Two of the country’s top public relations operatives — Kevin07 adman Neil Lawrence and spin doctor Sue Cato — are joining forces to take on Clubs Australia’s campaign against poker machine reforms.

The final strategy for the pro-reform campaign, expected to target marginal seats where big clubs are located, will depend on the outcome of this week’s negotiations between Prime Minister Julia Gillard and independent MP Andrew Wilkie.

“I will be putting my personal efforts towards doing whatever I can to counter the clubs campaign,” Lawrence told The Power Index. “This is a strong personal issue [for me]. It’s a serious issue.

“The support for the bought-and-paid-for position of the clubs is narrow, but it’s very deep. Whereas support from people who want reform is very broad — it’s the majority of the population — but it’s harder to organise.

“It’s a very David and Goliath situation. But I don’t mind that challenge.”

Lawrence, regarded as one of the best marketers in Australia, has been in talks with World Vision CEO Tim Costello about how to fund and organise the pro-reform PR effort.

He says Clubs Australia’s campaign against pre-commitment has been slick but misleading.

“Their arguments about the social good they do are very thin … If the cost of saving lives and marriages and homes is a little less money for the odd soccer club when they can probably get it elsewhere then so be it.

“Gambling addiction destroys lives. People lose money they can’t afford; they lose homes; they lose marriages; and in some extreme cases they lose their lives.”

As well as overseeing advertising during Labor’s 2007 election campaign, Lawrence designed the Minerals Council of Australia’s 2010 anti-mining tax blitz and has recently been working with Qantas.

Sue Cato, who provides some of Australia’s biggest companies with communications advice, said: “Neil and I are at one in terms of coming to grips with the enormous damage that slot machines wreak on our community. Personally, I find the disingenuous, cynical and ugly campaign run by the clubs below even them.”

Cato says she is opposed to clubs’ depiction of mandatory pre-commitment as a “licence to punt” — a slogan other commentators have taken aim at.

The former Liberal Party political adviser has done spinning work for Fairfax, Gunns, Pacific Brands and mining companies.

Clubs Australia spokesman Jeremy Bath today said the clubs’ campaign had been “entirely based on facts”.

*Read the full story at The Power Index

Peter Fray

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