Campaigns: Eversholt sees off fat cat jibes - Financial PR

Rail rolling stock company Eversholt accepted a pounds 726.5 million takeover bid from HSBC leasing arm Forward Trust only a year after the government sold the company to a group of managers and institutions for only pounds 516 million.

Rail rolling stock company Eversholt accepted a pounds 726.5

million takeover bid from HSBC leasing arm Forward Trust only a year

after the government sold the company to a group of managers and

institutions for only pounds 516 million.



With Eversholt managing director Andrew Jukes making pounds 15.9 million

from the deal, after investing pounds 110,000, and 65 staff members

sharing pounds 15 million between them, the deal looked likely to spark

political furore amid accusations of gross fat cattery when it was

announced on 19 February.



Sandy Anderson, the managing director of a similar company - Porterbrook

- had been personally vilified and labelled a fat cat only months before

after he made pounds 33 million selling his former rail company to

Stagecoach.



Objective



To compress expected high-profile press coverage into two days, minimise

accusations of fat cattery and prevent calls for windfall tax on

Eversholt’s directors’ gains and reduce invasion of privacy of

employees, directors and partners.



Tactics



Focus opted to be open about each party’s gains, releasing detailed

breakdowns of the figures and circumstances of each stage of the deal.

These were issued to all sectors of the press and newswires the morning

the deal was announced. This was the outcome of meticulous planning,

which had seen everyone involved, including Prime Minister John Major,

thoroughly briefed beforehand.



Business reporters found it easy to obtain interviews with the major

winner in the deal - Jukes - whose Focus-prepared personal details

revealed him as a modest, Volvo-driving, ordinary sort of chap whose

plan for his pounds 15 million was to buy his daughter a bassoon. A

British Rail employee for 25 years, he was portrayed as a rail expert

who had taken a huge risk - and won.



But Focus separated directors from the controversial political

implications of the story by denying home news journalists access to

them. Any questions over the politics of rail sell-offs were referred to

the DTI.



In press briefings Focus stressed that Jukes made his original

investment when few companies thought the Government’s sales terms for

Eversholt were a good deal. Journalists learned that if Eversholt’s

share price had slipped at all, Jukes’ investment would have been wiped

out. He gained because he backed his own expertise and was lucky.



Results



Press coverage focused on individual gains in some detail - in one case

even listing how much an investment trust for Jukes’ children would

benefit.



Journalists reported Labour’s fat cat accusations over the deal but

failed to draw the directors themselves - or any of the venture

capitalists who made large gains - into the political debate.



With no interviews, radio coverage died and Focus flatly refused a BBC 2

Newsnight request to interview Jukes. In the absence of any directors, a

Labour-ran ’fat cats’ conference forced journalists to simply question

its own claims in order to present both sides. Carefully crafted quotes

from Jukes about how he had never planned to be wealthy portrayed him as

an ordinary guy who got lucky.



Verdict



Careful planning was the key to the story’s success - answerphones,

briefings in secret locations and even hidden entrances to Eversholt’s

premises played a part in keeping the press away from staff. Appearing

to be open while avoiding sensitive questions through detailed

effectively de-clawed the press. Withholding co-operation from certain

parts of the media is a high-risk approach which can sometimes backfire,

but with careful handling it paid off.



Client: Eversholt Leasing

PR Team: Focus Communications

Campaign: The sale of Eversholt Leasing to the Forward Trust

Timescale: February 1997

Estimated cost: pounds 40,000 on a time-charge basis



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