NEW YORK: Rupert Murdoch's bid for Dow Jones & Co., including its flagship publication The Wall Street Journal, has had all sides involved scurrying to ensure communications strategies are in place as the deal, as of press time, remained delicately balanced.Last week, outreach by the union representing Dow Jones employees had solicited responses from supermarket billionaire Ron Burkle's Yucaipa Cos., as well as Brian Tierney, former PR and advertising executive and current owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Sources confirmed to PRWeek that Kekst & Co., the crisis and financial powerhouse, has been brought on by the Bancroft family to give strategic communications assistance, including media relations, while media attention focuses on the Murdoch bid. Senior partners Jim Fingeroth and Roy Winnick are leading the work, according to the source.
Representatives from Kekst said it was against company policy to comment on ongoing work. The Bancroft family released a statement on May 31 that attempted to reassure those concerned about the bid while leaving all possibilities open.
Meanwhile, the Independent Association of Publishers Employees (IAPE) has gone on the offensive, bringing in Boston-based Ownership Associates to assist the union both in reaching out to alternative potential buyers and in handling media outreach and communications work, said Steve Yount, president of the IAPE Local 1096.
"We've been very open from the very beginning in our opposition to News Corp.," Yount said. "Our efforts are important for a lot of reasons. For billionaires who are sitting out there, we can say there is someone who is trying to put together another way to do this. I think we will get some people to come on by to sit around and talk about it."
There have been concerns from both the union and the Bancroft family about the influence Murdoch would have on the editorial independence of the paper, for either business or political reasons. The direction of several publications has had a marked shift following a News Corp. acquisition, and the Bancrofts have reportedly sought assurances that the paper would retain its independence.
Rick Edmonds, media business analyst for Poynter, said it's clear that News Corp.'s strategy is to assuage public and internal fears that The Wall Street Journal would be negatively affected by the deal.
"Generally speaking, it seems that a lot of people have been relatively willing to speak about it, starting out with Murdoch," Edmonds said. "I think he's conducting a charm offensive right now, and I think he is out to show he's not a beast who's going to tear this paper apart."
News Corp. is handling communications internally, said Andrew Butcher, SVP of corporate affairs at News Corp. Butcher said Gary Ginsberg, EVP of IR and corporate affairs, is leading the effort. He declined to comment on the company's communications strategy.
Yount said he has personally been involved in planning communications strategy, with input from Ownership Associates, as well as The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America.
"It all depends on what the situation requires and what will be most strategic," Yount said. "There are times when communications are more effective when they're public, and there are times when it can be more effective when they're private, and depending on our reading of the situation, we will make a decision about what we think the best course of action will be."
Representatives from Yucaipa did not return calls seeking comment. Devine & Powers Communications Group is handling media relations for Tierney's Philadelphia Media Holdings.