Clifford trial: reaction from the public relations industry

Today's conviction of Max Clifford for indecent assault has been described as "a sad and shocking case" as the public relations industry digests the result of the trial.

CIPR chief executive Alastair McCapra: "No-one in the industry would regard Clifford as a role model"
CIPR chief executive Alastair McCapra: "No-one in the industry would regard Clifford as a role model"

Clifford is one of the PR world’s most recognised figures due to his showbiz clients – though he has also represented companies – and willingness to step into the public eye.

However, he and the more professional side of the industry have largely kept their mutual distance over the years.

Clifford's conviction on eight counts of indecent assault on a number of young female victims was today described by Alastair McCapra, the chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, as "a sad and shocking case with repercussions for many".

Both the CIPR and the PRCA sought to distance Clifford from the professional world of public relations, with McCapra claiming he has never signed up to professional standards and "no-one in the industry would regard him as a role model".

PRCA director-general Francis Ingham said: "Clifford’s work has mainly focused on celebrity publicity – often in the red tops – and this does not compare with the far broader range of strategic skills now offered by the PR industry.

"Nor does his own shocking admission that he has put out facts that he knew to be untrue, which he admitted during a keynote speech at a CIPR conference in 2012."

Ingham and McCapra were divided on the impact of Clifford’s conviction on the PR industry.

The former claimed "this story reflects badly on the PR industry" while the latter argued "it would be silly to suggest the reputation of public relations is somehow damaged by this case".

Julian Henry, global head of communication at XIX Entertainment, agreed with McCapra.

Speaking before the verdicts were delivered, Henry said: "I don’t think the trial has damaged the industry because Max has always existed in one small corner of the industry."

Henry and another player in showbusiness PR, Mark Borkowski, believe that the tabloid world in which Clifford’s business once thrived has changed.

Borkowski said: "The conditions developed by Max Clifford around kiss and tell and managing people’s reputations through the tabloid press have changed. There is less of an appetite for that kind of story now as the economics aren’t there for the press and the ability to draw out huge fees from papers has gone.

"I never thought how Max operated or built a business was like a PR business – he was part publicist, part journalist dealmaker, part broker who used a nexus of connections to broker the best possible deal for his client and himself."

Henry said: "Newspapers have been much more direct and open about what they’re doing in the past few years, and there is less need for a middle man, especially as the value of those pieces has plummeted. All most [newspapers etc] will pay is a cost to set up a story and that is something they will often do themselves – that world Max is in has disappeared or is shrinking as the scale of the market has shrunk."

Clifford himself declined to comment to the media on leaving the court today, though in an interview with PRWeek earlier this month he spoke frankly about the impact on his agency, Max Clifford Associates, and his belief that his staff could keep it going were he convicted.

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