Colin Byrne

December 3, 2007

Colin Byrne is CEO, Weber Shandwick UK and Ireland. He was Chief Press Officer of the Labour Party in 1988, and was also an ‘Election Consultant’ with the Labour Party even when (in 1996) he became a Director of Shandwick Consultants. He worked for Labour’s election manager, and former flatmate, Peter Mandelson, on a number of strategic projects connected with Labour’s press campaign for the general election. As some sort of punishment he was condemned to spend four years travelling the world with The Prince of Wales helping organise parts of HRH’s overseas PR programmes, managing international media teams to promote HRH’s interests in business and sustainable profit taking. Check that last bit would you Colin old bean.

Spinning for Shell

After that Byrne’s client experience included Shell (issues and crisis management), IKEA, Asda-Walmart, the BBC, Nestlé (a global issues management campaign), Oracle, BNFL, Coca-Cola, Paris 2012 and work for President Putin of Russia and the British Government. He leads a number of large corporate and public affairs accounts which require a dense PR front. He became CEO of Weber Shandwick UK in 2003.

According to leaked internal documents from Shandwick’s New York office, Byrne advised Shell when it came under criticism for its role in the Nigerian government’s 1995 execution of playwright and indigenous activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. In response to a request from Shandwick New Zealand, which was working for a government owned logging company, Timberlands, for information on the Body Shop, Daphne Luchtenberg of Shandwick-New York alluded to “dealings and similar wranglings with The Body Shop over their campaign against Shell and Nigeria — Ken Sarawiwo [sic] — do you remember?”

She offered help for Timberlands from American Shandwick staff who had assisted in the Shell contract. “Colin Byrne advised them on that and he would be good to include in the conference call,” she suggested. “Colin B also has a freelance consultant who is very hot on European environment issues and if the timing is right he might be involved,” wrote Luchtenberg.

Spinning for Coke

In January 2005 PR Week reported that Weber Shandwick had won the £350,000 account for Coca Cola Great Britain. Weber Shandwick senior vice-chairman David Yelland, the former editor of the Sun, has been designated Coke Great Britain’s ‘chief media officer’ with the job of “rebuilding relations with the media, after last year’s Dasani fiasco.” Byrne leads the team handling the account.

“The People’s party is now the Lobbyists’ party. At 7.30am most days during the election campaign Colin Byrne, chief executive of the public relations consultancy Weber Shandwick Worldwide, has a meeting with Clive Hollick, chief executive of United News and Media plc, at Labour’s headquarters at Millbank. Hollick heads the party’s business relations unit and Byrne has been working closely with him – “in a personal capacity and outside of working hours”, as he puts it — to persuade the corporate sector to support Labour.

Byrne, who as Labour’s head of press appointed Ms Jo “bury the bad news” Moore in the 1980s, very nearly replaced Mandelson as Labour’s Director of communications. Much to Neil Kinnock’s fury, the Labour Party NEC refused to give the job to the Leader’s choice, Mandy’s deputy, Colin Byrne, “preferring to appoint John Underwood who was then systematically undermined by Mandelson and Byrne before quitting in despair in 1991”.

PFI work

Byrne has also nursed Carillion in its bid for hospitals. As Carillion re-positioned themselves towards the new government, it stopped donations to the Tories and instead hired lobbying firm Shandwick, who in turn hired Byrne, and Carillion then sent some of its staff ‘on secondment’ to the Cabinet Office, and made sure it is a ‘corporate partner’ of the New Local Government Network, “funding Labour’s shadowy modernising masonry in the town halls.”

Spinning burgers

Shandwick has just won a £100,000 account from burger giant McDonald’s for Colin Byrne to work on McDonald’s relations with government. So one can think of him as a reverse Jamie Oliver — Revilo EimaJ.

Byrne is an exemplar of patently stupid PR bathos: Blair “has all the ”values” the opinion polls tell us that 1990s Britons want,” this utterance, which leaves conscience behind is fairly typical. Here ‘values’ are extrinsic and shifting and the ‘opinion polls’ and focus groups — a pseudo scientific artifice easily massaged into compliance with a pre-set rationale — fill the vacuum.

Labour’s 2001 campaign

As mentioned Byrne worked on the 2001 election campaign for the Labour Party’s Business Relations unit (responsible for securing donations and spreading the ‘pro-business’ message). Most reports said things like “Colin Byrne ran the “business relations unit” at Labour’s Millbank headquarters during the general election. He has now returned to his usual job as chief executive at the lobbying firm Shandwick,’ which seems innocent enough perhaps, but the point here is Byrne reportedly took unpaid leave (in effect giving a subsidy to New Labour to help with the election campaign). This is further masked by the fact he is reported to have worked ‘in a personal capacity and outside working hours’ during the 2001 election campaign. It was during this period that the Guardian alleges Byrne was working closely with former BAE Systems Director Lord Hollick to build corporate sector support for the party.

