Opinion: How Clifford led the Farepak rescue bid

To see the worst and best of PR we only have to look at the story of the collapse of Christmas hamper firm Farepak, which, fortunately, continues to run and run.

First the facts. Farepak - owned by European Home Retail, of which Sir Clive Thompson is the chair - ceased trading last month, offering no compensation to savers. More than 150,000 customers, many of whom are working-class families, lost as much as £2,000 each.

The week the story broke, Thompson and his fellow directors were unavailable for comment, surely a cardinal sin from a comms point of view, if not a moral one. HBOS, the bank that had refused to extend Farepak's overdraft, eventually opted to contribute £2m. Many commentators, quite understandably, saw such an amount as ‘paltry' for a bank that reported half-year pre-tax profits of £2.65bn in August.

But we also saw some better examples of corporate responsibility in action: many of which were prompted by the oft-maligned Max Clifford. After appearing on BBC's Working Lunch with some of the victims, Clifford decided to take up their cause in the media. This work, focusing on specific families, encouraged popular newspapers to campaign for a rescue. Meanwhile, his lobbying of retailers prompted Sainsbury's to grab the initiative. CEO Justin King offered Farepak customers 25 per cent of the value of their savings in vouchers. John Lewis, Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Morrisons sensibly followed suit.

In a more proactive strike, Farepak rival Park chucked in £1m of its own. Some saw this as a ‘cynical' move, but it boosted the compensation fund to £4.5m and certainly did Park's reputation no harm. At the time of writing MSPs at Holyrood, responding to lobbying efforts, were considering donating a day's pay.

Above all, master tactician Clifford taught big business and government alike the importance - and benefit - of responding quickly and appropriately to a very human narrative.

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