Green puts unique PR to good use

Four years ago, when Philip Green first floated the idea of bidding for Marks & Spencer, no one took him seriously. Last week, everyone did.

There were doubts expressed on corporate governance grounds about whether the City would want shares in a company that Green would so clearly dominate, but in operational terms, no one doubted he could do a much better job than current management.

In the past four years, Green has clearly waged a massively successful charm offensive. Forgive the irony. Green is famous for his boast that he rarely has PR advisers and never talks to the press. The latter, at least, is not wholly true, but his is not the normal style of press relations.

My own limited experience of the man consists of a face-to-face harangue following an article that was sceptical about the sustainability of the turnaround at BHS. I was also told via Green’s staff to ‘stick [my] bicycle clips up [my] arse’.

A colleague’s critical article was rewarded the same afternoon when a courier delivered a cat litter tray neatly lined with the offending newspaper.

This robust approach to criticism is leavened by the respect that comes from his success at Sears, BHS and Arcadia, and from the fact that other retailers hold him in awe. He also knows how to use the media subtly.

Before BHS, back in 1999, Green stalked Sears, which refused to talk to him. Over a period of months, mainly via The Times, Sears’s management credibility was systematically undermined until it lost the will to fight and fell into Green’s lap. He paid £550m and within a year broke the company up, sold it on and made £180m profit.

Therein lies the clue to his rising reputation. It may be the antithesis of PR, but in Green’s case his actions have spoken louder than his words.

anthony.hilton@haynet.com

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