Anthony Hilton: Allen's ITV exit was a PR masterclass

There can rarely have been a more heavily trailed depar­ture than the exit of Charles Allen as chief executive of ITV.

When the news was confirmed earlier this week, it would have surprised no one -yet roll the calendar back to mid-July and there was not a hint of Allen's going. True, there were grumbles about his stewardship - particularly his presiding over the sorry decline of what had once been a business so powerful it was dubbed a licence to print money. But no one was predicting his imminent exit.

The way the press have been handled since mid-July ought to form the basis of a PR masterclass, or a case study for all those universities teaching media affairs. It started with an unattributed story in The Sunday Times that said Allen was thinking of stepping down. The only hint as to the source was the line: ‘Charles Allen was unavailable for comment.'

Few financial journalists can remember Allen ever being unavailable for comment. One line of official denial could have killed the story - instead the silence fuelled a week of frenzied speculation. By the following Friday, it was assumed Allen had indeed decided to go. The stage was set for the next helpful leak. This time the chosen Sunday paper floated the idea that Allen might collect as much as £10m - a figure so large that no one believed it. Again, there was no source, but it put down a marker.

Although Allen was going voluntarily; although his recent performance could not be regarded as a glittering success; and although he had recently been instrumental in defeating a takeover approach at 30 per cent above ITV's current share price, he still anticipated a pay-off.

Then, last Sunday - the eve of the expected departure announcement - the suggested pay-off had come down to just £2m. This was accompanied by a surprisingly large number of articles emphasising Allen's achievements over the years, suggesting £2m was no more than a reasonable sum for a grateful company to shell out. 

And thus he heads for the exit. No knives, no acrimony, and a meaty cheque. All round a brilliant triumph of PR.
anthony.hilton@haynet.com

Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London's Evening Standard

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