Irresponsible investment? HSBC’s ESG communications crisis

For HSBC, a bank committed to “playing a leading role in mobilising the transition to a global net zero economy … by helping to shape and influence the global policy agenda”, sponsoring and addressing the FT Moral Money Summit, with its theme of “Turning Talk into Action to Hit ESG Targets”, must have seemed like the perfect profile-raising opportunity.

But far from burnishing its ESG credentials, HSBC is now reeling from a PR disaster involving the suspension of Stuart Kirk, the global head of responsible investment at its asset management division, following his controversial comments on climate change at last week’s event.

The fallout from Kirk’s speech and HSBC’s response have made headlines around the world – from the Financial Times to The Mirror, The Straits Times to The Wall Street Journal – and polarised opinion, prompting both outrage at his ‘offensive’ remarks and support for daring to tell the ‘truth’.

Kirk – a former FT journalist and editor of Lex – gave a presentation entitled “Why investors need not worry about climate risk”, which accused policymakers and central bankers of overstating the financial risks of climate change and included a slide saying “Unsubstantiated, shrill, partisan, self-serving, apocalyptic warnings are ALWAYS wrong”.

Attacking climate “nut jobs”, he complained about having to spend time “looking at something that’s going to happen in 20 or 30 years”, and joked about the risk of flooding, saying, “Who cares if Miami is six metres underwater in 100 years? Amsterdam has been six metres underwater for ages and that’s a really nice place.”

Following an outcry over his remarks from climate change activists, HSBC’s chief executive and its head of wealth and personal banking both denounced Kirk’s remarks via social media posts.

Yet according to the FT, which first reported Kirk’s suspension, the theme and content of his speech had been agreed internally within HSBC a couple of months earlier.  

The bank’s PR team has, unsurprisingly, been firefighting ever since the event but declined to comment on Kirk’s suspension when contacted by media.

Kirk’s remarks were always likely to be controversial and provocative, given his views on climate change risk and his outspoken nature, of which HSBC’s management and PR team were presumably aware. So why did HSBC sanction his speech, yet fail to predict and prepare for the inevitable backlash, only to perform a spectacular U-turn after the event and ‘cancel’ him pending an internal investigation? Moreover, in light of his uncompromising and combative stance on climate change, what does Kirk’s position as global head of responsible investment say about HSBC’s commitment to a net zero future? Is the bank simply playing lip service in its climate strategy pledge?

Businesses should either accept that they are broad churches with individuals holding different views with full entitlement to express them (as long as this is done respectfully), and be prepared to deal with the potential fallout – or they should make clear that there is only ever one corporate line that can be expressed publicly, and ensure consistency in actions as well as words. This principle extends way beyond the ESG sphere – and it is the basis from which all communications advice should flow.

The PR debacle comes just weeks after HSBC faced accusations of greenwashing by the UK’s advertising regulator. A leaked draft report by the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that two HSBC adverts misled customers by selectively promoting green initiatives while failing to disclose information about the bank’s financing of companies with substantial greenhouse gas emissions.  

And last year, HSBC came under fire from shareholders for failing to take climate change seriously, with some of Europe’s leading investors filing a climate resolution that called on the bank to publish a strategy and targets to reduce its exposure to fossil fuel assets.

One thing is certain: if HSBC wants to fulfil its “ambition … to be the leading bank supporting the global economy in the transition to net zero,” as CEO Noel Quinn posted on LinkedIn over the weekend, it has a long way to go.    

Written by Sarah Peters

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ONTIER: High Court Defamation Trial Starts Monday (23rd May)

  • Trial of Bitcoin creator Dr Craig Wright’s Defamation Action against podcaster Peter McCormack opens at Royal Courts of Justice on Monday 23rd May
  • Two day trial to determine serious harm caused to Dr Wright’s reputation

ONTIER LLP client, Dr Craig Wright, is suing podcaster Peter McCormack over the content of 14 tweets that the defendant published between March and August 2019, and one YouTube interview livestreamed in October 2019, in which McCormack accused Dr Wright of fraudulently claiming to be Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous inventor of Bitcoin. This two-day defamation trial is set to determine the single issue of serious harm.

Dr Wright claims his reputation was seriously harmed by McCormack’s repeated disparagement of Dr Wright online and, in particular, by his decrying as fraudulent Dr Wright’s legitimate claim to be the inventor of Bitcoin, the world’s first functioning and successful electronic cash system.

Amongst other things, the court will hear that McCormack’s tweets reached a global audience of millions, with many hundreds of thousands of those publishees likely being in England & Wales (to which Dr Wright’s claim for serious harm is limited).

Some 18 months ago, McCormack abandoned his positive defences of truth, public interest and abuse of process and, following a hearing last year, was denied permission to resurrect parts of those submissions by inserting them into the sole surviving limb of his defence, in which he denies that his publications caused serious harm to Dr Wright’s reputation.

Simon Cohen of ONTIER LLP says:

“This long-running dispute has endured various attempts by Mr McCormack to change course but we are now set to demonstrate to the court the extent of harm caused to Dr Wright by the defendant’s actions. Social media provides no hiding place for libellous comment. In fact its use often exacerbates the harm, given its capacity for the swift and exponential spread of damaging untruths.”

