Al Fayed sets PR people an example of how not to do it

Last week I promised to report on my appearance before the Select Committee on Public Administration which is examining the Government Information and Communication Service, to give it its new gimmicky title. Unfortunately, this won’t fill a column. The committee was not really interested in the GICS. Its Labour members, at least, just wanted to catalogue my sins as a Prime Minister’s press secretary in order to excuse the present one, Alastair Campbell. All good knockabout stuff but essentially trivial.

Last week I promised to report on my appearance before the Select

Committee on Public Administration which is examining the Government

Information and Communication Service, to give it its new gimmicky

title. Unfortunately, this won’t fill a column. The committee was not

really interested in the GICS. Its Labour members, at least, just wanted

to catalogue my sins as a Prime Minister’s press secretary in order to

excuse the present one, Alastair Campbell. All good knockabout stuff but

essentially trivial.



So, since I am supposed to draw lessons from PR life, I must concentrate

on Mohammed Al Fayed, chairman of Harrods. Between them, he and

preposterous former PRO Michael Cole, are a living, walking, breathing

and endlessly talking lesson on how to get it hopelessly, damagingly and

counter-productively wrong. They will figure for years in PR theses on

how not to do it. And, sadly, so will Laurie Mayer, former BBC and BSkyB

presenter, who has succeeded Mr Cole.



The Egyptian Mr Al Fayed apparently craves British citizenship. (His

application is now being re-examined by this Government.) If this is his

objective, then he has a consistently curious way of using PR to secure

his ends. First , he joins with the Guardian in a campaign to expose

Tory MPs who foolishly took his money and/or hospitality. Mr Cole now

takes some public pride in his handiwork in helping to bring down the

previous government.



He overlooks the passage in the Guardian’s book Sleaze which, commenting

on the case of ex-Tory MP Neil Hamilton’s decision, having become a

minister, to distance himself from Mr Al Fayed, says: ’One can detect a

cultural difference here: in some circles it might have been considered

a point of honour that, once bribed, you stay bribed. For Hamilton,

however, no sense of obligation apparently remained ... Of course,

Mohammed Al Fayed was unlikely to take that sort of cynicism lying

down’.



This does Mr Al Fayed no good at all. Nor does his insistence, promoted

at every opportunity, that Diana, Princess of Wales, and his son Dodi,

were - as the Evening Standard said last week - ’murdered in a

conspiracy to prevent the mother of the Royal children marrying an

Arab’. ITV, to its eternal disgrace, fell for it last week and who

turned up in Central TV’s studios to plead Mr Al Fayed’s case? Why, Mr

Cole.



And then, in an outburst at the Paris inquest last week, no doubt to the

distress of Mr Mayer, Mr Al Fayed accused Diana’s mother, Mrs Shand Kydd

of ’English snobbishness’ - ’she doesn’t want to talk to ordinary people

like me. I’m just a working class guy’. This would be funny if it were

not tragic. If only somebody could persuade Mr Al Fayed that frequently

the best PR is no PR - the silence of the grave in which his son and

Diana should be left in peace.



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