Critics of Max Clifford fail to comprehend his talents

The celebrities he manufactures may come and go but the silver fox remains centre stage, marvels fellow PR Mark Borkowski

Put any misgivings about Jade Goody's Barnumesque three-ring circus sideshow to one side for a moment. Instead, focus on the silver fox who has been the undisputed ringmaster of recent events in her life: Max Clifford.

He may not be attired in a garish ring suit, but Clifford is clearly visible as the man, centre stage, pulling the financial strings. This is not written as a genuflection to the cult of Clifford, more as an explanation of the reality. He is doing something more than a mere job – he is reacting to the peccadilloes of the age.

Clearly it is necessary for him to either not care about Jade or to refuse to be paid to do that job; to carry it off, he has to place himself in a zone devoid of any emotion. Max remains calm, confident and never flustered, despite the slings and arrows aimed at him. His style of delivery has been criticised, but it is deliberate, matter of fact. Max is a spokesman; he is doing a job that few can do. Reminiscent of a river pilot steering his charge through dangerous waters, he vigilantly avoids all the sandbanks that might scupper the good ship of any celebrity brand he is steering.

Clifford has always functioned in the wasteland between public merit and clandestine vice, creating content for the curtain-twitching masses – none of whom will ever admit to their trivia addiction. Jade's wedding was a high-water mark in the celebrity-obsessed world we have allowed to prosper. The enduring picture we have taken away, however, was not the pitiful Goody forcing a smile through the pain; it was Max, surrounded by a sea of microphones and flanked by camera lenses. Like an effortless highwire act juggling nine skittles, he kept the media audience in the big top entertained in a style that few understand, measuring each sound bite for maximum effect.

Waspish bourgeois media dinner parties, I am sure, have a curt point of view regarding Clifford's modus operandi. But they fail to comprehend his skill. Yes, he has enemies, but he knows the power of collateral. For decades he has not compromised his style; he knows what works and the power of his personal business relationships. He's happier to operate openly, on the phone and in the flesh. Max has not bowed to the digital age, and his instinct, shaped by decades of experience, is impossible to learn without years in the foxhole. Despite operating in the age of time compression, he confounds the 24-7 swirl. His tell-tale grey hair is an insignia, a livery, which indicates his membership of a unique guild that few have the skill or stamina to join.

I have often observed his methods of dealing with each media ruck and marvelled at his deft hand-offs, reminiscent of the Welsh wizard scrum-half Gareth Edwards in full flow. He is an adept distracter who knows how to deliver up a sound bite in an utterly disarming fashion while keeping the media paymaster happy. He's more than aware that one false move, one slip, could lead to a chain reaction that could negate the final payment of the big cheque.

When the cameras stop rolling and Jade becomes a sad footnote in the history of Celebrityville, Clifford will pop up again and again; he is a brand and he occupies a unique place in the media landscape. If you're in the public eye and you need to exploit your 15 months of fame quickly, he is accessible and has his finger on the pulse.

His type of PR has grown in the last 15 years to suit the times. But I do not see any Clifford clones or heirs to his throne coming up through the ranks. Is this because of the way PR is retrenching, underscoring the inability of the new breed to come to terms with the ever-shifting churn of media from both sides of the fence?

There are a number of PR people out there who need to take a clear look at Max Clifford. These are the people who decry his tactics and lampoon his deadpan manner with the press, the people rushing headlong into the digital media age without any grounding in the skills that have made him such a success: most notably the 360-degree vision that allows him to spot incoming missiles before they hit, be they aimed at him or his clients. Regardless of what anyone thinks of him, there is much that can be learned from him.

He is, first and foremost, a creation of the media and of his clients. His success in finding a continually crashing wave of "sordid human interest" stories for the tabloids has been unparalleled over the past 20 years, an age that has seen boundaries of morality and taste shift significantly.

Without the standards of modern media, he could never have been successful. Make no mistake: the floorboards of his office will creak under the weight of many more scandals for years yet.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: PR Account Manager / AM

£20-30K(DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a PR Account M...

Guru Careers: Account Manager / Account Executive

Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: One of the UK’s largest and most s...

Guru Careers: Marketing and Communications Manager

£Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing and Co...

Guru Careers: Digital Designer / Interactive Designer

£ Highly Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: A Digital Designer / Interactive Des...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence