Mike Ashley is a coward. He won’t attend games, won’t face investors, won’t take journalists’ questions and cancels fan forums. Who taught him hiding was the best policy? My guess – KBA PR.
I work as senior PR, contrary to popular opinion, most of us believe in behaving ethically. There’s a code good PRs follow and “no comment” or simply not returning a journalist’s call, is not an option.
But it’s Keith Bishop and KBA PR’s only trick.
I don’t hold with the idea that Bishop is a media puppetmaster.
“…cards on the table here: from someone who works as a journalist covering Newcastle, it seems to me that Bishop’s influence over the Newcastle narrative is really fairly limited.”
When you understand that not so long ago Keith Bishop’s biggest clients were a Bay City Roller, an eighties page three girl and the former wife of an England manager, you know this is not an industry leader. Keith Bishop is z-list. More Loose Women than Newsnight.
But he’s far from the first person, way out of their depth, to benefit from a friendship with Mike Ashley.
“No other business or company I’ve covered has simply ignored all requests for comment, however bad the story might be, and I can’t imagine many financial PRs would recommend this as a strategy.
“However, it got me thinking which other parts of journalism does the ‘couldn’t be reached’ approach actually work?
“And then I remembered my time as a showbiz reporter.
“The tactic was regularly used by celebrities and their PR reps when they wanted to avoid a story being published. Saying ‘no comment’ to a story means you’re not denying it and, for most tabloid lawyers, that’s enough to publish.”
If it seems like a nifty trick to avoid headlines, there is a reason why those of us who believe in public relations don’t hide. We believe in the media. We believe in readers. We believe in our customers. If there is something we need to hide – then it’s something we need to fix. Publically owning your problems is often the first step to putting them right.
And knowing you can’t hide ultimately keeps you honest.
If Ashley had to front up on a regular basis he just might start to care what people thought a little more. He might think twice about cutting transfer budgets. He might be a little more transparent about Sports Direct perimeter advertising.
Don’t forget that the only Newcastle United employee regularly facing the press in an open forum is Rafa Benitez and frequently with Bishop standing over him. For what? So he can bill the club is my only guess. And with Ashley owning 51% of KBA PR, it’s yet more cash being pulled out of Newcastle United.
This week it came to light that KBA PR has reported Newcastle United fans to the Metropolitan Police, following negative online reviews.
Keith Bishop Agency:
‘The review clearly appears to be fabricated and inflammatory and it forms part of a larger negative campaign against Mike Ashley, Sports Direct, Newcastle United FC, KBA, of which the Metropolitan Police have been made aware.’
Haha, this is even better. @KBA__Agency complaining to the police about negative reviews. Pretty sure they've got better things to do, Keith. #NUFC@IfRafaGoesWeGo @TheMagpieGroup_ @tfweeklypod @AshleyOutdotcom @NUFC360 @nufctrust #AshleyOut #UnitedAgainstAshley pic.twitter.com/ocp2kzgejr
— Sam GC (@Funguslover) September 26, 2018
It’s an incredible step not, least because any decent PR would be turning around and telling the company – if that’s the perception of us, we need to work harder to change it.
Of course, Bishop has a few favourite contacts. Matt Hughes at The Times is clearly close to our owner. And it’s widely known that David Craig is/was a client. The rest, Wise, Keys, Gray, Ferdinand, Souness, assorted TalkSport goons etc – they’re just happy to be paid to repeat lazy stereotypes and keep in with a billionaire. Easy money – we’re all just fickle Geordies, right?
While the media has little sympathy for football fans, it was interesting to see the response when KBA PR tried ignoring House of Fraser customers.
“The communication from House of Fraser has been atrocious.”
And they weren’t the only ones.
So #HouseOfFraser PR @KBA__Agency ignored my emails and phone calls about this story. They had a chance to clarify and offer balance but left me to write a negative article – which is now being picked up by radio and other media… https://t.co/T30SWsDSzw
— simon read (@simonnread) September 18, 2018
Ashley’s whole approach to communications has been shaped by Keith Bishop and his public relations company.
Never taking a call means never having to say you are sorry. Never facing fans means never being reminded of your own mistakes. It means you can appoint your mates or under-qualified family members and pay them millions. It means you can treat employees and customers like dirt.
It means never learning or improving.
Frankly, a far better FA test for potential football owners would be to make each one face twice-yearly press conferences, as managers do. If that means the game would lose oligarchs, sheikhs and Ashley, that would be fine by me.