Notes to Editors

This defamation trial is the latest in a series of legal claims issued by ONTIER LLP, on behalf of Dr Wright and his associated entities, to uphold his right to protect his lawfully-held digital assets, his reputation as the creator of Bitcoin and his associated intellectual property:

  • In 2021 ONTIER successfully brought a copyright claim against the anonymous digital currency enthusiast operating under the pseudonym “Cøbra”.
  • ONTIER has recently defeated a strike-out attempt by digital currency enthusiast, Magnus Granath, following Dr Wright’s defamation action, the trial of which will heard by the High Court in late 2023.
  • Last year ONTIER also launched a landmark claim against the developers of BTC, BCH, BCH ABC and BSV to restore control to addresses containing Bitcoin and other digital assets. The defendants’ jurisdictional challenge to this claim is currently being appealed by the claimant, Tulip Trading Ltd (the trust beneficially-owned by Dr Wright and his family).
  • ONTIER is advising companies owned by Dr Wright in their passing off claims against exchanges Kraken and Coinbase, filed in the High Court earlier this month.
  • Dr Wright is also advised by ONTIER on his defence and counter-claim to the Crypto Open Patent Alliance’s (COPA) challenge to Dr Wright’s authorship of the White Paper, which also will likely be heard in 2023.

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ONTIER: Bitcoin Creator Launches IP Claims Against Digital Currency Exchanges

London 3 May 2022 – Dr Craig Wright, the inventor of the first successful electronic cash system, Bitcoin, together with two companies associated with him, Wright International Investments Limited (WII) and Wright International Investments UK Limited (WIIUK), have filed intellectual property claims against two currency exchanges – Kraken and Coinbase (NASDAQ: COIN) – for misrepresenting that the digital asset “Bitcoin Core” (BTC) is Bitcoin.

The Claimants assert that these exchanges, and others, have been trading – and encouraging investors and consumers to trade and invest – in BTC, by passing off that asset as Bitcoin, despite it only having been created in 2017 as a software implementation which is different from and separate to the Bitcoin protocol which Dr Wright fixed when he first created the electronic cash system more than 13 years ago. The only digital asset that remains true to the original Bitcoin protocol is “Bitcoin Satoshi Vision” (BSV) which is the software implementation of the original Bitcoin protocol. The Claimants contend that this misrepresentation by Coinbase and Kraken has led to confusion among digital currency asset holders as to the authenticity of the assets many have purchased and traded in.

The Claimants seek an injunction restraining the defendants from promoting BTC as Bitcoin, through improper use of the Bitcoin sign or any visually similar sign or wording.

The claims are likely to be worth several hundred billions of pounds when an inquiry into the full account of profits of each of these exchanges is undertaken by expert witnesses to the Court.

The proceedings were filed on 29 April 2022 in the Intellectual Property List of the Business and Property Courts of England and Wales. They are the first in what will be a series of claims against each of the largest digital currency exchanges, designed to prevent future misperceptions as to the true operational nature of Bitcoin.

Bitcoin (BSV) is the fastest, most scalable environmentally efficient and regulation-friendly public

ledger that exists whilst remaining fixed to Dr Wright’s original protocol. Dr Wright is concerned for no other digital asset to improperly cloak itself under the Bitcoin moniker.

Simon Cohen of ONTIER said:

“These actions are undoubtedly game-changing for the digital asset market. Simply put, the Claimants’ assertion is if your digital asset doesn’t strictly adhere to the Bitcoin protocol and is linked to the Bitcoin blockchain it is not Bitcoin, and should not be marketed or referenced as such. Product choice is a vital driver of innovation – but asset-holders must be aware of exactly what they are buying and stability comes from transparency. Bitcoin was always designed to be a peer-to-peer electronic cash payment system, not a store of value. While this is quite likely the highest value claim to have ever come before the English courts, in fact the arguments in support of our clients’ position are straightforward and verifiable.”

Dr Wright, WII and WIIUK are advised by ONTIER LLP Partners, Derek Stinson and Aoife Keane,

Managing Associate, Simon Cohen and Associate, Tom Leach. Alastair Wilson QC, Michael Hicks and

Jamie Muir Woof of Hogarth Chambers are instructed as Counsel, with additional assistance from

Harcus Parker Partner, Damon Parker.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

Dr Wright wrote the White Paper “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” and published it in October 2008 under the pseudonym, Satoshi Nakamoto. He was involuntarily outed as Satoshi by Wired magazine in December 2015.

The claimants recognise the regulatory responsibilities held by those exchanges that are listed on

NASDAQ in respect of these proceedings.

This litigation is the latest in a series of legal claims issued by ONTIER LLP on behalf of Dr Wright and his associated entities to uphold his right to protect his lawfully-held digital assets, his reputation as the creator of Bitcoin and his associated intellectual property:

  • In 2021 ONTIER successfully brought a copyright claim against the anonymous digital currency enthusiast operating under the pseudonym “CØbra”).
  • Last year ONTIER also launched a landmark claim against the developers of BTC, BCH, BCH ABC and BSV to restore control to addresses containing Bitcoin and other digital assets. The defendants’ jurisdictional challenge to this claim is currently being appealed by the claimant, Tulip Trading Ltd (the trust beneficially owned by Dr Wright and his family).
  • 23/24 May 2022 sees the London High Court trial of Dr Wright’s defamation claim against bitcoin commentator Peter McCormack.
  • Similarly, ONTIER is instructed by Dr Wright in his English defamation action against digital currency enthusiast, Magnus Granath, the trial of which is likely to be heard in late 2023.
  • ONTIER is also advising Dr Wright on his defence and counter-claim in respect of the Crypto Open Patent Alliance’s challenge to Dr Wright’s authorship of the White Paper which will likely be heard in 2023.

