Stop smuggling – The way from the news headlines to the Supreme Council of State Defense!

Silver Award for Excellence 2018

Public Affairs, Advocacy, Lobby

British American Tobacco & Daescu Borțun Olteanu


This case is about finding the right way, make it work and not giving up. Or about the use of communication as a strategic advocay weapon. Or, briefly, how we put cigarette smuggling first on the news headlines and then on the top priority list of the Romanian Supreme Council of State Defense!

THE ASSIGNMENT: British American Tobacco (BAT) is the leader in Romania for tobacco products. Cigarette smuggling is one of its main business issues, as it translates directly into money loss and even reputation damage for brands sold illegally under company’s name. Our communication goal was to transform the illicit cigarette trafficking in a public debate topic led by BAT and trigger the action of the relevant authorities for its containment.

THE CHALLENGE: Romania ranks in official statistics as the most affected country by cigarette illicit trafficking in Central and Southern Europe and the fifth most affected state in Europe. Cigarette smuggling translates into 6 billion Euro loss at the state budget over the past 8 years (2010 – 2018). In 2018 alone, illicit cigarette trade accounted for 16,3% of the market, way above the E.U. 9% average.

MAKE IT NEWSWORTHY: The media landscape offered just a tiring picture of small illicit trade felonies reported mainly in the local news. We needed impact, relevance, shortly a breakthrough. So we created a tool that gave a context to all the scattered news from our daily press monitoring:  the first real-time centralizer of illicit cigarettes’ busts in Romania. Now we were able to grasp significant content from all data and make the whole amount of news… newsworthy!

In 6 months only (March – September 2017), cigarette smuggling became a prime-time TV news topic and our website the most important source of information for the media.

  • 215,000,000 reach in news related to cigarette smuggling;
  • the overall media mentions increased with 25% (related to cigarette smuggling)
  • the visibility of the topic in central media doubled (as compared to the same time interval of the previous year)

As planned, the media buzz acted as an action trigger for authorities:

  • The Border Police registered record illegal cigarettes’ busts for the past 5 years: 25 million illicit trafficked cigarettes seized in 2 large-scale operations only!
  • The Custom Authority publicly engaged to cut down cigarette illicit trade to 10%, bringing Romania to the EU decency average.
  • The Border Police became our official partner

SURF THE WAVE: What we did was to keep on going. Besides the constant communication efforts, we achieved a spectacular exposure: a special edition on illicit cigarette trafficking was broadcasted at the most important investigation TV show in Romania (În Premieră by Carmen Avram on Antena 3). Needless to say, a result of PR work exclusively. This was only one of our PR efforts in 2018 which generated over 300 news headlines about illicit trafficking in national media.

 The spotlight finally paid off in May 2018 when the Human Rights Hall of the Romanian Parliament in Bucharest hosted a dedicated event on border security gathering as keynote speakers key Ministers of the government who assumed border security as a top governmental priority. Their commitment was covered by 112 news headlines with a total reach of 2.716.380. Two months later, following the public debates, CIGARETTES’ SMUGGLING WAS LISTED AS A NATIONAL SECURITY PRIORITY ON THE SUPREME COUNCIL OF STATE DEFENSE AGENDA! The funds for enhanced border security measures were included in the 2019 state budget!

What we have achieved so far is public awareness and political commitment. Our goals are now part of a strategic national interest and the latest achievements give us high hopes that we will successfully fulfill them.

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