Giving to charity won’t wash the moral taint off a sleazy event

It’s been a tough week for men who attended the Presidents Club fundraising dinner 2018. One moment they were drinking champagne with their mates and perhaps allegedly trying to cop a feel of a ‘host’ who’s young enough to be their daughter while bidding for lunch with Boris Johnson – next moment they’re in a journalistic exposé by the Financial Times.

Often the biggest single ask a client of a PR firm can make is: ‘I want to be in the FT!’

Well, job done for around 300 lucky chaps.

The handful of independent billionaires may retire to their superyachts to fume a bit. And men with job descriptions like ‘Sir Philip Green’s stepson’ probably won’t need to wear a disguise to pop round Waitrose.

But there are a lot of ‘brands’ linked to attendees whose image-guardians are mightily peed off with their butt-slapping brand ambassadors.

Attendees tainted by their attendance (even if not the harassing kind themselves) include restaurateur Sir Richard Caring, who bid to have part of a hospital named after him. He’s in the hospitality business – this does dent the ‘nice meal out’ image needed to keep a reservations book full.

He clearly saw the image problem, and went to his lawyers. The Guardian reported ‘Caring’s solicitors said he arrived late at the dinner and left early.’ Left before he arrived, I see.

What other names? You’ve got Barclays, Goldman Sachs, Mishcon de Reya, Ocado, Watford FC, Coutts, the Conservative Party, the Labour Party, the University of Bolton – and then, obviously the Dorchester Hotel.

A spokesperson for Artista agency, which recruited the soon-to-be-allegedly-manhandled hostesses, told the Financial Times: ‘There is a code of conduct that we follow, I am not aware of any reports of sexual harassment and with the calibre of guest, I would be astonished.’

Did she really put out that statement with an ounce of integrity flashing up?

A good response for, say, 1918 – not 2018, when the last few months have taken the protective sheen off the ‘calibre’ defence.

I have my own views on how wrong the boorish behaviour described is, but staying objective as a PR professional, also wonder what the best advice is for all the brands affected?

Well, the Presidents Club has collapsed under the weight of this negative coverage – this was the FT, remember, not The Fake Sheikh – and of the decision of prominent organisations, such as children’s hospitals, to refuse the donations. On that point did the charities have any other choice? To keep the money is to suggest high profile sexual harassment is OK. These activities were not charitable and sought to hide behind the fact that it’s OK how you treat people because it’s for charity….

So for the brands affected what should they do?

Step 1 – just make a donation direct to these good causes, and make it as big or bigger than the original pledge – do it anonymously if they must.

Step 2 – review the way they respond to questions and issue statements. Since Mandy Rice Davis uttered the immortal line in the Profumo Scandal, ‘Well he would, wouldn’t he?’, ‘How dare you suggest…!’ hasn’t really washed as a defence.

Step 3 – have a strong internal word. One incident looks bad – two or three like this with your brand linked via your boys’ philanthropic work starts to make it look like it’s what you normally do.

The events you attend can and will affect your brand. Don’t be fooled into thinking that an event with well-known bad behaviour is OK because it has an air of charity about it. Giving to charity cannot wash the moral taint off an event like this…the brand police certainly won’t be very charitable if video footage emerges showing your face or even worse your hands in the wrong place.

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