000.

If industry backing comes in, but is too modest, the campaign could be scaled down, with less airtime. But this option is being resisted by the group – which apparently is still holding together.

Michael Sanderson, chief executive of EMTA, said it was embarrassing that the group had so far failed to do what it set out to do. `We can blame ourselves. I could have been more persuasive with the companies I went to see. I failed to close the sale. As someone who used to work in export sales, that is frustrating.’