Outside Organisation reveals strategy behind Naomi Campbell's Hague appearance

A top PR adviser to Naomi Campbell has lifted the lid on the media management behind the model's high-profile appearance at a war crimes tribunal last week.

Eye of the storm: Campbell gave evidence at The Hague
Eye of the storm: Campbell gave evidence at The Hague

The Outside Organisation duo Neil Wallis and Alan Edwards were responsible for handing the media as Campbell gave evidence.  

In an exclusive article for PRWeek, Wallis writes: ‘Our approach, drawn up in consultation with Ms Campbell and her brilliant solicitor, was straightforward.

‘We wanted the event to be low key, respectful and unfussy — which was the team logic behind seeking temporarily to ban photographers picturing and videoing her arrival at, presence in and departure from the court.’

Wallis and Edwards, the model’s publicists since 2003, travelled to The Hague on 4 August, ahead of Campbell’s appearance the following day.

Wallis writes: ‘That night, we ensured that all major news organisations were advised that Alan and I were in The Hague. We also set up a press office back at our London HQ to field calls there.’

Following Campbell’s testimony, the two PROs worked the media pack to canvass opinions and take questions:

‘As Ms Campbell left with her boyfriend, and the legal team headed back to London, we worked long into the afternoon outside the court,’ adds Wallis. ‘The value of that hard work was reflected in the majority of the media coverage on Friday morning — it was dominated by broadly neutral court reporting, which to the PR is a positive.’

However, Campbell’s reputation was hanging in the balance this week, after former agent Carol White gave evidence that contrasted with Campbell’s own sworn version of events.

Edwards is CEO of The Outside Organisation while Wallis is a senior consultant at the agency.

 

WALLIS' ARTICLE IN FULL

Last Wednesday the media area at the Hague War Crimes Tribunal for Sierra Leone was completely deserted.

The £9m bombproof bulletproof soundproof courtroom below was largely empty too – just the panel of judges, a handful of lawyers on opposite sides, a clutch of officials.

In the witness box was a young man quietly reciting what you eventually realised was a horrendous account of a brutal civil war, while at a corner desk almost unnoticed sat a smartly-dressed relaxed man called Charles Taylor who was accused of unspeakable crimes.

It was, literally, the calm before the storm.

Because the following day 300 journalists, accompanied by 11 live satellite link trucks, from at least four continents, packed the building in a hurricane-strength media frenzy.

It was, of course, all because our client Naomi Campbell had been subpoena’d as a witness.

And it gave Outside possibly the biggest PR issue of the week - though of course the planning began long ago.

Our overall approach, drawn up in consultation with Ms Campbell herself and her brilliant solicitor Gideon Benaim of Schillings, was pretty straightforward.

We wanted it to be as lowkey, respectful, and unfussy an event as possible.

Which was the team logic behind seeking to temporarily ban photographers picturing and videoing her arrival at, presence in, and departure from the court.

It was nothing to do with "privacy", as some media claimed - it was to try to protect a solemn venue like the War Crimes Tribunal from suffering the kind of outrageous paparazzi madness that can unfortunately hound any public appearance by Naomi Campbell.

Myself and Alan Edwards, CEO of Outside and the man who has been Ms Campbell’s publicist for seven years, travelled to the Hague on the Wednesday morning.

The Tribunal too was anxious to avoid the danger of what should be a serious occasion descending into media circus.

So at the end of that day’s proceedings its excellent and experienced UN chief of staff Gregory Townsend showed us and the legal team, which included the former Director of Public Prosecutions Lord MacDonald, the rules procedures and geography of the Special Court of Sierra Leone.

It was felt very sensibly on all sides - whether PR, legal, or court officialdom - that the proceedings should progress with as few hitches as possible.

 That night we ensured all major news organisations were advised Alan and I were in the Hague to provide any media assistance. We also set up a fully-manned press office back at our London HQ to field calls there from LA, Johannesburg, Brisbane, Accra….

By 7am on Thursday we were fielding calls inside the court building, an incongruous office block set in the middle of a housing estate.  Its former baseball court  has been transformed at a cost of  9 million euros into a War Crimes Tribunal.

ITN, BBC, Sky of course, NBC, Al-Jazeera….they all checking in, came to see us, agreed later contact procedures.

As planned with the court, Ms Campbell’s arrival at 8.45pm went virtually unnoticed by the packs of press she was driven past, and she was whisked into the courtroom without fuss just a few minutes after 9am.

She had dressed soberly, demurely and appropriately for the occasion.  As advised, she answered the questions honestly and clearly,  was concise,  refused to speculate or offer opinions, and kept strictly to the facts she could remember from 13 years ago.

Her understandable nervousness only made her slip once, and after barely 90 minutes the court ran out of things to ask her and she was whisked away with as little fuss and attention as when she arrived.

The consensus of the press pack, as we worked among them and canvassed opinions, was that she had come across well, as honest and persuasive.

That was reflected in the questions posed by the 10 or so radio and TV interviews we did to European, North American, African, and Australian outlets in the hours that followed.

As Ms Campbell left with her boyfriend, and the legal team headed back to London, we worked long into the afternoon outside the court dealing with newspaper reporters and TV correspondents.

The value of that hard work was reflected in the majority of the media coverage on Friday morning – it was dominated by broadly neutral court reporting, which to the PR is a positive.

The big PR winner? The UN’s Special War Crimes Tribunal for Sierra Leone.

As one of the UN staff told us, "90 minutes on the witness stand by Naomi Campbell has given the issue of blood diamonds and the war crimes alleged against Charles Taylor more coverage worldwide than its had combined in the three years the trial has been underway."

Then on Sunday, in preparation for the appearances at the court on Monday of witnesses Carole White and Mia Farrow - who were there the night the alleged blood diamonds were in Ms Campbell’s possession for a few hours - Alan Edwards flew back to the Hague to do it all again….

Neil Wallis, senior consultant, The Outside Organisation

 


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