The firm is increasingly recognised for its high-profile and market leading Bitcoin related and cybercrime litigation and has an established and growing practice for recovering lost, stolen and hacked Bitcoin. The firm acted in successful English High Court proceedings against Reliantco Investments Ltd, a digital asset and securities exchange which blocked and seized a substantial amount from a client’s trading account. ONTIER LLP was able to recover the client’s full investment, its unrealised gains and loss of profit (that the client would have earned from intended investments had its funds not been unlawfully withheld).

ONTIER is recognised in the UK Legal 500 for commercial litigation, international arbitration and civil fraud. The firm has offices in 18 cities in 13 countries, giving a truly international capability.

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Depp vs Heard: Court Drama

Johnny Depp has described his US defamation trial as an attempt to clear his name for his children and a quest for the truth.

Others see it as a desperate last throw of the dice to save his career and a further sign of his delusion which will confirm his spectacular fall from grace.

It is, of course, entirely possible that a Jury in Virginia could produce a different outcome to the English High Court’s finding in November 2020 that Depp was a wife beater.

The question is: does the legal outcome in this latest case really matter anymore to anyone except the parties involved? In the wider court of public opinion, we have already been told more than we wanted to know. The once-revered Hollywood heartthrob who previously dated Kate Moss and became a respected actor in an impressive string of movies seems a troubled man with considerable personal issues. His former wife appears also to be a complex individual, to say the least, with her own share of flaws and proclivities.  They undoubtedly had a highly toxic relationship. Those close to them might do well to advise them to stop fighting, leave the past to the past and allow themselves to emerge from the wreckage personally and professionally.

Whether the final result brings the score to 0-2 or 1-1 (notwithstanding that the UK case was actually against The Sun newspaper), the damage has been done to both parties’ reputations which only time out of the spotlight and some major charity work can heal.

But hang on, might there possibly be a silver lining? It’s fair to say we are no longer shocked by their escapades and unbecoming behaviour of which we are hearing. Mr Depp’s team might just be able to throw some white spots of sympathy on the character canvas we already see as rather black. Regardless of the final verdict, we all know Ms Heard is capable of breathtaking performances.  

Many will no longer be interested in the characters still locked in battle. The witness line-up is looking a far more entertaining prospect. The next question is: will this drama be made into a movie one day?  Life imitating art imitating life… the show must go on.

By Bell Yard Communications (21/04/2022)

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Zelenskyy: Crisis Management Masterclass

Introduction 

In Ukraine’s time of crisis, president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has stepped up to the plate. From refusing to evacuate his homeland to embarking on a digital campaign trail to garner global support for Ukraine’s war efforts against Putin’s Russia, it has been a masterclass in crisis management and leadership from the former TV actor. Whilst the emphasis on battlefield success is crucial, Zelenskyy and Ukraine have also been winning the information war through the brilliant use of social media and the conveyance of clear messaging. 

Acting Background 

Zelenskyy has been on a unique and frankly bizarre journey through his ascension from a stand-up comic and television actor with Oscar-winning ambitions to the leader of a country embroiled in a European war with Putin’s nuclear-wielding Russia. His lack of political background appealed to the masses on the election trail as he was seen as being free from the corruption surrounding Ukrainian politics which contributed to his landslide win – still performing comedy gigs while campaigning for office in 2019.  Zelenskyy even starred in the comedy ‘Servant of the People’, which followed the life of a disillusioned teacher who accidentally becomes President of Ukraine. Although his most notable acting credit is his work as the voice of Paddington Bear in Ukrainian dubs of the live-action films Paddington and Paddington 2.  

Zelenskyy’s current position as the lead communicator for a war-torn country suffering from genocidal atrocities is far from his past career in showbiz, but he has managed the ship well with his powerful orator skills that have transcended from family-friendly animated characters to speeches pleading for ammunition in the heart of conflict. 

Virtual World Tour

Zelenskyy’s unusual past credentials have certainly helped him in his passionate appeals to fellow leaders across the world as he requests more military aid to defend his country – using clear, concise and understandably emotive messaging.

From speaking with the House of Commons and quoting Winston Churchill to imploring 280 members of the US Congress for more aircraft, drones and anti-aircraft missiles whilst making references to Pearl Harbour and 9/11, Zelenskyy has been busy plucking at the heartstrings of the world’s elite with customised messaging to cater to each virtual audience he secures. These regular video-link appearances have been extremely emotionally impactful, helping to convey the latest state of a war-ravaged Ukraine. During his speech to the US Congress, Zelenskyy was very direct in his messaging and desire for more aggressive measures by specifically targeting Joe Biden in his dialogue. However, despite pledging to assist monetarily, the US remains hesitant to provide fighter jets and establish a no-fly zone for fears of an escalation in violence from the all too aggressive Putin.  

