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
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?