PR: Bruised, he may be. But you can’t write off Max Clifford
Fellow showbiz publicist Mark Borkowski says the Clifford brand will survive the Hamiltons’ victory
06 February 2005
Max Clifford has worked in publicity since 1962 and has forgotten more than most media teenies know. He understands all about the really famous as well as the merely infamous. As his experience and status were at their height, so too was the cult of celebrity, leaving him in exactly the right place at the right time. Part journalist, part deal-maker, he is the ultimate media middleman, who looks after his own brand very carefully.
Some might feel that the brand is a touch tarnished after Clifford last week agreed to pay Neil and Christine Hamilton a six-figure sum in costs and damages over false rape allegations. The Hamiltons had sued Clifford over comments he made in August 2001 about their relationship with Nadine Milroy-Sloan. She had made a series of lurid, unfounded allegations of sexual assault against the Hamiltons – and ended up being jailed for three years in 2003 for perverting the course of justice.
Clifford certainly made a mistake by appearing to give substance to Ms Milroy-Sloan’s allegations, and he admits it. Were it not for legal advice that flew in the face of his gut instinct, he would undoubtedly have settled the case far earlier in the process.
“He has eaten humble pie,” crowed Neil Hamilton, but that is not true. Instead, Clifford has demonstrated the art of the apology in action. In an age in which politicians and big business foul up but never apologise for it, we enjoy seeing someone apologise. We appreciate the gesture even when we don’t take it at face value.
In staying away from the High Court and having his apology read out by the judge, Clifford showed he was still the arch-strategist. Neil and Christine Hamilton are not national heroes. Had the claimant been an Olympic gold-medallist, Clifford would have been there on the stand, apologising in person. But he was not willing to debase his brand by creating a photo opportunity for the Hamiltons.
The 1950s Broadway publicist Richard Maney said: “The press agent is part-beagle, part-carrier pigeon and part-salmon.” Clifford fits this mould. He sniffs out a story, carries it off to his lair and from there propagates it. It’s a very effective business strategy. He doesn’t need to trouble himself with staff or overheads; it’s just a matter of dropping the pebble in the pond and watching the ripples. Fielding the calls.
The media world needs a Max Clifford. There was a time when the average bloke on the street was simply too scared to go to the papers. Clifford recognises that everyone potentially has a story to tell or a bounty to collect on crack-addicted, topless über-babes, and he knows the exact value of that story. Moreover, he can tell you its exact price. He knows that myths are more interesting than facts, and he knows exactly how far to push the limits of the truth. He can balance those limits against the needs of his clients and he knows how to use the celebrity value of one client to boost the currency of another.
But even Clifford is far from untouchable, occupying as he does a corner of the public relations world where stories are sold for cash and the word “sleaze” crops up with great frequency. Clients such as Rebecca Loos and Simon Cowell beat a path to his door when they feel the need to kiss and tell, but even with Clifford’s careful control it is not always a happy process. Once your story is out there, you do not have control over getting it right. The media who did not secure the exclusive will see the handing over of money as the signal to shred what was once someone’s private life until there is nothing left. Clifford is no hero, then nor are the Hamiltons.
Yet in one sense Clifford might have been out-spun by the Hamiltons. Buried deep in the court reports came the news that, with perfect timing, Christine’s autobiography, For Better, For Worse, is published next month. Whisper it in the corridors of PR, but she might have got one over on the master publicist.
Closer to the truth is the fact that if the Hamiltons appear to have had their day, it is only because Clifford has been wise enough to let them have it. He is aware that the media spotlight is focused on him as strongly as ever and that will do him no harm. In fact, it will only add to the cult of Clifford.