Opinion: Leader - Ratner and fcuk have lived by the sword

There's no such thing as bad publicity, right? Wrong, of course.

This is clearly a catchphrase from PR's dark past, long before the industry became so professional and strategically oriented.

When demolishing this myth many people still cite Gerald Ratner, whose glib remarks in 1991 about a £14.95 decanter being 'crap' and a 99p pair of earrings costing the same 'as a prawn sandwich' caused the collapse of his jewellery business.

But ironically the story doesn't end there. The internet jewellery retailer Ratner launched in November 2003, Geraldonline, is due to hit sales of £20m, and profits of £3m, by 2006 and aims to float on the AIM at the end of that year.

How has he done this? Partly through a sound business idea, tapping into 'bling' culture. But also through free publicity, with his notoriety getting the brand covered in consumer press.

Next month he addresses an Institute of Directors event at the Royal Albert Hall, the very forum where 14 years ago he made his major gaffe, and which will be full of potential investors. Things appear to have come full circle. But it's not been pleasant.Ratner claims to have reflected on the events of 1991 'every day since'.

French Connection founder Stephen Marks is suffering from the same phenomenon.

Earlier this week the clothing retailer announced a 17 per cent dip in sales over the past five weeks and hit out at the press for 'slagging off' his fashion chain and damaging staff morale. Could this be the same firm whose fcuk rebrand in the late 1990s, and controversial advertising playing on the sexual theme, generated such a wealth of free publicity?

This is not to say that the fcuk marketing was not inspired, but Marks was well aware that he was optimising brand value by creating such a storm in the media.

It's not just political and sports journalists in this country who operate in a 'build 'em up, knock 'em down' culture, it's business journalists as well. There may indeed be no such thing as bad publicity in the long run, but just don't expect an easy ride.

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