It was slick. It was savvy. And it could well prove to be Team Murdoch’s saviour.
Rupert Murdoch’s performance at the select parliamentary committee in London, where he was grilled for two hours, was a polished, professional and painstakingly manufactured PR master class.
As father and son sat down looking like Mr Burns and Smithers, the phone hacking scandal had already knocked 12pc off the value of News Corp shares, which cost the Murdoch family a cool $750m (don’t shed to many tears, the family’s stake is still worth about $5.2 billion).
However, as Murdoch Senior masterfully handled his inquisitors and his wife busily batted away shaving-foam pies, the share price of his media empire News Corp began to soar.
At 80-years-old, Murdoch’s public relations strategy has at times seemed as frail as the man himself. As the raging inferno of the phone hacking scandal engulfed News Corp, Murdoch looked out of touch as he lurched from crisis to crisis after one shock revelation followed another.
However, when he eventually assembled his dream team of PR advisors, their finger prints could soon be seen all over his statements, apologies and parliamentary performance.
Right from the get-go Murdoch’s coaching was apparent. Just examine his opening statement — “This is the most humble day of my life.”
This was contrived as a sound bite his handlers knew would be repeated in news bulletins and newspaper coverage. It may have been a bit early when he delivered it, but it none the less proved to be one of the quotes of the day.
The massive audience that tuned in to see a ruthless, all powerful, media mogul get his comeuppance, would have been shocked at the frail, tired man that looked every one of his 80 years.
It is very unlikely this just happened to be one of Murdoch’s off days. Remember, this is the same man who was snapped earlier in the week out jogging with his personal trainer.
Again, his appearance as he sat in the glare of the media spotlight was well manufactured to evoke the sympathy an old man unaware of the shenanigans the bright young bucks his company had hired were getting up to deserved.
His son James was a little stiffer in his presentation, but stuck to fixed responses and used meaningless but complex phrases when he got the chance.
It was also noticeable that when Rebekah Brooks took the hot seat she was dressed almost nun-like, her hair colour darkened and her delivery slow and precise.
Her quietly spoken performance was miles away from the Alpha Male environment of the newsroom, which she dominated during her time as editor of the Sun and News of the World. Indeed, her polished performance aimed at showing dignified remorse tried to have us believe newspaper offices are a picture of calmness and politeness.
The phantom pie flinger was something of a distraction, but it very much worked to Murdoch’s advantage.
How could someone try to attack a frail old man like that? When his wife leapt to his defence, she suddenly became the hero of the day. Indeed, the whole episode brought a very real human side to the ruthless billionaire and even an outpouring of sympathy.
Yes, cynics out there are already wondering if it was all part of a well-choreographed carnival. And with the levels these people have stooped to in the past, who knows?
Now Murdoch moves on, battle scared and weary, still wounded, but knowing that his excellent performance may well have helped save his bacon.
As the attention now turns away from the media mogul to focus on the Prime Minister’s part in this sordid tale, without question Murdoch has his handlers to thank. It was a rare opportunity to see how they subtly helped change people’s perceptions of Team Murdoch by focusing on how they spoke, looked and communicated. So while it was no doubt a good day for Murdoch, it was an even better day for the art of public relations.
Paul Allen, Managing Director of Paul Allen and Associates PR, www.prireland.
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