Successful PR leaves no trace

It ought to be an article of faith that the best PR leaves no fingerprints. The reader of a story or the viewer of a television programme absorbs the information without an inkling that it was fed to the journalist, nor any understanding of how or why this might have happened.

Anthony Hilton
Anthony Hilton

Higher up the food chain, institutional opposition to a corporate pay rise or a controversial acquisition quietly fades away as a result of discreet behind-the-scenes lobbying so the story never makes it to the media in the first place. It does not work if people know someone has been got at. If the influence shows and the content appears too partial then the impact and credibility of the piece will be undermined.

In comms, the equivalent of Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ should be the muffled whisper. This is self-evident and yet these days there is so much heavy-handed PR around. Only last week, the FT ran a feature about the fall-out from the decision by the regulator to demand an injection of money into the pension funds of the retail DIY group Focus Wicks.

The unusual point was that the demand was made of a private equity owner, Duke Street Capital, which sold the business almost a year ago.

The feature itself was admirably impartial but it looked very much as if the story was being pushed by the private equity industry.

We were reminded of how a few years ago the industry had warned that arbitrary or excessive use of the pension regulator’s powers could put the private equity industry right off doing deals because it could never be sure what liabilities it might be taking on.

If this retrospective raid was allowed without fuss, whom might the regulator ask to cough up next? Would anyone be safe?

On their own these are legitimate points but collectively it is too much. The private equity industry would better its image by acknowledging that this is a legitimate concern, rather than trying to undermine a regulator that is only acting within the powers granted to it by Parliament.

Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London’s Evening Standard

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