Edelman grasps the Murdoch PR nettle

July 14th, 2011 by Jon Clements


Update: @tim_weber, BBC business and technology editor, sees a PR presence in the “dramatic change of tone” from News Corp.

As PR people, surely we should feel vindicated that News International’s reputation implosion has prompted the hiring of PR company Edelman for “general comms support and public affairs counsel” following the phone hacking scandal.

After all, doesn’t everyone – as in David Cameron’s oft-repeated words about Andy Coulson – deserve a second chance?

There will be some that say there is no coming back from a reputation disaster such as a newspaper hacking the phone of a murder victim and deleting voicemail messages, so giving the family false hope she was still alive.

Neverthless, reputation rehabilitation is not impossible, Edelman has got the gig and good luck to it.  But what will the PR planning agenda look like?

Rebuilding News International’s reputation is key to the Murdochs’ long game – gaining total control of BSkyB. Though it has ditched the bid now, News Corporation, News International’s parent company, needs to regain the trust of the public, politicians and regulators to stand a chance of being deemed “fit and proper” to own not just all but any of the broadcasting giant.

In terms of reputation management, closing the News of the World has been the Murdochs’ symbolic gesture that rogue companies within their organisation will pay the ultimate price, despite the inconvenient fact that the wrongdoing was done on someone else’s watch.

But for any PR provider tasked with restoring corporate reputation, having access to the “warts and all” truth of what goes on behind closed doors is essential; otherwise, life will become a continual fire-fighting exercise rather than a strategic campaign to not only talk about how the company is effecting positive change, but prove it.

And this is where I think Edelman’s biggest challenge lies: how does an outside organisation negotiate a corporate culture where the most senior executives have been willing to cover up grossly bad practices with denials,  selective amnesia or claims of complete ignorance? As Steve Richards comments in The Independent today, “Here was a company that evidently thought it was powerful enough to get away with it, able to block police enquiries and to pay off victims of crime”. Demonstrating a fundamental overhaul of corporate behaviour will need more than cosmetic communications based on half-truths to prove that change has genuinely taken root in News International.

Good PR has to be founded on truth, and Edelman needs to be confident that what News Corp is telling them – at any point – is true. As the Burson Marsteller/Facebook debacle showed, the agency has a reputation problem just as big as its client’s when forced to base a campaign on spin.

About Jon Clements

Jon Clements is a Chartered PR consultant specialising in B2B PR, corporate and marketing communications and is the founder of Metamorphic PR. Connect at: JonClements ''

4 Responses to “Edelman grasps the Murdoch PR nettle”

  1. Can PR save the Murdoch Empire? « Revolutionary Measures Says:

    […] Jon Clements notes in his blog, it is a vote of confidence (of sorts) in the power of PR, although I suspect that not many in the […]

  2. Chris Measures Says:

    Completely agree – not a job I’d want to take on. I’ve definitely seen a change in how Murdoch responds using PR over the last few days. More in my blog at http://measuresconsulting.wordpress.com/2011/07/19/can-pr-save-the-murdoch-empire/

  3. Jon Clements Says:

    Thanks very much for both your comment and backlink from your blog post.

    Just a couple of thoughts on your observations about NI’s approach:

    Under the current circumstances, I don’t think it’s in the interests of NI to appear to shift blame, responsibility or focus from its complicity in phone hacking. It’s in deep enough and – in reality – the focus of the story is no longer within its control.

    In terms of defending itself, I think NI has much more to do to to ensure its whole house is in order before mounting a defence of its modus operandi or alleging vendettas.

  4. Reputation matters for business growth Says:

    […] sometimes grasped by senior and highly experienced business leaders – such as Bob Diamond and Rupert Murdoch – only in […]

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