Flop of the Month: Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley (he was basically asking for it)

Sometimes, PRWeek's UK team has a tough time selecting its Flop of the Month.

Mike Ashley (right) appears before the Select Committee with his PR adviser (pic credit: PA/PA Wire/Press Association Images)
Mike Ashley (right) appears before the Select Committee with his PR adviser (pic credit: PA/PA Wire/Press Association Images)

Sometimes, the man at the heart of the summer's biggest business and corporate reputation story declares himself a "PR nightmare".

Thanks for that, Mike Ashley.

To use a tired phrase, Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley is no stranger to controversy - as owner of Newcastle United Football Club his shutting out of local media landed the club PRWeek's Flop of the Month accolade three years ago, to name one of many instances that would have raised eyebrows, and perhaps blood pressure, among PR professionals everywhere.

Ashley has been back in the news throughout the summer thanks to concerns around working practices at Sports Direct, which resulted in a high-profile Select Committee hearing. His frankness in the grilling by MPs did defuse some criticism, but it also alarmed investors and confirmed for many people their suspicions of the business.

Of course, being frank and unfiltered can be a mixed blessing as a PR strategy, as was the case a couple of months later when, visiting one of his warehouses to engage with his allegedly ill-treated staff, he was photographed placing a large wad of £50 notes in the tray as he went through security.

"I’ve been to the casino," he is reported to have joked. The Huffington Post says he then added: "No, don’t please write that."

When a couple of weeks later he described himself as a "PR nightmare", one could have been forgiven for asking why that was reported as 'news'. Again, to his credit, he is at least unpretentious.

An asset management expert more recently said that the his choice of PR firm demonstrated poor management. Paul Lee of Aberdeen Asset Management told Bloomberg that Keith Bishop Associates was not an appropriate PR adviser for Sports Direct, given that its pedigree is for work with celebrities and the entertainment industry - and is part owned by the retailer.

The agency has not responded to multiple requests for comment on the Bloomberg story by PRWeek.

It contrasts with Sir Philip Green, this summer's other beleagured businessman, who despite being no PR angel himself, has at least forked out for the services of Maitland in the face of press onslaught.

It remains to be seen whether Ashley's slow realisation of his PR failings will do real long-term damage his business - or, for that matter, to his famously well stuffed back pockets.

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