Client: Channel 4
PR Team: Charles Barker/in-house
Campaign: Announcement of Michael Grade’s resignation
Timescale: January 1997
On 27 January it was announced that Michael Grade, chief
executive of Channel 4 had resigned. Grade had headed the channel
for nine years with a high profile mixture of controversy and
success. By the summer he will have taken up his new position as
executive chairman of the First Leisure conglomerate.
Unusually for such a major event in the often incestuous media
community, there was little or no warning of the impending
resignation in the run up to the announcement.
Responsibility for breaking the news lay with Channel 4 chairman
Sir Michael Bishop, who brought in agency Charles Barker to help
Sir Michael’s British Midland airline has been a long-standing
client of Charles Barker.
To handle this major announcement professionally, balancing the
interests of both Michael Grade and Channel 4.
Grade had first told the chairman of his decision before
Christmas at Bishop’s London club Brooks’s. But it was at a
standard board meeting on 28 January, that Bishop informed the
rest of the Channel 4 board that Michael Grade would be leaving
by the end of July.
In-house PR staff say they were told directly after the board
meeting and James Hunt, divisional director of Charles Barker’s
corporate division, would only say that the agency was briefed
’shortly before the announcement’.
Just after 6pm on Monday 28 January, an announcement was put out
by the team to the media. It was a bland statement saying that
Grade, probably the highest profile figure in British television,
’wishes to leave the television industry and pursue his other
Later that evening Sir Michael Bishop compiled a letter which was
placed on the desks of each of Channel 4’s 500 staff, which most
discovered when they arrived the next morning.
On Wednesday, 30 January Grade appeared at his own low-key press
conference to announce his appointment at First Leisure.
Channel 4 were first to run the story on their evening news
The rest of the broadcast media followed and the news received
huge coverage in the next day’s national print media.
This coverage was dominated by surprise at the suddenness of the
announcement and speculation about Grade’s future. Rumours
included Grade’s involvement in potential consortium take-overs
of Manchester United Football Club and Rank Film Distributors.
Rumoured job prospects included football fan Grade’s possible
appointment as chief executive of the Premier League.
Generally, for a man whose appointment nine years ago was met by
initial scepticism and who was often attacked by the mid-market
tabloids for Channel 4 programmes’ liberal attitudes to
sexuality, his achievements were talked up and he was positioned
as a champion of all that the channel had become.
It was also reported that some staff reacted angrily to the
suddenness of the announcement and the fact that they saw it on
television before they were told personally.
Sir Michael Bishop did well in keeping such a big story under
wraps for so long. The media announcement was tightly controlled
and subsequent coverage was curious rather than critical.
It was unfortunate that a lot of staff were first aware of the
announcement on the television news, although a degree of their
anger can also be put down to losing such a charismatic