At the heart of Zelenskyy’s tailored speeches, has been a focused and consistent narrative. He has continued his calls for a no-fly zone; pleading for Vladimir Putin to end the war; requests for more support, with specific military needs expressed; and proudly praises the bravery and heroism of the Ukrainian people no matter the audience. Zelenskyy’s quote when offered evacuation by the US: “The fight is here. I don’t need a ride, I need ammunition” will go down in history as symbolising Ukraine’s defiance and his own personal courage and strength of leadership in a time of crisis. 

Media 

This transparency of the updates and words of defiance from the president have been widely amplified by the uncensored use of social media. Countless posts containing powerful images and videos of soldiers standing shoulder to shoulder, rallying cries from Zelenskyy on the frontline and calls from Ukrainian boxing legends for more international support from world leaders have seen the digital tool being used as an unfiltered vessel in shining a light on the atrocities of the war to a global audience – alongside broadcast and print media.  Modern warfare demands it. 

However the Ukrainian media playbook is in stark contrast to that of Russia, which has allegedly been busy manipulating the perception of the war in a campaign of propaganda and deception to maintain morale and garner support inside Russia for a war that is immoral to its core.  

By both Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian government maintaining an active, open, and candid dialogue about Ukraine’s status in this conflict, they have succeeded in maintaining pressure to act to ensure they are seen as being on the right side of history. With Russian troops pulling back in areas of Ukraine to regroup, the true horrifying nature of the conflict has recently made its way to the world’s news feeds, unveiling the destruction Russian troops have left behind in the town of Trostianets, for example. This coincides with a ramping up in foreign aid, with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg recently pledging (some would say belatedly) to provide more assistance to avoid an escalation of the conflict and the UN suspending Russia from the Human Rights Council.  

Conclusion 

Zelenskyy’s continued display of communications prowess in the face of a crisis has provided strength and comfort to the millions of people directly impacted by the war. Such effective leadership has also led other people of power to feel inspired to take action to extinguish this ongoing crisis from escalating any further.  The pen is indeed mightier than the sword. 

By Declan Flahive, 11/04/2022

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ONTIER Reaction to Bitcoin Developers’ Contesting Jurisdiction

·       ONTIER (on behalf of Tulip Trading Ltd) seeks to recover £3+ billion worth of Bitcoin 

·       Claim has significant implications for other users and the way Bitcoin operates

London, 25 March 2022

Litigation law firm ONTIER LLP responds to the judgment handed down by Mrs Justice Falk today. This follows a successful application by 13 of the 16 bitcoin developer defendants to challenge the English court’s jurisdiction in legal proceedings brought by Tulip Trading Limited (TTL), a Seychelles registered company, whose primary beneficial owner is Dr Craig Wright.   

Oliver Cain, Partner at ONTIER LLP comments:

“We are disappointed the English Court has granted the various Defendants’ applications and found that TTL has not established a serious issue to be tried on the merits of the claim in relation to whether or not developers owe fiduciary and tortious duties to those who have lost access to Bitcoin held on the networks which they control.  However, we note that the Judge did not reject TTL’s factual case. She held that the Defendants’ evidence was “certainly not sufficiently strong to enable me to conclude that TTL’s factual case was no more than fanciful”. She criticised the amount of evidence filed in respect of the facts of the case as “an unhelpful distraction”. 

We further note that the Judge found that TTL had the better of the arguments on the jurisdictional gateways and that England was the appropriate forum for the trial of the dispute.  In doing so, the Judge upheld TTL’s arguments that it is resident in the jurisdiction and that its Bitcoin is also located here.  The Judge also rejected the Defendants’ allegations that there had been material non-disclosure by TTL in its application for permission to serve out. 

“Nonetheless, the matter does not rest here.  The duties and responsibilities of developers are issues of the highest legal importance in a rapidly developing field that need to be fully aired and determined by an appellate court. As such, Dr Wright on behalf of Tulip Trading will seek leave to appeal today’s judgment.

The defendants in this unprecedented action are the developers of BTC, BCH, BCH ABC and BSV residing in various jurisdictions across the world including: Netherlands, Switzerland, Kitts and Nevis, France, Japan, numerous different states in the USA, New Zealand and Australia.

ONTIER was originally granted permission to serve all the developers out of the jurisdiction by the Business and Property Courts of the High Court in London, following a 173 page application submission detailing the claim.

ENDS

For further information please contact:

Bell Yard Communications:          O: +44 (0) 207 936 2021                  BellYard@Bell-Yard.com

Melanie Riley                                     M: +44 (0)7775 591244                   melanie@bell-yard.com

Notes to Editors:

Dr Wright is the inventor of Bitcoin who set out his vision for the digital currency in his famous White Paper under the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto. 

The litigation sought to examine, for the first time, the nature and extent of legal duties conferred upon and owed by developers resulting from the control they exercise over their respective blockchains.   

As detailed in the Particulars of Claim, TTL requested that the individual developers enable TTL to regain access to and control of its Bitcoin on the grounds that they, the developers, owe Bitcoin owners both tortious and fiduciary duties under English law as a result of the high level of power and control they hold over their respective blockchains.

In February 2020, Dr Wright’s personal computer was hacked by persons unknown and encrypted private keys to two addresses, which hold substantial quantities of Bitcoin belonging to TTL, were stolen. These assets were, and continue to be, owned by TTL. 

