Opinion: McCartney divorce is harming all involved

Just what are the communications objectives ­involved in handling something as sensitive and personal as a divorce?

The question persists as the McCartney vs Mills battle reaches its discordant crescendo across ­tabloids and broadsheets, with TV, radio ­and online weighing in with their own coverage.

PR is being showcased as an essential part of the story; at times it is the central narrative, with claims of leaks, firings of operatives and their alleged replacement by others (PRWeek, 27 Oct). And the (still unanswered) question of who leaked the divorce papers is, as former Guardian editor Peter Preston has observed, fundamental to the whole story.

But, aside from the often impressive crisis management skills that the McCartney side has been forced to implement following the Mills camp's onslaught, does the whole ­affair really provide a showcase of which a mature PR industry can be proud?

If we use the reasonable premise that a core ­objective of media management is to preserve the dignity and privacy of the individuals involved, then the answer is a resounding no.

If, however, a core objective is the creation of a ­tabloid TV game-show that awards a cash payout from the divorce court to the most prolific mudslinger, then the answer would be a shuddering yes.

But there are flaws in this argument. First, divorce courts are not designed to base financial or custodial settlements on some type of X Factor jury of public ­opinion - which means that blackening the reputation of either adversary will fail to yield dividends in court.

Second, it is questionable whether serious PR practitioners should be getting involved in wholesale leaks to the media, with the sole aim of destroying the ­reputation of one party.

Finally, there is the question of privacy, a matter of growing concern to PR clients from many spheres, including celebrities and business people. I would suggest it is now problematic for either Mucca or Macca to be a credible witness in any future plea for their families' privacy.

We are left with an opaque-looking PR strategy. Indeed I'm beginning to wonder whether the strategy is even client-led, or whether the PR tail may occasionally be wagging the dog.

While the media are gorging on their biggest feast since the ‘War of the Waleses', the question of exactly who is feeding them, and why, is intriguing.

For the PR industry, there is a pervading sense of hands ­dirtied and reputations (quite aside from the protagonists') being severely compromised.

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and was formerly a senior newspaper executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.

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