MAG Campaign Banking On McKerron and Hay

Getting into the PR game is
something that I wrestle with from time to time, wondering if there is any
merit in giving it a go.

After all, at Planet Ink Ltd, we’re probably half way
there anyway with our design, media, publishing and digital consultancy.

But we’ve always thought
better of it, leaving it to other hacks turned flacks like Scott Douglas and
Raymond Notarangelo over at the Holyrood Partnership and Stephen Rafferty at Sure PR.

Yet you just can’t help but think
there must be huge enjoyment and rewards to be had when you consider how one
particular new PR project has been running like a well loved Rolls Royce engine over the past
week or so. 

My old boss, Gordon ‘Jocky’
Hay was supposed to join my table at the PPA Scotland Magazine Awards the other
week, but dropped out in traditional journalistic fashion at the last minute.

“Sorry old chap, something’s
come up. Can’t talk about it, but I’ll be busy over the weekend,” was all he
said, ever the master of discretion.

There was no point asking,
you knew he’d never tell.

Next thing I know, a new
group called The Merger Action Group  was splashed across the Sunday and daily
newspapers, and I knew then exactly what the “something” was.

It was confirmed in a call
from Scott D, who later blogged this piece about their exploits over what Jocky and old pal Ian McKerron were getting up to.

And he’s not wrong.

Ian McKerron is one of
the most respected operators I know and, together with Jocky, they make a formidable team,
even on the other side of the fence from the papers where they made their

Not quite ‘Victor and Jack’,
although it would be easy to compare at times, anyone in the trade will know
exactly why they’ve been hired.

Their contacts, their
experience, their eye for detail. The bloody mindedness and attack dog

Facing up against the might
of the Lloyds TSB and HBOS media teams in a battle of the headlines may not be
everyone’s cup of tea.

After all, reputations are
cemented or ended in such contests.

Especially when you stop to
consider the banks also have the Department of Business, Enterprise and
Regulatory Reform [BERR] – headed by none other than the Sultan of Spin
himself, Lord Peter Mandelson – in their camp.

But that’s just the way
Jocky and Molecatcher like it, and so far in the David and Goliath-esque
battle, it’s our plucky underdogs who appear to be taking the bigger bites by
taking the lion’s share of press coverage.

They were
hired by MAG to run its media campaign in the run-up to the group’s legal
challenge against Mandy’s decision to skip competition laws and allow the bank
takeover to go through with a wave of his ministerial hand.

And it seems to have been a great move. From the off, at least
from this vantage point, they appear to have shown the opposition a clean pair
of heels.

Rumour has it from a usually reliable source, their antics at one point even
prompted HBOS’s exasperated director of communications, Shane O’Riordan to
allegedly shout at his beleaguered staff: “These guys are making us look like

We’ll leave it to Shane to confirm or deny the story, but it should come as no
surprise if true.

Which is all the more
amusing when you think that, away from the corporate classes of the financial
world, Jocky and Molecatcher are about as “no frills’ as you can get, as anyone
who’s worked for them can confirm.

Between them have held
senior positions at probably every newspaper on the stalls both in Scotland and
London, exporting their ‘what you see is what you get’ attitude wherever they
hang their Trilby.

The pair have known each
other for more than 25 years, working together on the Press & Journal and
the Scottish Daily Express.

They both went to Fleet Street
at about the same time in the mid 1980s, McKerron as a roving reporter on the
Daily Express and Hay a big-hitter on the Daily Mirror, before following each other
back to Glasgow about 10 years later,

McKerron arrived as deputy editor of
the Scottish Daily Express and later associate editor of the Scottish Daily
Mail, while Hay headed up the Glasgow office of the now defunct Today before
joining the Daily Record as news editor (where he was my gaffer) and latterly
The Scotsman as head of news.

Jocky also had stints with
the Sunday Mirror and Daily Mail while both, as freelancers, worked for the
Sunday Telegraph.

Now trading on their
national newspaper heritage, they are building a solid reputation for
delivering results for the underdogs, and knowing them, will no doubt charging
handsomely for the privilege. Which is why I insist it's always their round first.

A few hacks, myself
included, were actually taken aback when they first announced they were moving into PR,
having expected that some media organisation would undoubtedly snap them up

It was the run-up to the
2007 Scottish Parliament elections when millionaire businessman Archie Stirling
took them on to help him re-launch a new political party, Scottish Voice, after
large and expensive London and Canada-based PR firms failed to impress.

Much fun is always had at
their expense about the fact that, ultimately, the party failed to win any

But you really have to take
your hats off to them given the quite disproportionate publicity that was
generated on its behalf, often at the column inches expense of other long-established

Stirling, who was once
married to the actress Dame Diana Rigg, has apparently become close friends of the
pair to the extent that he now affectionately refers to them as The Gnarled
Ones, ensuring that he retains their service and advice while plotting what he
will do next.

And such was there success
off the back of his campaign, that they were soon drafted in as specialists to
help launch last year Reform Scotland, an independent economic think tank.

The opening was a lavish
affair in Edinburgh, resulting in my worst hangover of the year, and went a
long way to helping it quickly gain a reputation as a credible organisation,
with a daily presence via email alerts.

But the best thing about
these old hacks turning flacks, is they hate you quizzing them about it.

They won’t cough about the
projects themselves, and if you tease them about the black arts, McKerron will
talk about “ex hacks knowing how the Press works”; Jocky muttering something
about “going okay”.

Code for, “actually, it’s
bloody brilliant, but I’m not letting on”, to anyone who can read the signs.

Which makes me think again,
maybe there is gold in them thar hills after all, and should we follow in their
footsteps to find it after all?

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