From movies to political campaigns to news stories; what drives the public's interest is the narrative.
With the outrage surrounding the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, the emerging narrative is a rather shocking one that's left Rupert Murdoch scrambling.
|(Can Edelman make him|
Enter the PR firm Edelman.
They are a typical PR firm: they steer the public narrative in the direction that's the most positive for their clients.
When Wal-Mart was making over $11 billion in profits from over $351 billion in revenues during 2006, Edelman was sending press releases to right-wing bloggers to criticize any legislation that would be in opposition of Wal-Mart's interest such as the expanding of health care benefits for their employees. And so "flogs" - or fake blogs - were born.
In the UK, they touted the environmental record of the energy company E.ON with stories like "E.ON helps Cumbrian primary school go green" and avoid mentioning their plans to build a coal-fired power station. Edelman has no problem with greenwashing.
Crisis management is a specialized type of public relations. None of it too secret or nefarious. Edelman even provides us with their approach.
Here's Richard Edelman, the firm's CEO, participating in a discussion group conducted by the Churchill Club discussing "New Trends in Corporate Reputation Management". I don't recommend the 1 hour 30 minute video unless you are fascinated by public relations. Here are the key points to come away from crisis management:
"Judge us by these actions"
The closing of News of the World occurred prior to the hiring of the Edelman firm. It was - quite simply - a miscalculation. Most of the employees had nothing to do with phone hacking. It was a management problem. The closing of the paper was coupled with Murdoch reaffirming his full support of Rebekah Brooks.
Since the PR firm has been on board, that full support disappeared: Rebekah Brooks and Les Hinton have "resigned". Before bringing Edelman on board, News Corp dropped their BSkyB bid which would have consolidated even greater power over the media in Britain. That was far from a miscalculation as this has everything to do with News Corp's influence over law enforcement and politicians.
Rebekah Brooks, News International's Chief Executive, resigns early in the day on the 15th of July, 2011. Public statements are made available to the press. This is long after she's said on July 21st, 2009 that "The Guardian coverage has, we believe, substantially and likely deliberately misled the British public."
Les Hinton, who was formerly head of the newspaper arm of News Corp called News International and was until recently the top executive at Dow Jones & Co (publisher of the Wall Street Journal), also resigns. With public statement in tow, he affirms "When I appeared before the Committee in March 2007, I expressed the belief that Clive Goodman had acted alone". However, in 2007, it's more accurate to say that restricting journalists from illegal access was less than a primary concern.
James Murdoch paid out the hush money to phone hacking victims but they'll keep him far in the background...
"Find expert commentary to support your cause."
Steve Doocy and a PR guy.
The repetition of the words "hacking problem" and "piling on" were the two talking points that were repeated in this sorry excuse for an interview. News Corporation were the ones that hacked into cell phones. Deflecting the issue and trying to make this about generic "hacking" seems completely disconnected from reality. The "piling on" claim would have some merit if the corporation hadn't lied for years and years.
I expect more "experts" to emerge. The "hacking problem" narrative will be tossed but the "piling on" narrative will be maintained as it plays extremely well with the existing narrative of Republican persecution within the mainstream media.
"It's no longer about reassuring shareholders but all the stakeholders."
And here was the penitent Murdoch visiting Millie Dowler's family and apologizing. The association of the very disturbing role News of the World played has left an indelible mark. They didn't just hack into a dead girl's phone. They didn't just delete her messages which gave the family false hope she was still alive. News of the World did all this and was then granted an exclusive interview with the Dowlings as they expressed that same hope to those reporters that hacked their dead daughter's phone. They never said anything until they got caught.
"Revealing all misdeeds at once is better than drawing it out in the long term"
Well, that depends just how deep the rabbit hole goes, doesn't it? If this extends to his other British papers and even to some of his American media assets, Mr. Murdoch faces a serious problem. Ofcom, the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, is looking into whether Rupert Murdoch is a "fit and proper" person to own a media company.
"Someone needs to hear something 5 times before they believe it. Be omnipresent."
Hence the "We are sorry." campaign splayed on every major British newspaper in the country.
So the efforts of Edelman will be to contain the bleeding. They'll focus on assuring the public that those responsible for phone hacking have been dealt with. They'll work to rebuild the News Corp brand that enjoyed a solid reputation in Britain. It will admit some of its failings and try to reingratiate itself with the public in the goal of regaining its trust.
They certainly don't want to focus on the following questions:
1. How pervasive were the bribes to police at News Corp?
2. How much hush money did James Murdoch pay out to victims of phone hacking?
3. Neil Wallis - who's been arrested himself for phone hacking at News of the World - had been hired by the Metropolitan Police in October 2009 to advise the commissioner: why?
4. Why did the police admonish The Guardian on two separate occasions for continuing with its coverage of the phone hacking scandal?
5. Why did Scotland Yard fail to reopen the investigation into phone hacking when there was clear evidence that it was ongoing?
6. Why were politicians so timid in asking questions regarding these allegations?
7. How widespread are these illegal practices within all of News Corp?
Grab the popcorn because what emerges from this saga will dictate who sets the agenda - and writes the narrative - in Britain.