Saunders – who this week withdrew the bank’s financial support of a £1bn takeover bid for Anglian Water parent AWG – hired Murray following a barrage of negative publicity.
Murray takes on the brief less than a year after quitting his role as director of policy and communications for Telewest Broadband to become an independent PR consultant (PRWeek, 9 August 2002).
He said Saunders is looking to divert press attention away from her personal life and career as a spate of negative stories threaten to tarnish her reputation.
‘She’s a very strong and successful businesswoman who felt that some of the tone of recent coverage reflected too much of an interest in her,’ said Murray.
‘Here is a person who has had a high profile in the past, which has centred around her business dealings, but stories which predominantly focused on aspects of business quickly became centred on her as a personality and she felt she needed help and advice,’ he added.
Saunders and her team at WestLB hit the headlines this week, not only after announcing they were to pull out of the AWG deal, but also due to an investigation into their activities by German financial regulator BaFin.
The regulator this week said it was considering banning the practice of ‘co-investment’, which reports claim have allowed Saunders and WestLB’s principal finance team to build personal stakes in firms lent money by the bank.
Earlier press reports also suggested Saunders was attempting a buy-out of her unit, which is believed to account for more than 50 per cent of WestLB’s pre-tax profits over the past four years.
Murray, who runs consultancy Seahorse, said Saunders’s move to hire a PR adviser was not part of an exit strategy. ‘[My hire] is not about her having someone to spin for her – it’s to give her personal advice,’ he insisted.