Friday 22 March 2013

Abchat Weekly Wrap Up: A Gentlemen’s Agreement

A junior Evening Standard journalist was suspended this week following the revelation that he tweeted market sensitive details, a picture of the newspaper's embargoed front page detailing the 2013 Budget, moments before George Osborne addressed the House Commons with the Budget 2013. The breach of embargo was considered especially serious as it revealed the decision to downgrade Britain’s growth forecast for 2013 to 0.6% - information that could have caused huge disruption in the City. This led to the paper’s political editor, Joe Murphy and the editor, Sarah Sands apologising profusely to the House of Commons, the Speaker and the Chancellor. The Treasury is now anticipated to change its arrangements for pre-briefing the media before the Budget, with the Standard expected to lose its privilege, following a review of pro-active pre-releasing of Budget information which is under an embargo.

One might ask why the Government has historically approached an essentially local newspaper with the Budget under embargo. The answer is simple, the Evening Standard presents the City’s first impression of the announcement before the nationals give their opinions the following day. Today with the increase in digital media activity, you could argue the Standard is getting less important for communicating that ‘first view’ however copies of the Evening Standard will appear on London newsdesks and in broadcast rooms within an hour of the Chancellor’s speech. The influence the Standard can have on other journalists is significant, and arguably one of the Government’s most important tools for spinning and communicating the story they want to be published. This is why the understanding between the Government and the Standard has existed for some time. The anticipated termination of the agreement between the Government and the Standard begs the question will the Government look for another publication to pre-brief with its next Budget or Autumn Statement? It is advisable the Government does seek another publication as it will not want to be at the mercy of broadcasters and nationals without any prior influence.

Former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ken Clarke, was the last Chancellor who kept details of the Budget completely secret until the speech. Gordon Brown, who was King of Spin Tony Blair’s Chancellor, re-wrote the Treasury rule book about the pre-briefing of the Budget, leading to calls from the Tory party that Labour had engaged in the “institutional leaking of Treasury Announcements”. Gordon Brown’s actions set a precedent for a change in the relationship between politicians and journalists, but what it did more was highlight how highly the Government should regard PR. Speaking with journalists under an embargo is a great method for PRs to communicate a story to a journalist. By the very nature of an embargo you are discussing a potentially price sensitive or other time sensitive topic, so there is nearly always an added feeling of importance. However, an embargo is more like a “gentlemen’s agreement” than a contract so trust between PR/ client and the journalist is paramount.

Did the young Evening Standard journalist know what he was doing by breaking the latest embargo? Was he betraying the trust of the Government, and has he damaged the relationship permanently, or at least until we have a change of Government which will happen sooner or later? His editors Joe Murphy and Sarah Sands did their most to salvage the relationship by suspending the youngster however the trust between the Government and the paper has probably been indefinitely damaged. The Government is at fault too though, as an embargo only relies on trust and is not legally binding. This is why when we as PRs approach a journalist under embargo, we are taking on a certain amount of risk, and what the Government has been doing is no different.

BuzzFeed’s VP of Agency Strategy and Industry Development, Jonathan Perleman, gave our team insight on the business section they are creating, ahead of their UK launch. This is going to transform content creation making it more shareable, as it has already been doing with its Political and Entertainment verticals.

Our Life Sciences team hosted an excellent Market Lunch this week covering the ethics of ageing and dealing with neurodegenerative diseases.

Bozzy attended Social Stock Exchange’s Private Introduction.

Our Leeds Abchaps attended WH Ireland’s drinks party in Manchester.

Klout” – metric of social influence.

The V&A’s much anticipated “David Bowie is” opens tonight, exploring his musical innovation and fashion and cultural influence.

Tonight the Clerkenwell Kitchen Supper Club’s returns with a Wild March Feast of five courses, featuring wild boar.

Wandsworth Common’s 5th annual beer festival opens on Wednesday at Le Goithique.

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