Jon Ashworth – the corridors of power …

There was no mention of the unfortunate incident in which Brunswick accidentally left a sensitive dossier in a restaurant. They spun their way out of it by insisting that the ‘dossier’ was a weekend press cuttings distribution list for clients and advisers, but it made for embarrassing headlines.

Happily, publication of this article coincided with a new book: Talespin: Public Relations Disasters by Gerry McCusker, a former PR man.

He writes: ‘More loathed than lawyers and more slagged off than salesmen, PR practitioners are widely regarded as the business types the public trust least.’

It takes one to know one. The book goes on to recall instances where the spinmeisters lost control, such as Hoover and its disastrous free flights offer, which cost the company £50m.

But there are instances when the PR people – working closely with the financial advisers – do earn their keep in takeover situations. A classic was Hanson’s failed bid for ICI in the 1990s.

After some digging, it emerged that Lord White had a string of racehorses bought for him by his company. This threw the Hanson camp off balance at a critical time.

To be fair to Brunswick, this was a case in which the firm acted for the winning side. But the real credit surely goes to Kroll Associates, the private eyes who found out about the racehorses.

After all, anyone can leak information to journalists. Finding the killer material is the hard part.

Jon Ashworth is business features editor at The Times.

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