Paul v Heather: the PR verdict
Celebrities who benefit from the best PR know the secret lies in being represented by someone who’s as close to Fleet Street as to their clients.
It’s been a big PR fortnight.
While it may be hard to pick an outright winner between Madonna, McCartney, Prince Charles and the heavy metal merchants from Finland who won Eurovision, it’s a lot easier to identify the loser. Step forward Lady McCartney. Or, if you prefer, Heather Mills.
Public crises are when good PR is needed most and Heather could learn a lot from the queen of pop and the Prince of Wales, not to mention her own husband.
Sir Paul has cleverly maintained his image as a national treasure for more than 40 years, thanks to a loyal serf called Geoff Baker – a former tabloid hack who knew exactly how to play the game from both sides – and it was a big risk to let him go a year ago.
However, thanks to the stewardship of the Outside Organisation, whose Stuart Bell has been living out of Macca’s suitcase on two gruelling world tours, the former Beatle has still come out of this calamity smelling of roses.
Ever adept at playing a part, Sir Paul now inhabits the very role the press assigned to him when Heather first arrived on the scene – the vulnerable widower snared by a cunning little gold-digging vixen. Heather, on the other hand, suffers the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, becoming the butt of another new joke in my email inbox every day.
Meanwhile, Madonna got back on the front pages for a tired old stage routine involving a crucifix (didn’t she do that stunt in the 80s with Like a Prayer?), her queenly image polished to a fresh lustre by the seasoned hand of Barbara Charone.
The undisputed queen of the music PR scene, BC (as she calls herself) has personal relationships with everyone in Fleet Street for the simple reason that everyone in Fleet Street needs to know what Madge is up to next. Just as Outside boss Alan Edwards has been the man every hack needs to know since he launched the Spice Girls and merged them with the Beckham brand to such spectacular effect.
Then there’s Prince Charles and sons’ new best friends of Ant and Dec (and Leonard Cohen) which can be attributed to Charles’s press supremo of the last two years, Paddy Haverson, who also handled effortlessly the heir to the throne’s union with Camilla – no mean feat. A former FT hack, Haverson moved out of Fleet Street to manage publicity at Manchester United before getting the royal summons.
Heather, on the other hand, is looked after by Anya Noakes, a former film and TV publicist (and one-time personal publicist to Sir Ben Kingsley) and a woman to whom most journalists of my acquaintance have never spoken (or heard of) until now.
Perhaps Ms Noakes has spent too long in the world of film publicity, where journalists are often regarded as the enemy (apart from the tame junket crowd). The simple art of plain speaking and open dealing is preferable to the tight-lipped, Stepford approach that our American cousins consider the norm.
The big names in PR in the UK – if not in the US – are as close to their Fleet Street contacts as to their clients. It’s all about trust and nobody trusts someone they don’t know. So if her publicist can’t do it for her, then it’s time for Lady M to build bridges and start communicating. Her future depends on common sense taking a firm hold.