Pitch; An Advertising Agency And A PR Firm Are Set The Task of Making Mohamed Al Fayed A Much-Loved Member Of The British Establishment

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The Independent Online
Steve Chinn, planning director, Saatchi and Saatchi

It seems to me that in the UK we have a tradition of being tolerant, liberal-minded, open and democratic. One thing advertising could do for Al Fayed is revisit this latent set of values, and re-awaken the emotional connection that people have with that culture.

Advertising could associate Al Fayed with those traditional values, but in a contemporary way. By that I don't mean "Cool Britannia"; I mean the new establishment, which is essentially one of entrepreneurs. And they're in fact a multi-ethnic group. Al Fayed himself is Egyptian; there's the Asian Shami Ahmed, who runs the Joe Bloggs clothing label, and there are the people who run Pataks, the Indian spices company. Unfortunately, though, he's allowed his image to become associated more with the old establishment, through the Dodi-Diana connection and the issue of his citizenship.

So I think it's a matter of asking what his brand strengths are - and the answer to that is that he's part of a group of entrepreneurs who are defining the shape of the Britain that we are becoming. I would advise Al Fayed to associate himself with the growth and renewal of Britain, and embrace this new multi-ethnic establishment of entrepreneurs. The way they conduct their business, and what they do with their money, is far more influential on the way everyone else behaves than what governments do. So I think what he should do is adopt a Prince of Wales persona, maybe setting up an institution like the Prince's Youth Business Trust. That would be bang-on: it would make young people want to emulate him and he'd become accepted.

The advertising would then grow out of these initiatives. But you'd have to be "under the radar" about it - you couldn't use traditional media. Instead of doing advertising trying to persuade people that: "Tthis is a really great guy - don't you just love him?", what you've got to be doing is an open, honest piece of communication in the broadsheet newspapers - papers because it needs the urgency of that environment.

A great example of that would be an open letter from the "Fayed Foundation for Business", or whatever it would be called, to the participants in it and the people who are benefiting from it, talking about what it's doing, and setting up its charter. There's a great example of that kind of communication from the US. US Air, after their Pittsburgh crash in 1994, instead of running advertising saying what a wonderful airline it was, ran an open letter in the press from the chairman to members of the frequent flyer scheme talking honestly and openly about what they were doing about safety. That was far more effective, because it was true.

Mark Borkowski,

Mark Borkowski PR

The first thing to do with someone who's potentially in as much trouble as he is in the public eye is sit down with him and try to make him understand that. But I would try to understand his point of view, too. The big problem is that we receive information about someone specifically in terms of how he handles his public affairs - and really, he has used his power to achieve some fairly negative publicity. But you're also dealing with a public figure who's grieving, in public, so you have to be extremely sensitive. The first thing he's got to do is just disappear from the scene for a while. No one makes any good judgements unless they have time to have a clear look at what they're going to do. I would certainly look at avoiding the tabloid press; he's not going to achieve anything that way.

What's perceived to be important to him is his idea of statehood - being enveloped into the upper echelons of our society. Whether that can ever be achieved, I don't know. But I think he should distance himself from the running of Harrods. I think it's become a huge problem for him, in terms of past customers and the fact that it's an emblem - the ultimate shopping location. He's playing with an institution that is difficult to change.

He's obviously a charitable man, with a vast fortune. I would certainly look at setting up a charitable interest for him - keeping away from anything connected with Princess Diana - looking at how positively his extraordinary wealth can be used on a grass-roots level, without looking for any backslapping and without affecting his nationhood. He's the sort of person who obviously has contacts and uses them, and obviously has spin doctors who play up some of the more traditional roles for him - but perhaps throwing all that out and starting again, not looking to the establishment that has shunned him, is what's needed. Dodi was an interesting film producer, and it seems to me that the hip and hot thing in this country is looking at redeveloping the British film business. So perhaps he should see if he can play a role in that - to do something that will really surprise people and take their breath away. Or there are elements of the New Britannia - fashion, or the new technologies - that he should look at getting involved with, looking towards the new establishment as opposed to the old establishment, as Blair has done. I think his media acquisitions, such as Punch and Liberty Radio, were not altogether well judged. Punch is an old establishment title, and it was difficult to do anything fresh and new with it.

It strikes me it's about acquiring media power, without understanding the pitfalls of that. Basically, he has to establish as opposed to reinvigorate, and play a part in innovation, as opposed to trying to make lame dogs walk.