Editorial Intelligence’s Charlie Burgess, was Managing Editor of The Independent and his wife, Anne Spackman, is managing editor of The Times, and with such inside knowledge of the workings of the press what has Burgess observed about the modern media revolution: ‘We have become a nation of Sudoku puzzle addicts,’ rambled Burgess in his review of the year (Independent 30 December 2005), an indication that he rarely takes notice of the outside world. No we haven’t Charlie, most of us have never touched one—there are more pressing puzzles for some.
With Editorial Intelligence, Julia Hobsbawm intended to create a database that would contain portraits of some 1,000 members of the ‘commentariat’, of EI, listing their likes and dislikes, the days on which their pieces appear, and so forth. Companies which subscribe to the database will know about the journalists who write about them, or those who might do so if the money’s good and the Sudoku finished.
According to the Guardian, the main EI shareholders are Hobsbawm and her husband. The four other shareholders are Burgess, and Neil Stewart who used to run Neil Kinnock’s office with Charles Clarke MP (who attended EI’s launch) and was in ‘consulting’ before starting the event/lobbying business Neil Stewart Associates. This organises conferences, described as “business development and marketing campaign tools” and a platform for organisations to “meet existing and potential clients and partners”. They also flog influence via Policy Review Magazine which “reaches the key purchasing decision makers for goods and services in the public and private sector in the UK”. This is accompanied by a photo of David Cameron at the podium raring to go. Clients include Peter Mandelson’s Policy Network, Social Market Foundation, Liberty, King’s Fund, Institute for Public Policy Research, Fabian Society, Crime Concern and the Commission for Racial Equality. Neil Stewart Associates also offers ‘public affairs’ advice to join up the buyers with the sellers. In a 1995 article, that now exudes old world charm, Chris Blachurst said:
MPs, particularly post-Nolan, may be sensitive about linking up with lobbyists, but many party workers and researchers have no such qualms. They see lobbying and everything that it entails as a new career opportunity, seeking out jobs doing everything from monitoring events at Westminster and Brussels to briefing clients on forthcoming legislation and effecting introductions with ministers and officials. Prior to the 1992 election there were only two or three lobbyists who had recently worked for Labour – most notably Mike Craven, now managing director of Market Access, who had worked in John Prescott’s office, and Tony Page at GJW, who had worked for John Cunningham. Labour’s defeat in 1992 brought no rush to snap up ex-Kinnock advisers. Neil Stewart, who with Charles Clarke was one of Kinnock’s key fixers, says the atmosphere was “distinctly hostile”. He applied for jobs for which he believes he was plainly qualified and found himself without even an interview. The change began with John Smith’s CBI speech in September 1992 which began the rapprochement with business that the Kinnock era never really achieved.
“As president, you dictate, to an extent, the course of thousands of people’s lives – it isn’t a joke. It had its tough moments, its enjoyable ones and its lonely ones.”
PR Sudoku puzzles
Our other Editorial Intelligence shareholders are Charles Stewart-Smith, EI’s non-executive chairman and a former journalist and co-founder of “issue-led” PR firm Luther Pendragon (LP), who became the Hinduja brothers’ PR adviser in 2001, and did such a great job persuading us that the brothers at the centre of the (Stewart-Smith’s friend) Peter Mandelson passport row were free from corruption and blame and any other bad thing not to their liking.
LP’s clients can be arranged to form mathematical (well financial) relationships not unlike a Sudoku puzzle: McDonald’s and the Food Standards Agency; the Cabinet office and Boeing, Mobil and BAA (although that one works a few ways); the Institute of Directors and the Equal Opportunities Commission. The Hindujas’ previous firm, quit after press speculation about a relationship between its executive, ex-Downing Street aid Howell James, and Peter Mandelson’s partner Reinaldo da Silva. The Guardian stated:
One of the firm’s partners, Ben Rich, told the Independent that Mr Mandelson was “soiled goods” with “a reverse Midas touch” just a day before the agency became the Hindujas’ voice-piece.
Sometimes it is hard to work out from LP’s site, just what its people are working on, they seem a little bit coy, take Simon Whale for instance:
His work has a strong issues focus and he has particular expertise in drawing together a range of communications disciplines – media relations, public affairs, stakeholder relations – to manage those issues and deliver effective results for clients. His current clients include a leading UK regulator, one of the world’s largest industrial chemicals and gases businesses, a major high street retailer, a prominent educational institution, and organisations representing healthcare professionals.
Such is the suspicion of PR one is tempted to think that a ‘regulator’ has turned a blind eye to some conglomerate’s poison sold in the high street, while a study on its dangers has been rubbished by a phoney organisation made up by the PR company.
An investigation by The Times found that rules may have been flouted in a sleaze inquiry into lobbyists’ influence on MPs’ groups. The Times argued that six groups had not complied with the requirement of the 1985 Rules that, where a public relations (or public affairs) company assists a Group, the ultimate client should be named, in particular The Intellectual Property Group, the Patient Safety Group and the Pharmacy Group—helped out by Luther Pendragon and Simon Whale:
Luther Pendragon, a lobbyist firm that assists three all-party groups that did not declare their clients, including the all-party pharmacy group, said that it had already put the record straight. Simon Whale, a managing partner, said that the all-party pharmacy group had declared its backers on its own website, and had not set out to conceal the involvement of chemist firms. “That is more an accidental omission then a deliberate omission,” he said. “I’m more than happy to correct it.”