Monbiot’s (2000) research revealed the significant extent to which senior managers from private industry had been appointed by New Labour to advisory positions on a massive range of the government’s (ridiculously named) ‘task forces’ and policy advisory committees. In chapter six he lists 44 senior representatives from private industry who had been appointees. The potential advantages to these industry personnel, and the huge companies they work for is that not only does this give them good levels of information on government policy as it is drafted, it puts them in the position of being able to influence its development. The intermediaries include:

Karl Milner (GJW Government Relations), who had handled Gordon Brown’s communication strategy during New Labour’s 1997 election campaign.

Derek Draper (GPC Market Access), who had been chief aide to Peter Mandelson.

Neal Lawson (Lawson Lucas Mendelsohn), who had been an advisor to Tony Blair on election campaign strategy in 1997

Ben Lucas (Lawson Lucas Mendelsohn), who used to conduct Tony Blair’s press briefings.

Jon Mendelsohn (Lawson Lucas Mendelsohn), who used to handle Tony Blair’s contacts with industry.

Colin Byrne (Shandwick Public Affairs), who was a former press officer of Tony Blair.

Control the Dialogue

Although thought of as somewhere between business and government simple analysis of their reports reveal Shandwicks position as suggesting an action plan that US multi-nationals “emphasise local roots… Stress corporate responsibility in light of the anti-globalisation movement’s scepticism of large, multi-national companies… Avoid political messages — or use only with great care given the divisiveness domestically of the U.S. war against Iraq and its widespread unpopularity abroad” and that “U.S.-based brands should avoid strongly linking themselves to U.S. foreign policy… Stress positive universal values over materialism …The phenomenon of anti-Americanism and its impacts is expected to last three to five years.” This just drips with duplicity.

Shandwick’s advice is related as :

Step 1: Design the Outcome

Step 2: Build the Team

Step 3: Leverage the Knowledge

Step 4: Control the Dialogue

Step 5: Drive the Campaign

Step 6: Assess the Outcome

It’s that fourth point really — “compel a monologue” would be better. Advising on what to say, how to say it and who to say it to — are we sure this isn’t Mandelson in drag?

Randy Dave Blunkett seems a big pal and Weber Shandwick have offered him a guiding hand:

*11 March 2005, fee for speech at communications seminar organised by Weber Shandwick. (£2,000) (Up to £5,000) (Registered 1 November 2005).

*16 March 2005, fee for speech at event organised by Weber Shandwick. (£2,000) (Up to £5,000) (Registered 1 November 2005),

*5 April 2005, fee for facilitation discussion on business links with tertiary education organised by BT. (£5,001-£10,000) (Registered 1 November 2005)

And as ever the lobbying industry’s regulatory body is reviewing its code of conduct after revelations that fallen cabinet minister David Blunkett was paid by Weber Shandwick to speak at a dinner convened by the agency.And it doesn’t get much tougher than a code review…yes they’re going to flick through it again.

They might talk to a Mrs Siddiqi, 37, who says “Mr Blunkett’s own paternity battle had made him an asset to the firm. She tells how her husband met him through lobbying firm Weber Shandwick, which also invited Mr Siddiqi to “lunches and breakfast meetings” with leading Labour figures including Geoff Hoon and Geoffrey Robinson.”
(Alistair Foster, ”Evening Standard”, Dec 1, 2005)

Byrne has not had a wonderful effect on the Labour party:

“The US corporation, a target of anti-globalisation protesters who plan to demonstrate outside the conference when it opens on September 30, is anxious to receive the implied endorsement of Mr Blair and other ministers. Executives initially intended to finance a football stunt within the conference security complex, but switched when they found that Mr Blair was unable to make the kickabout. McDonald’s, advised by lobbyists Weber Shandwick, said a director would “say a few words” at the reception. A corporate video crew is expected to film the gathering. The company also raised the possibility of the prime minister wearing a McDonald’s hat, according to a lobbyist with knowledge of the discussions, but Millbank ruled that out as unacceptable. The arrangement last night prompted unease within the party’s own ranks amid mounting criticism of the Labour leadership’s use of the conference as a money-spinning convention. The Labour MP John McDonnell, a critic of transnational corporations such as McDonald’s, said: “It turns my stomach, I don’t know how low we can sink. It just shows how out of touch the Labour leadership is with the rank and file of the movement.””

Is that the code review finished?


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