G4S comes under fire for defensive comms stance

A G4S insider has criticised its global comms unit for focusing on 'damage control' rather than ongoing reputational enhancement, as the security firm faces calls for the chief executive to resign over the Olympics security fiasco.

Under pressure: CEO Nick Buckles faces the select committee (Press Association)
Under pressure: CEO Nick Buckles faces the select committee (Press Association)

G4S is handling its current Olympics reputational crisis in-house, despite bringing in Bell Pottinger for a corporate brief that included crisis work last year.

The comms response is being handled by group comms director Debbie McGrath, supported by media relations director Adam Mynott, who joined last September from the BBC where he was a world affairs correspondent.

Mynott is believed to be playing a crucial role as he leads on crisis and issues management and is also focused on G4S’ Olympic contracts.

It is understood that support is also being provided by a discrete UK comms team led by longstanding corporate affairs director Paddy Toyne-Sewell.

However, one source with close links to the G4S team suggested that a key issue impairing its handling of the Olympics issue is that the G4S global comms operation is conditioned to deal with defensive crisis management or ‘damage control’, rather than strategic reputation enhancement.

UK head of PR Nicky Savage told PRWeek last Friday that the firm was focusing on sorting out the operational issues before it focused on comms. This decision, the source suggested, was indicative of the lack of importance that the firm’s management placed on comms and proactive reputation management.

He added that the comms team was ‘pretty hierarchical’ and that most decisions were made between CEO Nick Buckles and the senior members without involvement from the wider team or agencies.  

Last May, the global security giant appointed Bell Pottinger Business & Brand to handle corporate reputation and profile, in the UK and internationally.

PRWeek can also reveal that the security firm held exploratory talks about reputation management work with a small number of corporate agencies earlier this year. The discussions, which took place in the period after the Bell Pottinger exposé in The Independent, did not lead to a formal brief.

G4S’ in-house comms team has undergone a major restructure during the past 12 months, resulting in a number of redundancies after the collapse of the firm’s aborted merger with Danish cleaning firm ISS.


Nick Buckles owns up to ‘humiliating shambles’ on staffing

G4S chief executive Nick Buckles dubbed his firm’s failure to supply enough guards to London 2012 a ‘humiliating shambles’ as he faced a Commons select committee on Tuesday.

Buckles apologised to the Home Affairs Select Committee after 3,500 extra troops had to be deployed to meet the firm’s shortfall. Despite this admission, Buckles told MPs that he was the ‘right person’ to make sure the firm delivers Olympic security staff.

This is the latest in a number of crises the security company has faced.

Following the decision in 1993 by the British Government to hand the then-named Group 4 a contract to provide security for prisons, the firm suffered a number of high-profile security blunders, including escaped prisoners.

Last year, G4S launched a bid for Danish company ISS, which was aborted after a number of shareholders threatened to vote down the deal. Buckles later admitted that he ‘misread the markets’.

While the Olympics issue continues, it was also widely reported that three G4S guards will not face manslaughter charges over the death of Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan refugee who collapsed while being escorted on a flight from Heathrow 21 months ago.


How I see it

 Mark Gallagher, Founder and senior partner, Pagefield

It is a classic case of a company caught between a rock and a hard place. This is an example of the client moving the goalposts at the late stages and because the client is the Government there is nothing that can be said about it.

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