Friday Drop: Good week for Head of the British Army General Sir Richard Dannatt

General Sir Richard Dannatt deflected an incoming missile this week,

thanks to some slick party politicking and strategic off-record briefing. As stories broke of a probe into the outgoing Head of the Army's expense claims, fingers flew instead at an ‘unnamed MoD minister' (annoyed at the General's request for more equipment for ‘our boys' in Afghanistan) who is rumoured to have initiated a not so discreet Freedom of Information enquiry into Dannatt's claims. In the wake of so many recent deaths of British soldiers, Journalists rallied to his side, with the Times and BBC both framing the good general's ‘shopping list of supplies' as a hero's call. Blogs echo their support. No doubt, ‘fear and smear' loses pitch when British troops are dying.

 

Even so, Dannatt's purse may still suffer some corporal punishment. The BBC reports Labour peer Lord Foulkes is demanding answers from the MoD during the summer recess. No surprise, as the pressure to publicise the General's expenses lends a nod to MP's own spendthrifts. Efforts to tarnish the reputation of the outgoing army chief may yet yield success. While The Times and Daily News laud Dannatt's distinguished service this week, tomorrow's news could tell a different story. Either way, at a time when soldiers are huge heroes and MPs are seen as snivelling whiners, Dannatt has stolen a march.

 

Lessons

Private briefing can be a useful tool in getting the press onside

Build long-term relationship of mutual trust with journalists and reap the benefits in a crisis

Freedom of information means that all requests are open to public scrutiny

 

Bad week for Scottish justice secretary Kenny MacAskill

When Scottish Secretary of..ahem.. Justice, MacAskill announced the Libyan Lockerbie bomber's prison release, the backlash reeked foul. Perhaps that's why story hints were dropped days before. But blows were not softened. The bombing atrocity, which claimed 270 lives in 1988, is a wound that won't suffer fools. Despite a carefully crafted statement, MacAskill's unpopular move is paying him hard knocks in the PR department. As bomber Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi's rumoured Gaddafi-sponsored private plane landed in Tripoli, photographers joined cheering and flag waving Libyans on the tarmac to ensure that the image made it to the front pages in the western world.

 

As Bill Leckie lashes in the Sun, al-Megrahi‘s ‘compassionate' release may have been too good for business. Several newspapers contend that an energy deal was the seal on his release papers. Lord Mandelson's meeting with Gaddafi's son the week before certainly begs coincidence. Either way, MacAskill timed his compassion poorly. On Channel 4 News last night his firm assurance to Krishnan Guru-Murthy that the decision was his alone came over a little ‘methinks he doth protest too much'.

 

Lessons

Delays in announcement only lead to speculation; make quick decisive statements

Timing of your announcements will always be scrutinised; think about your news cycle

Consider the global impact of local announcements

PRWeek and Waggener Edstrom are hosting an event on 9 September for in-house communicators to discuss the lessons to be learnt from the Friday Drop stories. For your free place, email with your title and organisation.

 

 

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