Money Marketing

No, it is not Mrs Thatcher nor, for that matter, Salman Rushdie but, would you believe, David Walker, chairman of SIB.

Two months ago I approached the SIB press office requesting an interview for a magazine feature. I was told that, what with holiday and other commitments, the earliest he could squeeze me in was the end of February.

I got the magazine to postpone the feature, and waited for a confirmation from SIB. Now the press officer rings to say that Walker cannot see me until the second week of April.

It seems there has been a change in the way that press interviews are arranged at SIB. Previously, you went through the press office, now you have to go through, the director of information.

My interview had fallen to the bottom of the pile and the only person who can do anything is director of information Collette Bowe.

But, when I speak to her, she not only cannot help me but denies that the delay has anything to do with internal reorganisation.

The lady who was press officer to Norman Tebbit and played a very prominent role as Leon Brittan’s press officer in the Westland saga certainly knows how to put journalists in their place.

I somehow get the magazine to rearrange the feature again but can’t help comparing this experience with my recent one in Washington. There, I was interviewing the heads of American think tanks, many of them very close to the White House and George Bush. In some cases, interviews were arranged at an hour or two’s notice.

Talking of strong women, I seem to be unable to get away from them this week.

On Tuesday, my mother was on the phone complaining that I do not write letters

– she could always stand in for a sun-tanned version of Maureen Lipman and that

evening Margaret Hughes, personal finance editor of the Guardian, slams the phone down on me.

Our dispute arose about guaranteed bonds.

Margaret feels that I should explain them at an even more basic level. I have spoken to five different experts, have had six different opinions and am fed up to the back teeth by the subject. I retort that I had assumed that Guardian readers were not five-year-olds, which causes the phone to be slammed down.

But, by Wednesday lunchtime, any resentment I have towards strong women vanishes as I emerge from a quite disastrous PR lunch. Strong women may be uncomfortable but at least they know what they are doing. The PR lady who has arranged this lunch clearly does not. She looks as if she has emerged from the pages of Vogue, and her reading obviously does not extend much beyond its pages.

Her client — wretchedly briefed — does not have a clue about what I do or write and even before the drinks are poured, it is clear there is no story here for me.

Of course, good PR can make a big difference. I was made aware of this when the

next day, Thursday, I travel to Eastbourne to cover the annual investment conference of the National Association of Pension Funds.

There was a time when such a conference would have been dominated by a quite

evident animosity between the fund managers and the press. Fund managers seemed to work on the principle that, if you don’t like the message, blame the messenger.

But now, after all the pensions upheavals — not all of them to the liking of the NAPF they seem to have realised that we do our best.

I return late at night to find — a message from the SIB press office. David Walker cannot now make 3pm on April 10. He has got a meeting. Can I make 11am the same day?

The way it is going, if there are any more changes, the file of letters and notes about trying to interview David Walker will be thicker than the rulebook of some SROs.

© Mihir Bose


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