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Court ruling may help clients reclaim reputation management costs

Court ruling may help clients reclaim reputation management costs

Reputaton management The PHA Group

‘image courtesy of patparslow in Flickr’

Suffering a wrongful attack in the media which leads to reputational harm is more often than not a highly damaging experience.

Whether it is a business or an individual, the loss of custom, revenue, respect and social standing, can be devastating.

Then there are the financial costs of seeking redress and repairing the damage caused.

Public Relations professionals would always advocate that crisis and reputation management should begin from the outset and be preventative rather than a cure.

The old adage of “once the horse has bolted” is clichéd, but rings true when it comes to the media and crisis prevention, particularly in the age of the internet when the flames of one story can quickly be flamed and spread across Google in a flash.

Employing lawyers and public relations consultants is an added expense.

The recoverability of legal costs are covered by rules laid out in a set of guidelines commonly termed the Jackson Reforms, which came into play last year and received attention outside of the legal profession during the publicity surrounding the early rounds of the now famous Andrew Mitchell libel trial.

But to most, the costs of hiring public relations professionals to help restore reputation would seem to be a spend that, despite it being an absolutely vital investment, could not be recovered in monetary terms.

However, a little-known court judgment handed down at London’s High Court recently could be set to influence that.

It came following a trade libel case brought by one UK company which battled against a campaign waged against it by a group of defendants.

The company sought PR advice to help it repair damage caused by the slurs. The reputation management work proceeded over 12 months in a bid to retain customers.


At the end of the case, which was won by default by the company, the judge ruled that the money spent by the company on its PR firm were recoverable damages.

Mr Justice Parks said that he had “no difficulty in concluding that…..the cost of employing a public relations consultant to undo some of the reputational damage which the first claimant suffered…. are recoverable as reasonable mitigation.”

This meant that the money spent on the PR campaign would, be the order of the court, be recoverable from the losing side.

It added to damages which totalled more than £400,000, including some £240,000 in profits which had been found to be lost as a result of the reputational attacks on the company.

Of course, not all reputation management matters end up as libel trials, and this judgment would only be relative to matters which have proceeded to court and a libel hearing.

Lawyers, and indeed Public Relations professionals worth their salt, would only advise on litigating to seek redress only if that course of action was absolutely necessary.

Nor should those who have suffered reputational harm take it as read that they will always be able to recover costs of PR if they end up using those who have libelled them.

But this judgment is important as it means the PR costs have been recognised by a judge as being a cost which can be recovered by way of damages from the other side. It is down to a clients’ legal team to argue the case and claim for the PR costs as part of the case.

As lawyers and public relations professionals often work in tandem when fighting to restore a mutual clients’ reputation, the judgment is worth noting in case the battle ends up in court.

Despite the media barrage Nigella’s image should recover with time

One of the biggest news stories to break last year was the divorce of Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi, and the series of events surrounding it. Growing up my mother would habitually use recipes from Nigella Lawson’s cookery books, one, in particular, was her second book, Kitchen Recipes from the Heart of the Home which is so well-thumbed and splattered with cake mix it is barely readable. I remember pouring over the glossy pages, admiring this glamorous and successful woman who made cooking seem such a desirable hobby. That’s not to say that Nigella was my ultimate idol. Yet I have always held a certain respect for Lawson, she has endurably presented such a calm and sophisticated presence to the press, certainly a figure in the public eye to admire.

Yet recent allegations have certainly gone some way to changing her public image as a domestic goddess. In one aspect I feel deeply sorry for Nigella who has dealt with circumstances in life that would depress anyone. The death of her mother and sister, and her first husband to cancer is deplorable and tragic, something nobody should have to deal with in their life. Additionally, the mistreatment she suffered from Saatchi to whom she was married for ten years, with which she described the experience as ‘intimate terrorism’. Nigella has not had a smooth path in life.

Yet admitting to drug use does strike a sour taste in my mouth. Although she claims to have used drugs a maximum of 10 times, albeit, through a very difficult period in her life, I still cannot ignore the fact that she has partaken in something that could potentially sabotage her health and send a bad message not only to the public but to her children.

Nigella's reputation will recover

Nigella’s reputation will recover

Although I cannot condone the use of drugs, I still can’t help but feel some sort of compassion towards Nigella. I do vehemently feel that the focus in the media’s headlines on her illicit drug taking is narrow and arrogantly ignorant of why the drug use was initially revealed – the Grillo sisters’ trial. The press are honing in on Nigella’s drug use as if it is her on trial instead.

During the trial, Lawson calmly admitted to her drug use, which admittedly must have taken some degree of confidence and strength. Throughout she has remained dignified despite being slammed by the papers, even though she is the one person who will stand to lose the most. The lack of courtesy toward Nigella’s personal and private life is, I suppose, hard to avoid when you are famous and essentially the public’s business.

It’s safe to say there are very few worse allegations which can be thrown at her and I believe long-term Nigella’s reputation will recover. Her new show The Taste was aired on Channel 4 last night and should help bring the focus back to what she can do in the kitchen rather than what she has confessed in the courtroom.