About ONTIER

ONTIER has an established and growing practice for recovering stolen and hacked Bitcoin. Its Partners, Oliver Cain and Derek Stinson, together with Felicity Potter (Senior Associate) and Nicholas Dawson (Associate), are advising TTL and instructed John Wardell QC, Bobby Friedman and Sri Carmichael of Wilberforce Chambers as Counsel on this matter.

This litigation is the latest in a series of legal claims issued by ONTIER LLP on behalf of Dr Wright and his associated entities to uphold his right to protect not only his lawfully-held digital assets, but also his reputation as the creator of Bitcoin and his associated intellectual property.

The firm is well known for its high-profile Bitcoin related litigation and has a highly regarded dispute resolution team. Its work is almost exclusively international and multi-jurisdictional in nature, focused on complex, high value international litigation, insolvency matters and arbitration in a wide range of financial and industry sectors. 

The firm acted in successful English High Court proceedings against Reliantco Investments Ltd, a digital asset and securities exchange, which blocked and seized a substantial amount from a client’s trading account. ONTIER LLP was able to recover the client’s full investment, its unrealised gains and loss of profit (that the client would have earned from intended investments had its funds not been unlawfully withheld).

ONTIER is recognised in the UK Legal 500 for commercial litigation, international arbitration and civil fraud.

The firm has offices in 18 cities in 13 countries, giving a truly international capability. 

https://uk.ontier.net/

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NFTs: Ukraine, Beeple & The Law

Whether you own or trade in them or think they’re little more than a speculative bubble, you can’t deny that NFTs – or Non-Fungible Tokens – have entered the public consciousness in recent times.


What are NFTs?

Firstly, what even are these strange digital tokens that have been causing such a wave of interest across popular culture? 

Non-fungible tokens are essentially unique and irreplaceable digital tokens containing valuable information stored on a blockchain – essentially a database of transaction records – with the Ethereum blockchain being the most popular. Think of them as a digital asset that represents real-world objects like music, digital trading cards, in-game items, and videos – but the real craze has been for NFTs in the digital art format which has taken the art world by storm. 

Art World

The prevalence of NFTs can perhaps be attributed to the continued endorsements of high-profile names, mainstream media coverage, and social media hype which boosts a market whose products arguably have no actual intrinsic value. However, the seismic shift this new art form is causing can be clearly seen through nearly $41 billion being spent on NFTs by the end of 2021 – making the market nearly as valuable as the global art market. One of the most well-known NFT artists is Mike “Beeple” Winkelmann, whose NFT “Everydays: the First 5000 Days” sold for an astounding $69 million at Christie’s in March 2021.  According to Christie’s, the sale put “Beeple” “among the top three most valuable living artists,” behind only David Hockney and Jeff Koons.

Popular Culture

Celebrity endorsements for NFTs and such collections as “The Bored Ape Yacht Club” has been a significant catalyst in the explosion in popularity of NFTs. “The Bored Ape Yacht Club” is one of many exclusive NFT digital art collections, with only 10,000 Bored Apes NFTs in existence. Access to an exclusive club known as “the swamp club” is also granted to each owner of one of the rare ape-themed NFTs. Owning NFTs from an exclusive collection usually grants access to prestigious real-world events or Discord group chats with the world’s elite, thus increasing their value beyond mere aesthetic appeal.

Many influential people display their allegiance to their NFT community by changing their social media profile picture to a cartoonish picture of their colourful animated ape NFT, for example. Such celebrity endorsements range from billionaire Elon Musk, Twitter co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey, and footballer Lionel Messi to artist Damien Hurst, online personality KSI, and former One Direction singer Liam Payne, to name a few.

Companies are also jumping on the trend, with Spotify recently announcing plans to add blockchain technology and non-fungible tokens to its streaming service, a move that many are optimistic will help to boost artists’ earnings. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Reddit are also some of the latest social media heavyweights to announce plans to enable the trading and displaying of NFTs on their platforms. Snoop Dogg has also emerged as a prominent player in the market, selling more than $44 million worth of NFTs over the course of five days in support of his new album, sending shockwaves across the music industry in the process. For context, the album would have needed to amass 7.3 billion streams to earn him that same amount of alleged revenue. 

Concerns & The Law

NFTs have, however, prompted security concerns that need to be addressed if they are to convert the doubters. These issues include such scenarios as if the platform an NFT is built on goes out of business the NFT might not be accessible and thereby lose all value. Also worth noting is the rise in NFT fraud with one of the simplest forms of fraud coming in the form of people selling NFTs from artworks that they do not own the right to use. Litigation PR skills could be needed to convince a sometimes sceptical mainstream media that the theft of NFTs by unanimous individuals acting online is as damaging as the misappropriation of real-world assets. To ensure such online characters are held accountable for their actions there will also need to be an adaption of the law for a new third category of legal “things” to exist – a tertium quid – to sit alongside those of ‘chose in possession’ and ‘chose in action’.

