Fighting for the truth: preserving the reputation of national treasure, Sir Cliff Richard

Our experts have helped countless high-profile individuals and businesses salvage their hard-earned reputations online, offline or both. We deploy a suite of specialised personalised services to defuse crisis, mitigate further risks, take legal action if necessary and create a new, positive media narrative.

Read on to find out how our team of experts supported Sir Cliff Richard during his battle with the BBC following the live broadcast of a raid on his home in August 2014.

The Brief

To protect the reputation of Sir Cliff Richard and ensure the public – globally – were being told the true story of Sir Cliff’s innocence and his battle to clear his name. We deployed a multi-pronged approach using public relations techniques and legal assistance to defuse crisis, mitigate further risks, and create positive media narrative to manage Sir Cliff Richard’s reputation.

Our Strategy

To tell the public the true story of the so-called Cliff Richard Investigation – that Sir Cliff, following collusion between the BBC and South Yorkshire Police, became the victim of some media and police “sweetheart deal” which resulted in him being named as being under investigation during a live broadcast of a raid of his apartment.

  • Build a “fight-back” narrative to reassure the British public – and protect the reputation of Sir Cliff Richard
  • Ensure the message of an unprecedented situation was communicated clearly, accurately and compliant with current journalism law
  • Secure opportunities with key media outlets to communicate Sir Cliff’s side of the story
  • Support and manage the PR for the litigation against the BBC
  • Create a campaign that would have longevity and reduce the impact on Sir Cliff’s career

Our Method

After receiving notice of the police raid and the BBC’s attendance, a crisis team was formed at The PHA Group consisting initially of Chairman, Phil Hall, and former national newspaper journalist Neil McLeod.

From the outset, the strategy, via a public statement released on behalf of Sir Cliff, was to underline his shock at the BBC being on site as his home was raided – and to deny any wrong-doing. The integrated strategy which followed was designed to help the wider team get on the front foot and combined cut-through personal reputation commentary, insightful personal experience pieces and news agenda reaction to help push-back on false perceptions of Sir Cliff and underline the truth – that he is an innocent man fighting for his own rights.

The team worked in partnership with Partners from Michael Simkins LLP, Sir Cliff’s media lawyers, to ensure that events and details were reported accurately, and that falsehoods were corrected or stopped, or not given oxygen. Neil and Phil’s intimate knowledge of the media played a key part in their successful negotiations to ensure Sir Cliff was fairly represented and the record was set straight, with the strategy of being approachable and open with the media being important.

Former award-winning journalist and PHA consultant Phil Taylor was also brought into the account team alongside Phil Hall to coach Sir Cliff to handle tough media questioning he would inevitably face once the investigation was dropped.

Reactive news agenda placement was deployed, for example, in response to reports that Sir Cliff had been banned from the US, our team arranged pictures of him rehearsing in Nashville for his upcoming tour. These were printed by national media outlets. Allegations claiming Sir Cliff had poor health were also reported, so we launched into action, securing six images of Sir Cliff on page 3 in The Mail on Sunday, showing he was in good health and continuing his life as normal. Other media outlets soon followed suit.

Following the BBC story, a media environment was created where many publications seemed to believe it was “open season” to report on Sir Cliff’s life. Our team ensured accurate reporting by the Mail on Sunday and secured a Page One story showing he was fighting for his reputation and his rights following the unprecedented attack on his privacy.

Throughout the campaign, PHA received a plethora of story inquiries, almost on a weekly basis, which arose from false allegations – many of them outlandish – and working with the team to prevent publication or amend stories.

We also secured expert thought leadership consultancy in both the national and international press about privacy legislation, correct terms of events and spokesperson commentary to raise awareness among the public, media and Sir Cliff’s fan base. Our team arranged an exclusive interview with The Daily Mail, a key demographic and the largest circulation in the middle-market, as well as a personal one-to-one interview with close friend Gloria Hunniford on Loose Women. PHA also worked with Cliff and his music company to facilitate positive interviews – and manage messaging – around positive events for Sir Cliff, such as record releases and his sell-out birthday concerts.

Following confirmation of Sir Cliff’s legal action against the BBC, PHA provided support throughout the litigation, helping to engage with journalists and help provide messaging to correct misconceptions on the nature of the litigation and Sir Cliff’s reasons for going ahead with it.

The Result

We harnessed our strategic approach to rally Sir Cliff’s fan base and close friendship group; we reiterated his status as a national treasure in the media and public eye.

Our team established excellent relationships with journalists, ensuring over 150 articles with false allegations were either retracted, amended or we provided a comment, so we could successfully manage Sir Cliff’s reputation.

We established positive awareness and positively shifted assumptions about Sir Cliff’s reputation in the media.
He enjoyed a series of sell-out shows at The Royal Albert Hall and Greenwich, as well as releasing a Greatest Hits album that shot to number 1.

South Yorkshire Police settled with Sir Cliff Richard and admitted in a statement to the High Court that they acted unlawfully.

The BBC mounted a defence against Sir Cliff’s privacy action against him. In April 2018 the court heard how they used a helicopter to live broadcast the raid on Sir Cliff’s home after “strong-arming” South Yorkshire Police with information they had on the early stages of the investigation.

Judge, Mr Justice Mann, delivered his judgment on Wednesday 18 July awarding an initial £210,000 in damages.

We fostered and maintained positive media relations across the board with journalists against a background of challenging issues for them with regards to reporting and some misconceptions over press freedom in relation to the litigation.

Do you need an immediate short-term plan to deal with a problem or situation and a long-term communications strategy to rebuild your profile? Do you also need the help of experienced professionals with strong personal relationships, who can provide sound judgement? We offer all of this and more. Hire the best team to fight your corner. Contact us today to find out more.

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