The Day the Closure of the News of the World became World News!!

July 9, 2011

When a newspaper becomes the news, it is worrying but surely not necessarily terminal?!! Progressively throughout 2011, News International and the News of the World have come to dominate the headlines of the print and broadcast media in the UK and further afield. The great irony is that the News of the World, the standard bearer when it came to exposure of private and public scandals, has become the centre of a media expose and scandal, championed by the Guardian, as a result of how it went about it’s investigative journalism!! The expression, “Live by the sword, die by the sword” springs to mind, but nevertheless was it not a gross overreaction to close a national newspaper and iconic brand that was completely central to the fabric of British culture?!!

The analogy I would use is that it is a little like decapitating somebody because they have a headache. Surely the solution would be to prescribe some painkillers to address the cause of the local pain, rather than losing the whole organ surrounding the area that is affected. On the surface, Rupert Murdoch appears to have closed one of the oldest newspapers in the UK, with circa 7 million readers and 200 staff to save the reputation of one individual – Rebekah Brooks, former Editor of the Sun and News of the World and current Chief Executive of News International. And taken at face value, it is a ludicrously immoral and unfair decision – to sack 200 innocent staff to preserve the position and career of one sullied, discredited Executive!! It merely serves to emphasise the arrogance and bombastic nature of Rupert Murdoch. He is a bully and meglomaniac, built in the same mould as his old newspaper foe, Mirror Group Chairman, the late Robert Maxwell. Like Maxwell, Rupert Murdoch believes his power makes him exempt from law and codes of morality and the sad truth is, it probably does……..

However on another level, purely from a brand marketing and PR perspective, closing the News of the World was the right decision!! In terms of damage limitation to the rest of the Murdoch Empire and remaining portfolio of News International titles and News Corporation media platforms, this ruthless act was the correct business strategy. The News of the World brand had become infected and toxic and the gangrenous limb had to be amputated, to save the rest of the body of News International. As a tool for journalistic investigation, the News of the World was discredited and seen as corruptand therefore had to go .

The moral of this particular “newspaper story” is that once your brand has become sullied and discredited, there is no easy way back without years of hard work re-building the brand reputation and brand integrity, and then there would have been no guarantee that reader and advertiser would have re-embraced the product. News International did not have that luxury of time with the News of the World, as the negative media attention will continue for years and in any event all the main advertising clients had withdrawn their custom – Boots, Asda, Sainsburys, Shop Direct Group, O2, Specsavers, Dixons, Beat Bullying, Ford, Co-op, Vauxhall, Halifax, N Power, Virgin Holidays, Virgin Media, Mumsnet, Butlins, Mitsubishi and Renault. Therefore Rupert and James Murdoch had no other choice but to terminate the life of one of this country’s oldest newspaper brands – in the end this was an act of Crisis PR Management at it’s ruthless best.

What the whole tawdry, sordid and sleazy News of the World Phone Hacking Affair illustrates is this – Brand is everything. It takes decades to build up brand integrity and trust, but it can be lost forever in the blinking of an eye. Once brand credibility and customer trust and loyalty are lost, you have not got a business. Just ask Gerald Ratner!! It does not matter whether you are a blue chip corporate or a small business ( SME ), your brand and your brand image is at the heart of your business. Without it’s heart, your business dies!!


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