Group 4 makes headlines

How Group 4's well publicised misfortunes were turned into an award-winning campaign

Gordon Jacques

'Group 4 loses its 7th prisoner'. 'Group 4 uses leg shackles on prisoners'. Back in 1993 headlines such as these, and worse, were commonplace. If you switched on your tv, you were liable to see personalities such as Jeremy Paxman, Angus Deaton, or Rory Bremner and stars and scriptwriters of a variety of sitcoms having a go at Group 4.A series of embarrassing errors had led to widespread ridicule and criticism from the media. Potentially, events in this relatively new business division of the security giant could prove damaging, not only to the other operating divisions but, more importantly, to the brand. Gordon Jacques tells how Broughton Jacques helped Group 4 to counteract the press bombardment with an aggressive and, sometimes, self-mocking advertising campaign.

FOR MORE THAN 40 years, Group 4 has been a well-respected and successful company. Founded in Sweden at the turn of the century, the company launched in the UK in 1952. It now operates in 30 countries worldwide, employing some 40,000 people, making it the biggest private security company in the world. It currently has a turnover of more than £510 million and is still controlled and run by Jørgen Philip Sørenson, son of the founder.

Its alarm systems, armoured vans and security guards have been a familiar sight on the streets of the UK, but after the unfortunate, and sometimes tragic, loss of eight prisoners in four weeks, by no means all the fault of Group 4 officers, the company became the focus of concentrated attention from politicians, the public and the press, and none flattering.

A well-respected brand name, usually associated with sobriety and reliability, was subjected to a level of ridicule not seen in the corporate sector for many years.


A venture from the company's firm base, of manned guarding, delivery operations and their cash in transit business, into running the Wolds remand prison in Humberside, and transporting prisoners to and from jails in the area, got off to a disastrous start. Group 4 was criticised by the prison officers union, and Labour MPs who firmly held the view that prisons and prisoners should remain the responsibility of the State.

However, in many ways Group 4 was an innocent scapegoat. John Major's Conservative government remained firmly committed to a privatisation programme, initiated in happier times under a much stronger Thatcher government. Privatisation of the prison service was just one item on a much wider agenda.

That prisoners escaped is an undeniable fact, but as we stated earlier, the circumstances which surrounded these events were sufficiently ambiguous to suggest that not all the blame could be apportioned to Group 4.

Group 4 was the first private security company to be awarded a contract in this newly privatised sector. Teething problems were inevitable, particularly given the lack of support they received from other sectors of the same industry.

But in reality, were the criticisms and ridicule by the media, the unions and Labour MPs actually levelled at Group 4? We believe they were being levelled at an unpopular government trying to impose an even more unpopular privatisation.

Regardless of this, the media attention had widespread implications for the other well-established, successful Group 4 companies and, more importantly, was damaging to the brand.

Quite clearly something had to be done to put this back into perspective. Enter Broughton Jacques.

Broughton Jacques had been working with Group 4 for many years, but until now the nature of the business had never put too many demands upon the agency. The hot potato of the advertising world had landed in our laps and an effective solution had to be found.

It was not the time to be subtle, or to give way to gratuitous creativity. What was needed was a hard-hitting, factual advertisement which would immediately limit the damage being done to the brand, and focus on the realities of Group 4's many varied, successful business activities. Creative director David Bailey and his team decided to tackle the issues head-on, and to play Group 4's opponents and critics at their own game.

The only concern was, would the client be brave enough to go with what was, in many ways, a self-mocking advertising campaign? They were, and the resulting half double page spread, which ran in the quality dailies and Sundays carried the arresting headline, 'Some facts about Group 4 that may have escaped you'.

It worked! It gave to Group 4, which had retained a dignified silence in previous weeks, both humanity and the courage to stand up and be counted. The ad won the IPA Business-to-Business Award for the best one-off advertisement in 1993, an award of which Broughton Jacques are justifiably proud.

One advertisement, however, was never going to be enough. When the adverse press coverage was at its peak, Broughton Jacques commissioned postal and telephone research amongst buyers of security services in corporate companies, to evaluate the damage to the brand.

In very simple terms, the results showed two things. Group 4's identity had never been stronger. Undoubtedly, all the publicity they had received had raised the profile of the Group 4 name. However, its image was poor, with 92 per cent of all respondents believing that some damage had been done to Group 4's reputation by recent events.

Neither Broughton Jacques nor Group 4 were totally discouraged by the results. It would be possible to build upon the increased awareness of Group 4 in a positive and constructive manner. An immediate damage limitation exercise in the media was vital to rebuild the brand in the UK, and a corporate advertising campaign was the solution.


In dialogue with the client, Broughton Jacques ascertained that there were a multiplicity of audiences who had to be reached if we were to be successful (Exhibit 1).