The NFT market has also been unsteady in recent times with a significant slowdown in the market seen through the number of accounts buying and selling NFTs falling from 380,000 at its peak in November 2021 to 194,000 currently, along with a startling drop of 48 percent in the average selling price in the same period, according to NonFungible – the world’s largest NFT data resource. This also correlates with the cryptocurrency market which widely peaked in November 2021, such as the Ether cryptocurrency which uses the Ethereum blockchain upon which many NFTs are positioned, issuing a stark reminder of the digital assets market volatility.

Ukraine

The war in Ukraine has seen a significant flow of cryptocurrency and NFT donations coming into the country to help fund its war efforts against the invading Russian forces. The Ukrainian government is even releasing an NFT collection to add to this unconventional fundraising vessel, with each token carrying a piece of art representing a story from a trusted news source documenting the war. This opening of the door for media-related NFTs could mean that in the future we may well see a collection of NFTs released by broadcasters on our own shores. NFT collections of archive footage from the two World Wars and later conflicts to fundraise for Remembrance Sunday, or famous newspaper front pages from the past could be just a few of the copious digital products on the horizon. If it makes money it makes sense. Rather than just reporting on the subject from the outside looking in, the media world would be interwoven with it. You would reasonably assume that this would cause a greater sense of seriousness and urgency to develop around the reporting of the subject, particularly around allegations of fraud.

Final Note

Do NFTs represent the future of the internet as it edges towards its new phase of the “Web3” and the metaverse which will transform a myriad of industries, or are they just a huge digital pyramid scheme that is yet to implode? Whatever the outcome, there is something to note from a PR standpoint and that is the power of the endorsement and hype in bolstering the emergence of NFTs and cryptocurrencies in the past couple of years. 

This familiarisation and repackaging of NFTs to make them appear “cool” to own – and smart to invest in – by some of the most influential people on the planet have fanned the flames of society’s interest and allowed the NFT train to continue down its uncertain tracks. 

Is this the start of a new era? We’ll have to wait and see.  

By Declan Flahive

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PR Gone Wrong: International Women’s Day

Of all the PR and marketing initiatives launched on International Women’s Day on Tuesday this week, one in particular stood out – for all the wrong reasons. 

The London Dungeon decided to change the gender of Jack The Ripper to mark the day, unveiling a “Jack becomes Jackie” exhibit played by a female actor and questioning whether the “notorious killer [was] actually a woman”. The serial killer, who was never identified, murdered at least five women in Whitechapel in the late 1880s.  

The special International Women’s Day exhibit told the story of convicted murderer Mary Pearcy, who was named as a possible Jack the Ripper suspect by author William Stewart in 1939.

In a now deleted press release, The London Dungeon said: “With men often stealing the spotlight when it comes to the ghastly and gory crimes, we wanted to give ladies their dues for International Women’s Day … Rather than the usual honouring, we’ve given the day a London Dungeon twist while telling a story that many may never have heard before.”

Not surprisingly, The London Dungeon’s actions were greeted with incredulity and outrage on Twitter.

In a strongly-worded rebuke, Refuge, the domestic violence charity, branded the initiative “a cheap marketing stunt” that “trivialises the systematic murder of women by a serial killer”.

Following the social media backlash and subsequent mainstream media interest, The London Dungeon deleted its communications on Jackie The Ripper and was forced to issue a statement apologising for any offence caused. 

Controversially exploiting and sensationalising violence against women by recasting a serial killer of women as a woman in a cynical and blatant bid to boost ticket sales – on a day meant to celebrate women’s achievements, a year after the murder of Sarah Everard, and amid a high-profile campaign to make misogyny a hate crime – was never a good idea.

Tasteless, offensive, ill-judged (if, in fact, any judgement was shown at all), the sorry episode highlights just how out of touch The London Dungeon was with the public mood, putting commercial considerations above all else and underestimating the risk of reputational damage.

Burger King similarly made a whopper of a PR blunder on International Women’s Day last year, tweeting “Women belong in the kitchen”.  A supposedly humorous teaser for a campaign promoting a cooking scholarship for female employees, most people did not read beyond this initial Tweet, with many taking to social media to express their disgust at the use of such a sexist trope, on International Women’s Day of all days.

A subsequent Tweet provided much-needed context: “If they want to, of course. Yet only 20% of chefs are women. We’re on a mission to change the gender ratio.” But by then, the damage had been done and Burger King’s PR team spent the day firefighting – responding to media queries, explaining the campaign, apologising for getting the initial message wrong and promising to do better next time, and eventually deleting the offending Tweet. 

PR Lessons To Be Learned

So, what lessons can be learned? Do your research. Know your audience. Understand the wider context. Be aware of potential pitfalls and sensitivities. Test your ideas – and not just within your immediate team, to avoid groupthink. Be careful when using humour to promote an issue with the potential to cause offense or upset. And if you get it wrong and a PR debacle ensues, ‘fess up – take swift action to apologise, engage with the media and your followers, and learn from your mistakes.

 By Sarah Peters, 11/03/2021

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International Women’s Day: CLCA Professionals

From founders to pioneers, the following profiles showcase a collection of exceptional international female talent who are involved with the Crisis & Litigation Communicators Alliance (CLCA).


Tracey Cain

Tracey is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Australian Public Affairs – one of Australia’s largest independently owned agencies.

In her 26 years at the helm, she has developed a specialty in reputation risk and reputation management particularly in the legal and litigation, education and training, not for profit, and social policy sectors.

Her background is in media and communications roles.

