For the person concerned, this was almost as embarrassing as the case of the City analyst who drunkenly relieved himself against a dark glass ‘wall’ outside La Caprice – not realising the wall was a window, and he was peeing directly at the horrified diners on the other side.
But the dossier’s loss was nonetheless mortifying for the firm in question: Brunswick.
On the face of it, Brunswick is a PR success story. It acts for 30 of the FTSE-100 companies, making it to public relations what PricewaterhouseCoopers is to auditing. But for all its dominance, Brunswick is not popular with journalists. It is insufferably arrogant, boasting to clients about its supposed ability to ‘control’ the press.
Brunswick’s total loss of control in this case was seized upon with great delight. Whether the dossier contained secrets or not was in the end irrelevant.
What the incident did, was raise questions about whether City PR firms like Brunswick have simply become too powerful. They routinely work with the UK’s biggest companies, sharing their most sensitive secrets. And yet, what do they contribute, other than to spin disinformation in nasty takeover battles?
Clients must wonder what they pay people like Brunswick for. A lot of it comes down to holding the hand of media-shy chief executives. Brunswick charged British Airways the outrageous sum of Pounds 1m a year to cover for Bob Ayling. It presumably charges similar fees to clients like Marks & Spencer, BT and Railtrack, without doing much to improve their appalling public images.
Shareholders of these companies might rightly ask exactly what they are getting for their money.
- Jon Ashworth is business features editor at The Times.