News Corp.’s damage control offensive—which has visibly ramped up in the past three days—bears the mark of Edelman, the public relations firm it hired three days ago to mop up its image.
News Corp. has been using Edelman for ad hoc advice since June; it officially hired the firm on Tuesday, July 12.
Up until then, Murdoch and son James, chairman of News Corp's U.K. unit News International, had refused to appear before a parliamentary panel; Thursday, they reversed that stance. That same day, Rupert Murdoch's first interview since the scandal exploded was published. Friday saw the resignations of both Rebekah Brooks, who stepped down as CEO of News International, and Les Hinton, who announced he'd leave his job as CEO of Dow Jones & Co. and publisher of The Wall Street Journal, and it was revealed that a Murdoch apology for “serious wrongdoing” would run in U.K. newspapers Saturday.
A former Edelman PR man said the firm is extremely sensitive to public opinion and would have advised such a public apology by the senior-most executive at the company.
“You need to show some quick wins and responses to various stakeholders,” the Edelman vet said. “Edelman often talks about operating in a trust economy. [Current CEO] Richard Edelman talks about how businesses need a license to operate, and to do that, need to have trust of a various number of stakeholders that are around them.”
The vet also was critical of when and how publicly the Edelman hire was made, though, saying it could leave the impression that News Corp. felt it needed help controlling the damage.
“I think it was strategic blunder for both News Corp. to wait so long to hire an outside agency … given how in the spotlight they are and how much they are a target of public criticism,” this person said. “But also think it was a mistake [by Edelman] to go on record about them being brought in.”
One media PR vet who’s familiar with the Edelman culture said the about-face also has Rubenstein Public Relations, which handles News Corp. in the U.S. and is known for managing the press in crises, all over it.
“I’m sure the Rubenstein people were telling them, 'You’ve got to start being more cooperative here,'” this source said, noting that the Murdochs' refusal to appear before Parliament left the perception that they’re “above it.” Added that PR executive: “They were just killing themselves.”
Edelman is known for its size and global clients like Starbucks and Burger King, if it isn’t the biggest name in crisis management.
An advantage the firm may bring News Corp. in dealing with the press is its recent hires of executives from the BBC, a rival to News Corp. Edelman last year hired the BBC's former director of news, Richard Sambrook, to head what it calls its crisis and issues practice. He’s expected to be part of the firm's News Corp. team. And in July, it hired Ed Williams, the BBC’s communications director, as its U.K. CEO, starting Oct. 31.
News Corp. said Edelman is only working for it in the U.K., seemingly leaving Rubenstein to handle the growing U.S. part of the scandal, where the FBI has begun an investigation. Where this leaves Freud Communications, whose founder Matthew Freud is married to Murdoch daughter Elisabeth, remains the subject of speculation. News Corp. denied Freud has been advising it on the scandal, though some aren’t convinced.
“This is his son-in-law. Freud Communications has been on retainer for years for a large sum of money,” a PR executive said.