Opinion: Leader - Ratner bids to bury 'crap' demons of old

To the media storm that engulfed jewellery entrepreneur Gerald Ratner 12 years ago, every supposed 'PR disaster' for the last decade is a mere footnote. Asked how he could sell one item in his portfolio - a crystal decanter, for the pedants among you - at such discount prices, he famously replied, 'cos it's total crap'.

Within days, and with what some close to him still consider was wilful misinterpretation of his intended meaning, he was disgraced, his billion-pound empire in apparent disarray and his name forever a lazy byword for how not to present yourself to the public.

It is therefore only to be expected that eyebrows would be raised this week with news that the businessman's one-year-old web-based jewellery venture, Geraldonline, had hired a traditional PR consultancy, Harrison Cowley, to try and move Ratner's image beyond the humiliation of the early 1990s.

He has apparently taken the view that despite the success of Max Clifford's work in launching the venture a year ago - sales and website hits were apparently beyond what was hoped for - there is still work to do on the wider reputation front. And although HC has been handed a routine consumer brief aimed at driving traffic to the site and pushing up sales, it will have to fight hard to steer its new client away from endless repetitions of the damaging comments that have dogged him for so long.

HC's thinking on how best to do that - to focus on his contribution to jewellery retailing - is sound, and after its client has spent such a lengthy spell in the reputational doghouse, they are to be wished a fair wind.

Among other changes that Ratner's advocates claim as his legacy to jewellery retailing were brighter lighting in the stores and placing prices on the goods in the windows. Though these are apparently small modifications to hitherto prevalent tactics, they are a useful motif to sketch out his wider philosophy of being as upfront and frank with his public as possible.

In this sense at least, the principles that built a fortune also included the seeds of its downfall. A little transparency is all very well, it seems, but too much can do terrible damage.

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