Campaigns: Channel 4 secret makes the Grade - Press Announcement

Client: Channel 4
PR Team: Charles Barker/in-house
Campaign: Announcement of Michael Grade’s resignation
Timescale: January 1997
Budget: Undisclosed

Client: Channel 4

PR Team: Charles Barker/in-house

Campaign: Announcement of Michael Grade’s resignation

Timescale: January 1997

Budget: Undisclosed



On 27 January it was announced that Michael Grade, chief

executive of Channel 4 had resigned. Grade had headed the channel

for nine years with a high profile mixture of controversy and

success. By the summer he will have taken up his new position as

executive chairman of the First Leisure conglomerate.



Unusually for such a major event in the often incestuous media

community, there was little or no warning of the impending

resignation in the run up to the announcement.



Responsibility for breaking the news lay with Channel 4 chairman

Sir Michael Bishop, who brought in agency Charles Barker to help

Sir Michael’s British Midland airline has been a long-standing

client of Charles Barker.



Objectives



To handle this major announcement professionally, balancing the

interests of both Michael Grade and Channel 4.



Tactics



Grade had first told the chairman of his decision before

Christmas at Bishop’s London club Brooks’s. But it was at a

standard board meeting on 28 January, that Bishop informed the

rest of the Channel 4 board that Michael Grade would be leaving

by the end of July.



In-house PR staff say they were told directly after the board

meeting and James Hunt, divisional director of Charles Barker’s

corporate division, would only say that the agency was briefed

’shortly before the announcement’.



Just after 6pm on Monday 28 January, an announcement was put out

by the team to the media. It was a bland statement saying that

Grade, probably the highest profile figure in British television,

’wishes to leave the television industry and pursue his other

business interests.’



Later that evening Sir Michael Bishop compiled a letter which was

placed on the desks of each of Channel 4’s 500 staff, which most

discovered when they arrived the next morning.



On Wednesday, 30 January Grade appeared at his own low-key press

conference to announce his appointment at First Leisure.



Results



Channel 4 were first to run the story on their evening news

bulletin.



The rest of the broadcast media followed and the news received

huge coverage in the next day’s national print media.



This coverage was dominated by surprise at the suddenness of the

announcement and speculation about Grade’s future. Rumours

included Grade’s involvement in potential consortium take-overs

of Manchester United Football Club and Rank Film Distributors.

Rumoured job prospects included football fan Grade’s possible

appointment as chief executive of the Premier League.



Generally, for a man whose appointment nine years ago was met by

initial scepticism and who was often attacked by the mid-market

tabloids for Channel 4 programmes’ liberal attitudes to

sexuality, his achievements were talked up and he was positioned

as a champion of all that the channel had become.



It was also reported that some staff reacted angrily to the

suddenness of the announcement and the fact that they saw it on

television before they were told personally.



Verdict



Sir Michael Bishop did well in keeping such a big story under

wraps for so long. The media announcement was tightly controlled

and subsequent coverage was curious rather than critical.



It was unfortunate that a lot of staff were first aware of the

announcement on the television news, although a degree of their

anger can also be put down to losing such a charismatic

leader.



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