On the political front she worked as a journalist in both the State and Federal Press Galleries, as a Ministerial media advisor in Australia, and also in the White House on the President’s personal staff during the 1996 Presidential Elections.

She has worked as a Director of Communications for a leading global law firm offering advice to the firm and its clients.  She later served as the founding CEO of a health and aged care foundation.

Tracey holds a Graduate Diploma in Commercial Broadcasting, a Bachelor of Laws degree, a Master of Public Affairs and was awarded a Winston Churchill Trust Fellowship in 1996.

She is a director of the Association of Independent Schools of NSW and Knox Grammar School, and previously served for ten years on the national board of the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust.


Ianika Tzankova

Holding the first European professorship in collective redress since 2007, Ianika is a pioneer in the field.

As a partner at the law firm Birkway, she combines academia with practice and is internationally recognised for her knowledge of strategies for resolving cross-border mass disputes, using innovative litigation and alternative dispute resolution approaches.

She was a partner with a large litigation boutique where she was member of the Financial and Commercial Litigation practice group and has also worked in-house for two publicly listed litigation funders. Having assisted corporate clients, claim vehicles, litigation funders, governmental and non-profit organisations, ‘bookbuild’ entities, case originators, Dutch and foreign legal counsel on all aspects of mass claim dispute resolution, Ianika is a ‘mass claims all-rounder’ who is sought after for legal opinions and the structuring and implementation of creative litigation strategies in multi-jurisdictional disputes, particularly in the areas of investor protection, competition, data privacy, product liability and consumer law. Additionally, Ianika assists high-net-worth individuals, family businesses, corporate clients and foreign law firms with litigation project management in complex high-profile commercial disputes, involving the use of PR and litigation financing. She has also a keen interest in multi-jurisdictional asset tracing and enforcement.

Ianika is alumna of Tilburg University and holds a PhD on Access to Justice in Mass Claims. She was admitted to the Bar in 1997.

Ianika was born and raised in (communist) Bulgaria and emigrated to the Netherlands in 1991, shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall. She was a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at Stanford University in 2012 and has had a soft spot for California eversince. High on Ianika’s Bucket list is to make an absolutely perfect Pavlova…so far all her attempts have failed miserably (no foto’s attached).


Derede McAlpin

Derede McAlpin is a crisis management and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) expert and trusted advisor to CEOs, attorneys, C-suite executives, and Boards of Directors, and public figures.

With a specialty in getting clients into and out of the news – but mainly out – her proven record of developing balanced news coverage has been invaluable to clients facing intense media scrutiny, DEI initiative challenges, bet-the-farm litigation, executive scandals, and other sensitive issues. 

Ms. McAlpin also works with leading institutions and corporations to advance their DEI goals, shape Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) and Sustainability plans, and establish trust with their employees, customers, and community.  

Ms. McAlpin currently serves as Senior Vice President and Head of Litigation Communications and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for LEVICK, a global advisory firm. Prior to LEVICK, Ms. McAlpin served as vice president and chief communications officer for the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC), the world’s largest organization representing the professional and business interests of corporate lawyers. Her experience also includes work as a strategic advisor to AM Law 100 firms and positions with Howard University, Superior Court for the District of Columbia, 6ABC News (Philadelphia), and a clinical at the City of Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.  

Frequently quoted as an authority on complex DEI, legal, and business issues, Ms. McAlpin is sought after by organizations to speak on the challenging issues confronting corporations and has contributed commentary on global business and crisis issues to such media outlets as NBC Nightly News, the Washington Post, and Thomson Reuters.  

Ms. McAlpin received her Juris Doctor degree from the Temple Beasley School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Howard University. She has also received leadership training at the Yale School of Management Executive Education program.  

Her additional career highlights: 

  • Derede McAlpin provided executive level counsel and direction for the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) and its global board of directors.  
  • Successfully executed the launch of a first-in-class research division for ACC, as well as a broad range of benchmarking and survey products, and data analysis services.  
  • Ms. McAlpin currently chairs LEVICK’s litigation and DEI practice groups. With more than 20 years of communications and legal experience, she represents clients facing high profile crisis and litigation issues, including government investigations, lawsuits, sensitive race issues, corporate scandals, and sexual misconduct allegations, among others.  
  • She also advises clients on class actions, tribal sovereign immunity cases, and Multi-District-Litigation. 
  • A former member of the press, Ms. McAlpin conducts professional development, DEI, and media training workshops for executives and lawyers.  
  • Some of Ms. McAlpin’s most memorable projects include leading international communications on behalf of the nation’s first full face transplant recipient, working on the landmark US Supreme Court First Amendment case Snyder v. Phelps, and providing pro bono support for underrepresented groups and individuals.  
  • During her tenure at Howard University, she launched an amicus curiae campaign in support of respondents in Grutter v. Bollinger, a landmark Supreme Court case on affirmative action in student admissions.   

Kate Hartley

Kate Hartley is a crisis communications consultant and trainer, and the author of ‘Communicate in a Crisis’ (Kogan Page, 2019), a book that explores the changing way people behave in crisis situations. 

She is the co-founder of Polpeo, a crisis simulation company that helps some of the biggest brands and agencies in the world prepare for a crisis, and she is a visiting lecturer for various universities. She is a member of the CIPR and a Fellow of the PRCA, and was named in PRovoke Media’s Innovator 25 EMEA list in 2021. 