Policy makers (central, local government, Home Office)To win their confidence
Opinion formers/pressure groups (journalists, unions)To win their confidence and empathy
Existing Group 4 customersTo retain contracts and develop organic growth
Potential Group 4 customersTo win market share at the expense of the competitor
Goup 4 employees & the publicTo generate renewed confidence

The quality national press would provide not only coverage of the priority audience groups, but also provide a suitably credible environment for the nature of the advertising message.


Our campaign objectives were both simple and obvious:
  • To demonstrate the strengths, qualities, achievements and experience of Group 4.
  • To emphasise the broad range of Group 4 services which are serving customers on a significant and regular basis.
  • To capitalise on the awareness of the brand by improving perceptions of Group 4's capabilities.
One new, and at that time relatively minor, division of Group 4 had encountered opposition and criticism which had significant repercussions on the other operating divisions and the advertising campaign would address this.


A series of five hard-hitting, impactful advertisements, each one tackling one particular area of Group 4's activities was developed. Size and format was designed to give page dominance, despite the somewhat limited budget. Each advertisement featured powerful scraperboard illustrations, a technique which gave Group 4 immediate visibility and differentiation on the page.

Because the press had not always been as accurate as it could be where Group 4 was concerned, the advertisements would tell the target audiences the type of work carried out by Group 4 and how well it did it.

The family of advertisements would cumulatively build up to a very strong, immediately recognisable campaign. However, it was also important that each advertisement could be used individually, by the different operating divisions, as and when required.

The copy themes and headlines of each advertisement drew attention to Group 4's achievements in particular business areas.

  • 'Every night Group 4 ensures a restful sleep for over a million people'. Over 40 years at the forefront of security services, making sure Group 4 customers are not robbed of their sleep or anything else for that matter.
  • 'Last night Group 4 stopped criminals getting their hands on billions of pounds'. Here, with the very strong visual of the balaclava, we unmask the fact that Group 4 people protect assets worth billions of pounds from theft, arson and vandalism.
  • 'Being interested in crime no wonder Group 4 personnel watch so much TV'. Group 4 uses manpower efficiently by making the most effective use of advanced technology such as close circuit television.
  • 'After a trial lasting 12 months, we've had the verdict we wanted from the courts'. Despite criticisms, Group 4's prisoner escort service with 99,000 prisoner movements in its first year was judged a success by the law.
  • 'It's one of the most unnerving things our security guards have to confront'. In an industry not known for high standards of recruitment, Group 4 leads the way. It's a tough job, and so is filling in the application form, because Group 4 checks every reference and scrutinises every detail. Working for Group 4 means working to the highest standards in the business.
In many ways, it was the employees who had suffered most from the events and media coverage of the past year, and the company and agency felt that internal communication was a vital part of any communications programme.

On the day the campaign broke, a four page mailing was sent to every Group 4 employee. It carried the headline, 'Every day next week what you do will be making headlines in the paper'.


Has it worked? The security industry is constantly changing and will continue to do so. However, it will never be exempt from criticism because crime and the ensuing security needs will always be such a highly emotive subject.

It is widely anticipated that regulation within the security industry will be recommended during the next parliamentary session, which amongst other things, will introduce a minimum wage and better training. This in itself will force hundreds of smaller, dare we say cowboy, security firms out of business. Group 4 is well-placed to set and maintain the industry standard.

Privatisation within the prison and court sector will continue. Group 4 now operates six private prison and court services contracts, which is an indication of their success within this market sector. This success was recently substantiated by Derek Lewis, director general of the prison service, when he said: 'Group 4 has proved over time that their court escorting service has achieved a 40 per cent reduction in the number of escapes, and substantial savings for the taxpayer'. Proof indeed that much of the early furore was out of touch with reality.

Broughton Jacques have successfully capitalised on the high levels of awareness of the Group 4 identity by improving the image of the company. Each of our pre-determined objectives was met, and Group 4 customers and employees alike have reported a significant improvement in attitudes towards them. Group 4 continues to grow, and to be the major provider of security services in the UK.

For the second year running, Broughton Jacques have won an award for its work for Group 4. This year the agency won the IPA Business-to-Business Award for the best campaign. The fact that work entered into the IPA awards is judged by senior marketing personnel for its effectiveness, rather than for a subjective view of its creativity, makes this award particularly sought after.

The campaign will see the introduction of three new messages which reflect Group 4's growth and recent successes when it returns to the national press arena this summer.


Gordon Jacques

Gordon Jacques

Gordon Jacques has been in the agency business for over 30 years, and has worked in creative, account handling and management roles. He is currently chairman and managing director of Brougton Jacques Ltd, and is a member of the IPA's business-to-business committee.