All of these omissions were “administrative errors” or “entirely accidental”. Lapses of memory can be caused by a bit too much of the ‘high life’ and indeed The Telegraph published this about LP’S George Pitcher and Stewart-Smith:
Pitcher moved into PR after a successful career as a journalist, setting up Luther Pendragon with former BBC reporter Charles Stewart-Smith as ‘two former journalists behaving badly out of a Dickensian apothecary in Smithfield’. […] He decided not to go to Selwyn College, Cambridge, to study theology, because he wanted ‘to take drugs and get laid’. Gradually however, via ‘a series of dark life events that I won’t bore you with’, Pitcher opened his dialogue with God. Towards the end of his time running Luther Pendragon, he decided to become a ‘worker priest,’ meaning he still draws his income from public affairs work.
“Members of Dubai’s ruling Maktoum family are believed to have joined a bid fronted by Konstantin Kagalovsky, a former associate of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Yukos’s largest shareholder.”
This report adds that Charles Stewart-Smith is the spokesman for the consortium trying to move in on Yukos. The other big EI shareholder is Derek Wyatt MP who has connections to the British Council and is a Trustee of the Mezzanine based (along with Demos and The Foreign Policy Institute) Time Bank, formerly with BSkyB
Charlie Burgess was previously the associate editor of the Guardian, but allegiances are not so fixed these days. (Burgess was also the editor of The Guardian Year 2005 where one can reread all those David Aaronovitch rants one more time). For Charlie journalistic life is not just motorbikes, the Who, puzzles, football and the like —even he noticed the bombs that went off in central London which produced a moment of clarity and reordered priorities and only one thought in his mind: money.
Burgess’ allegiances are now with corporate PA agency, Jefferson Communications, who seek to establish and nurture “close, working relationships with decision makers, the media and beyond.”
Its people really glow brightly in the darkness of the PR world and include James Elder “the last Private Secretary to the late Sir Edward Heath,” David Fanthorpe “deputy Director of the Conservative research department”, Neil Lindsay “a senior consultant at Hill & Knowlton and previously worked at Connect Public Affairs and at Government Policy Consultants”, Ian Lindsley a Director at Shandwick and Burson-Marsteller”, Ben Russell who handled the media and political relations of the UK’s radioactive waste body Nirex, Chris Murray “Chief Executive of Nirex”, David Wild “the Director of Communications at Nirex” with “experience of the Trade Union movement in the Environment Agency and local government” and others.
Funnily enough the company have a little test (aimed at the not too intelligent) part of which asks:
You represent the interests of local businesses in a small town, which will be destroyed by the arrival of a megastore, being planned by one of the big supermarket chains – unless you can block the plans. So, what do you do?
1. Start a local campaign to keep the supermarket away from the town – if there is enough local opposition, the high street can be saved.
2. The supermarkets are too big to fight. Advise the shopkeepers to sell up and move to Spain.
3. By knocking on the right doors and engaging the right people, you successfully engineer a major competition inquiry, which delays the chain’s plans long enough to make the megastore too expensive to build.
If you work in an office in London, there is a good chance it belongs to Land Securities. It owns just under 5 per cent of the capital’s office space, accommodating 500,000 workers, including such landmarks as Piccadilly Lights —the building in Piccadilly Circus covered by neon-lit advertisements —and New Scotland Yard. And if you went shopping yesterday, you could well have visited one of the 29 shopping centres or 31 retail parks owned by the company.
Without all the nuances of “administrative errors” conflicts of interest can be troublesome, but surely also profitable in the field of PR (and of course its melange with business and journalism in the Editorial Intelligence style).
Take Guardian Media Group’s Chief Executive and winner of the PR bauble ‘Business Woman of the year award’ Carolyn McCall. She felt she had to resign her other job as a non-executive director at Tesco even although she said “I would never be aware of what the paper was going to run”. It is not the job of a Chief Executive to know what a paper produces—why bother?
Presumably that is a non-executive’s role — overseeing (for instance) what Tesco might get up to as regards tax avoidance. Students of quantum physics may want to use her knowledge of who was right and who was wrong as an example similar to Schrödinger’s cat. But let’s not go there. If she did know what was going in the Guardian and what a company she overseen was doing —and she Schrödingerly doesn’t — couldn’t she just start a Editorial Intelligence inspired PR company and advise both sides?
Hey the company could be called ‘Quark Strangeness and Charm.’ Then somebody, say hypothetically Tesco’s competitors, might have paid her (in a roundabout way) for some inside information— Sir Stuart Rose who joins her as a trustee director of Business in the Community could serve as a hypothetically example here — although he hardly needs her services.
And just like particle physics it all gets complicated— but deliberately so. The man to ask for advice would be Colin Byrne, a fan of Rose’s and BITC and CEO, Weber Shandwick UK who handle Asda‘s PR and are an adviser to Editorial Intelligence. Or EI’s Dominic Fry who’s PR company Tulchan are busy working for Marks & Spencer, and whose founder Andrew Grant was hired by M&S coming to “the defence of M&S and its subsequent restoration to being a thriving retail force” and who also said “I enjoy the company of journalists and their relentless quest for ‘the story’, and increasingly, the person behind the story.” In any case the legal side of things finished with Asda walking free, although that would mean Carolyn McCall was now in the wrong place — but so are all those little sub-atomic particles most of the time
It’s a puzzle only the insiders can answer, but there are Sudokus to do.