Old news can be good news

At the beginning of last month my attention was caught by a press release from Warwick Business School.

Anthony Hilton: 'I cannot see what harm  is done by a PR professional taking two or three bites at the cherry if the story is good enough.'
Anthony Hilton: 'I cannot see what harm is done by a PR professional taking two or three bites at the cherry if the story is good enough.'

Under the headline 'Firms find no performance boost from private equity buyouts', it told of research comparing the performance of public companies taken over by private equity firms with their peers on the stock market who maintained their independence. The study found the private equity-owned businesses did less well than those that had not been taken over. So I wrote it up.

A few days later my attention was drawn by a bemused reader to a year-old publication produced by the Institute of Chartered Accountants that reviewed various studies of the private equity industry and that cited the same bit of research I had got excited about.

Though the release called the research 'a new study', it appeared from the ICA booklet that it or something like it had been circulated a considerable time before.

I would probably have kept quiet about this were it not for the fact that last week I got another email from Warwick with the headline: 'Calls for more transparency in private equity industry as study finds it harms company performance.' It was a new release but it was obvious it was giving another outing to this research.

Back in the Thatcher era, when Lord Young ran what was then the Department of Trade and Industry, he told me he regularly recycled old press releases on the basis some media outlet somewhere was sure to pick it up. His justification was that a lot of important stuff his department did was missed first time round, because on the day there was too much competition from other things. It was impossible to get a journalist excited over an old press release, so it was easier to change the date to make it appear new and see if it got a better reception.

I remember being quite shocked at the time, but I am much less so now. There is so much stuff out there that no one can keep track of everything, and I cannot see what harm is done by a PR professional taking two or three bites at the cherry if the story is good enough. After all, as my first newspaper boss used to say: 'News is only what the news editor cannot remember reading before.'

Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London's Evening Standard

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