BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Freud claims 'no conflict' over Evans/SMG

Conflict? What Conflict? That was the message from Freud Towers

this week in the face of suggestions that the highest-profile UK

consumer PR firm was operating for both sides in the Chris Evans vs

Virgin Radio dispute.



Evans, the enfant terrible of light entertainment, has had a

relationship with Freud - and specifically with its eponymous founder,

Matthew - for more than a decade. Even before marrying Billie Piper,

Evans had a tough time of it in the showbiz pages.



He has had an even tougher time of late from his employer, Scottish

Media Group (SMG)'s Virgin Radio, which he blames for scapegoating him

as the cause of its lazy share price. The bad feeling runs both ways,

with Evans not showing up for work on grounds of 'ill health' and

overseeing a downturn in listener numbers for his breakfast show.



When Evans was a Radio 1 DJ, Freud's worked for the BBC. When he joined

Virgin, the client became the then Ginger Media-owned station. The

contract is now technically therefore with SMG. But as Evans was

replaced at Virgin by Steve Penk, a question mark hung over this complex

network of relationships.



In short, Matthew Freud still works for Evans on a personal level - 'you

can sever a contract but you can't sever a proper friendship,' Freud

sources said. Meanwhile, Freud as an agency still handles PR for SMG's

content.



Perhaps disingenuously, Freud says there is no cause for concern: 'If we

handled corporate PR for Scottish (it is handled in-house, incidentally)

there would be an argument for building Chinese walls,' he says.



Whatever the details, Freud had a busy week. He estimates he received

300 interview requests between last Wednesday and this.



The PR plan put together to handle the fallout from Evans's 'illness' -

he was seen out drinking on days he had called in sick - appears to have

been tactical rather than strategic. 'I have a less manipulative sense

of media control than people give me credit for,' Freud insists.



Last Thursday's tabloids dispute this. The Mirror and Sun both led on

the Evans departure. The Mirror's splash had even been penned by its

editor, Piers Morgan.



'Wednesday night was Chris's only chance to get his message across,'

Freud says. 'He's stayed silent before and since.' But for how long?



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