Already there are signs of muddle and miscommunication, alongside a picture of arrogance and misjudgement in the man himself.
How could Browne possibly have thought it was anything other than disastrous to mislead his lawyers? And why couldn’t the combined resources of brilliant lawyers and the best PROs save the BP chairman from what was essentially a kiss-and-tell story?
Browne rightly chose to conduct his defence via a mix of legal and media management expertise. This area of reputation management, with skilled PROs operating at the nexus of the law and the media, is a rich seam for our industry to tap.
I have been involved in instances where high-worth, high-profile individuals have, without recourse to the courts, secured legal undertakings from media of privacy ‘in areas of their lives that are properly private’. At the same time, they have maintained excellent media relations around their ‘careers and enterprises that are properly of public concern’. All channels of communication remain open for honest dialogue.
According to the Mail on Sunday leader, Lord Browne’s team appears to have delivered messages that were at best muddled, at worst dishonest. Devastatingly, the briefing given by BP’s in-house PR chief is said to have flatly contradicted that of Lord Browne’s personal PR consultant.
Neither PRO appears to have brought to the paper’s attention that they were working with lawyers about to injunct for privacy. Were the various elements of the Browne defence team working to a joint strategy or pursuing individual, unco-ordinated ambushes against the newspaper? If it was the latter, disaster was inevitable.
Clients, media managements and lawyers can only achieve results if only there is an agreed strategy and trust among all parties. If a newspaper decides to fight, it will take divisions as an indication of guilt and of the mendacity of the legal and, particularly, the PR professions – and go for the jugular.
One wonders whether the Browne team ever sat down together and worked out strategies to stop publication or minimise damage should it become inevitable. For example, was a managed and limited version of the story ever mooted? Was a properly brokered deal embracing client privacy and press freedom ever on the agenda?
All these questions merit discussion in the interests of future client reputations and, ultimately, of the standing of the PR industry.
Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and was formerly a senior newspaper executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun.