I have known Keith Schilling for many years; he’s a highly able human being. On many occasions I’ve worked alongside some brilliant folk in his firm and have regularly taken part in their brilliant, thought-provoking, well attended seminars.
In the last few days, Keith has been pictured in many broadsheet newspapers as journalists debate and chew over Schilling’s tactics and, of course, fees. It’s in their nature to feed on these events, but make no mistake, he’s a formidable operator.
The Ryan Giggs debacle has generated a vast swathe of comment and opinion. Common sense suggests that the exposure of Giggs’s extra-marital fling with a toxic, fame-hungry reality babe influenced by the fools gold of kiss and tell was really only a weekend PR tornado. I agree; if Giggs had faced up to the situation, which was very much of his making, the conclusion might have been very different. However, we are talking about a very big IF. Few can infiltrate the inner workings of a complex ego belonging to a public figure in distress, and therefore few have the experience to give the best counsel.
The Giggs meltdown has turned what could have been a quickly forgotten incident into an international incident of ugly oil spill proportions.
The real issue here is who is the FIRST person a celebrity or brand turns to when in trouble: a well-seasoned PR or legal muscle? Whisper this truth: BOTH are needed. Just as with BP/Hayward, the chaos was made worse by defensive US attorneys. The litany of PR meltdowns only happened because someone who had only bothered to scan read PR for Dummies was calling the shots.
Despite the exaggerated sums of gold sitting in celebrities’ Swiss bank accounts, few are prepared to stick their hands in their pocket. A handful may invest in long term relationships with wise, grey haired PR folk, but that’s about it.
I’m being contentious here – a few can be trusted, but some (who shall remain nameless) are unprofessional gossips; a crime which is considerably worse than some of the petty celebrity misdemeanours.
The bad offer their service for free – even monkeys get paid peanuts by the proverbial organ grinder. The sages that wrangled reputation in Hollywood’s golden age knew how to deal with the egos of both their charges and the media with which they interacted. When the system broke down, few would pay the freelance flaks and saw the US media savage reputations.
Simon Cowell is happy to cough up cash to keep Max Clifford in clover and the wolf from the door. Matthew Freud privately boasts about the cash he is paid. Alan Edwards and Gary Farrow can fence with the best. The upper end of celebrity invests to build relationships but the Giggs affair proves that the sparking Twittersphere can ignite flammable reputations.
Digital technology has created an environment where only those with sensible negotiation skills and calm heads can thrive. There is a time for the writ – but it can easily turn into the doomsday button and not the tactical pre-emptive strike the incautious imagine it to be. The old and the new can be happy bedfellows, but only if wisdom is allowed full reign.