Anthony Hilton: Advantages of leaking job hires

The business section of one of the Sunday papers carried a story the other week about a forthcoming board appointment. Nothing unusual in that, you might correctly think, because such stories are commonplace.

Anthony Hilton
Anthony Hilton

Most businessmen are long on self-regard and consider their appointment to be a matter of national importance. Their PR handlers know otherwise and such a move would be lucky to get a mention anywhere outside the appointments columns if publicised in the conventional way. Hence the tactic of giving the story exclusively to a posh Sunday. Better a six-inch story in one paper than a one-inch story in six.

But this time, I was told, it was different. The board appointment was controversial - the story was not meant to have been leaked. Premature publicity at this point was hugely embarrassing.

This presented the company chairman - and his PR adviser - with a dilemma. Did they rush out a confirmation on Monday morning, in spite of the fact that they had not yet completed their internal soundings, so that they got back on the front foot? Or did they put the whole thing on ice for six months, enabling them to claim - internally at least - that this was merely an unsubstantiated rumour, and thereby put a lid on the internal dissent?

In the event, they went with the full confirmation of the appointment on the Monday and got sympathetic enough treatment. And that left only one question. Was the leak indeed unintentional as the company alleges, or was it a deliberate act orchestrated by the chairman who claimed to be so embarrassed about it?

A straw poll of City editors leans towards the latter. Forget the story about internal opponents not having been appeased, colleagues said. The whole point of the leak was to overcome such opposition, and to present dissenters with a fait accompli that would render further opposition useless. Once the appointment was public, it was obvious the company could not back down. There was no point in continuing to oppose it. The leak meant they just had to grin and bear it.

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