Poor old Alex Ferguson. He must have felt like an unfortunate patient who discovers the man in the white coat at the end of the bed sporting a stethoscope is just a deluded wannabe George Clooney, when he discovered the provenance of his newly appointed 'spin-doctor' this week.
No doubt he was pleased to have discovered the deception before the scalpel was inserted into Manchester United, but the public relations faux pas caused by Alison Ryan's appointment and unceremonious dismissal contains an unfortunate irony for the country's most successful club.
Public relations blunders such as Man Utd's withdrawal from last year's FA Cup to play in the World Club Championships in Brazil and the failed BSkyB takeover, had finally forced the club and its new CEO Peter Kenyon to appoint its first ever director of communications with the aim of sorting out the club's relations with fans, media and other stakeholders. But even this laudable move backfired on it with yet more undesirable tabloid attention.
It is hardly surprising the search and selection firm which has been identified as offering Ryan up for such a high profile role is declining to comment. On its web site, Howgate Sable boasts that, 'every decision or recommendation we make regarding your search and selection process is measured and meticulously researched'.
However, the rub lies in the exact nature of that research process. Howgate Sable declined to give a comment to PR Week with regard to its standard procedures, but in general the problem is that these procedures aren't standard.
The responsibility for checking references is decided on an individual basis for each assignment; if the client doesn't specifically ask for references to be checked by the search agency when they brief them, the onus falls back on the client to check the veracity of the candidate's CV - a fact of which some clients don't always seem to be fully aware.
The whole search process does contain some in-built checks, in that the headhunter normally gathers a considerable amount of 'collateral information' on the target from various sources including ex-employers before the target is even approached.
Bearing this in mind, one would have thought that the Bar Council (which is now being forthcoming to the media about 'falsifications on Ms Ryan's CV' and charges of serious professional misconduct) the Bar Society (which debarred her) and Manchester City Council (which passed a vote of no-confidence against Ryan as a councillor) might have shed some light on the matter earlier on in the proceedings.
The moral of this sorry tale: check who is checking the references. The health of a company's reputation may depend on them.