Ron Finlay

December 3, 2007

Ron Finlay is the Chief Executive of Editorial Intelligence’s backers, Fishburn Hedges. Even according to their own publicity you get the feeling that people at Fishburn Hedges (FH) are probably working for someone else:

“We are all client-focused. Everyone, from the chairman down, has client service as their priority. Both Neil Hedges and Ron Finlay, our chief executive, dedicate 75% of their time to client work.”

What only 75% committed to their clients! What happened to good old 110%. One also gets the feeling that EI have been beaten to their not so original game:

“Typically our client teams will mix career PR practitioners with consultants who have professional experience in that client’s field. Our consultants include former bankers, advertising planners, authors, civil servants, trade unionists, stock brokers, charity fund raisers and, of course, journalists.”

Yes, they will steal ideas from practically anyone. Their list of clients is a who’s who of companies which have manipulated whatever mild reform the government was minded to apply and are dependent on an expensive PR shell. In fact FH handle Shell’s ‘Global reputation management programme’, the Bank of America’s ‘Media relations strategic counsel and public affairs internal communications’, Barclay’s ‘Personal finance media relations programme and business banking media relations programme’, BT’s — Public relations programme across BT Retail and also work with Serco and IBM.

And what do they get for their money? according to these publicity gurus, “all PRs should take note that purple type on their CV, a thorough knowledge of East Enders and frequent use of pretence of sincerity goes a long way.”

Someone probably suggested that they put in these little touches to persuade doubters they are human and like a bit of a (client focussed, corporate) laugh.

Translating PR

Transport for London is paying FH a staggering £100,000 a month for ‘advice’ on Ken Livingstone’s congestion charge. They will make more than £2.4m over two years from the account, but the agency, spot the pretence of sincerity, says it is offering value for money.

But what do they do? Fishburn do:

• government relations and regulatory affairs to campaigning

• reactive crisis and issue management to planned corporate positioning

• corporate ethics to corporate community involvement.

Lets translate that a bit:

• smooze politicians off the agenda to clean up toxic sludge

• convince us we wanted the toxic sludge and rename Toxic Sludge Inc.

• start a grass roots company ‘Kid’s for Toxic Sludge’

Or have it their own way:

• We have helped clients to win competition cases. For William Hill, we helped to persuade the competition authorities and the Trade & Industry Secretary to block the proposed merger of Ladbrokes with Coral. We worked with J Sainsbury during the “Rip off Britain” furore to ensure that it came out of the Competition Commission inquiry into the major supermarkets with a clean bill of health.

• We have helped to reposition Powergen with government not only as a respected industry voice but also as leading the way on the environmental and social agenda

• Our work for Unilever, one of the world’s largest food companies, has included communicating its approach to sustainable development to government, opinion formers, NGOs and the media. By working towards best practice, Unilever has added strength to its voice on all the major UK/EU policy issues facing food, farming and fisheries. The programme has included: working with Forum for the Future, the NGO led by Jonathan Porritt, which has advised on the development of Unilever’s Sustainable Agriculture Project.

Of course we also have to confuse the public, particularly now the planet is in such a bad way. The Forum for the Future site is really only a business front demonstrating that information given out by FH (who probably run the thing) is not to be taken on face value; (note Tetrapak run by one of the world’s wealthiest men, make all those disposable cartons of milk you see lying in the streets). Can we really trust this Forum when its ”business partners” are largely drawn from the UK’s FTSE 250 and include major multi-nationals such as Unilever, BP, GlaxoSmithKline, ICI and Vodafone.” ‘Experts’ (well a small group of them) can play spot the contradiction there or ignore them and cash the cheque like Porritt. This environment is polluted by PR.

It’s these phoney organisations that will be of benefit to EI, which can service them. And there are enough of them:

“As part of our work with the Pre-school Learning Alliance, we combined a major conference on early years education and childcare, addressed by the Education Secretary, with the presentation by pre-school children of a cake to the PM at Number Ten as it was his birthday.”
The VP of the Digital Learning Alliance (got up by PR firms) is Graham McMillan — Director of Fishburn Hedges — as if they were interested in real learning. And the whole project is largely an offensive (among many moves) to offset the government’s plans to offer free access to that which the Learning Alliance’s ‘partners’ want to sell.

Fishburn Hedges also take a keen policing interest in activists campaigns if they prompt TV and radio programmes. When a customer exposed that BT Cellnet “had been making unauthorised debits from thousands of people’s bank and credit card accounts, then cynically fobbing off their victims,” the campaign grew to attract mainstream media attention and so Fishburn helped out with some of that “reactive crisis and issue management to planned corporate positioning.”

“BT Cellnet and their PR firm, Fishburn Hedges, visited this site on 16. February, the day before transmission, and later in the week. Fishburn Hedges’ visit was presumably to gauge the extent and detail of media exposure of Cellnet’s fraud.”

Their game was to obscure awareness not to stop the fraud. Rather humorously the ‘Corporate use of codes of ethics: 2004 survey’ was put together by Fishburn Hedges and their survey shows “that responsibility for how corporate codes of ethics operate is increasingly being taken by directors and boards in Britain’s biggest companies.” How true, or is that just PR? let’s start a web site ‘Fool them for the Future’, if that’s not already taken.

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