Caroline Sapriel

Caroline Sapriel is the founder and Managing Partner of CS&A, a specialist risk and crisis and business continuity management consulting firm with offices in Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, Belgium, The Netherlands, Singapore, and the United States.

With over 30 years’ experience in risk and crisis management, Caroline is recognized as a leader in her profession and acknowledged for her ability to provide customised, results-driven counsel at the highest level.

Over the years, Caroline has advised senior corporate executives in high-risk industries internationally. Her multi-disciplinary background and experience has enabled her to provide clients with an in-depth analysis of their crisis management capability as well as help them develop effective risk and crisis response organizations and stakeholder and reputation management strategies. She has been directly involved in helping clients manage crises in the oil and gas, chemical, transport, shipping, aviation, pharmaceutical and consumer product sectors. 

Caroline is an accomplished trainer, facilitator and coach in risk, issues and crisis management as well as in communication skills. As such, she has coached many senior executives at leading multinational corporations internationally. Caroline regularly speaks at international conferences and seminars on risk and crisis management. She is a guest lecturer on corporate crisis management at the University of Antwerp and at the graduate school of public administration of Leiden University.

Caroline is a member of the Business Continuity Institute, of the International Association of Business Communicators and serves on its global ethics committee, and of the European Association of Communications Directors. In 2011, she received a Gold Quill Award from IABC for her firm’s 10 Commandments of Crisis Management. She has authored many articles on the subject of crisis management and co-authored two books – Crisis Management – Tales From the Front Line and 25 years of Crises in Review: The Good , The Bad and The Ugly – with CS&A Senior Partner Dirk Lenaerts. Prior to establishing her own consulting firm, Caroline held various senior management positions with international communications consultancies where she helped clients respond to crises and enhance their crisis communication capabilities.

Caroline is fluent in French, English, Spanish, Hebrew and Mandarin, and holds a BA degree in Chinese Studies and a BSc degree in International Relations.


Sarah is a Senior Consultant at the leading London-based Litigation PR and legal sector reputation management agency, Bell Yard Communications.

Sarah has more than twenty years’ experience in professional services communications, spanning media relations, issues management, corporate and crisis communications.

Before joining Bell Yard Communications where she focuses on profile-raising for law firms as well as advising on litigation PR and reputational issues, Sarah was Global PR Manager at leading law firm, Linklaters LLP.

She was previously a Director at international communications consultancy, Citigate Dewe Rogerson, where she developed reputation management and thought leadership campaigns for a diverse mix of financial, legal and corporate clients.

Sarah began her public relations career at Spada, a specialist professional services communications agency, following a stint as a journalist.

She holds a degree in French and German from the University of Oxford and a Masters in Photography Arts from the University of Westminster.


Bell Yard Communications

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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BBC: Chasing Polar Bears

The news that Emily Maitlis and Jon Sopel are leaving the BBC is the latest in a line of senior journalist departures for the Beeb. It comes hot on the heels of business reporter losses precipitated by moving the R4 Today business team from London to Manchester and rumours that Amol Rajan was given the much-maligned interview with Novak Djokovic as a sop to avoid his defection to ITV. All this, of course, at a time when Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries is questioning the BBC funding model and when the Government, not to mention swathes of viewers, are concerned our once-loved national broadcaster has become too woke for its own good.  

So what does all this ‘trouble at mill’ mean for us PRs? 

Well, it merely confirms a trend that has been emerging in recent years. The BBC is no longer necessarily the golden ticket to getting your PR campaign away. It may no longer be the most coveted medium your clients want to cover your story. It may not, in fact, deliver the audience you need to address.  

That is not to say the BBC is no longer important. Don’t go writing the corporation off just yet. On the world stage, the BBC brand still shines brightly.  But with other media outlets and a proliferation of mediums growing loyal listeners and followers, from Global to You Tube to Podcasts, and with many of those outlets devoted to a preferred agenda, the media landscape is now so diverse that targeting content is a far more precise art these days.  Associating your brand and its experts with the agenda of your preferred media outlet by offering appearances/pitching articles increasingly requires consideration of the risk:reward ratio.  If the BBC can no longer hold itself up as the bastion of impartiality, then it becomes just another player in the influence game. 

Ms Dorries described the BBC this week as “a polar bear on a shrinking ice cap”.  That makes life more complicated for us PRs but also arguably more interesting too.  

Louise Beeson, 24/02/2022

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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Send in the Clowns

Another day, another PR gaffe from Number 10 and its communications machine.

It might only be his first day in the job but the Prime Minister’s new director of communications, Guto Harri, has already made the UK national headlines for saying that Boris Johnson is “not a complete clown”.

Describing a meeting he had with Johnson last week, Harri told Welsh-language news website, Golwg.360, that the Prime Minster initiated a rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, that there was “a lot of laughing” and “a serious conversation about how we get the government back on track and how we move forward”.

If Harri was trying to change perceptions of his boss from a party-loving clown – whether in the sense of a jester or a fool, or both – to a competent leader capable of serious thought and committed to delivering his agenda for the country, then it was an interesting approach, to say the least.

PR Perspective

One of the most basic rules of PR is, don’t say anything that you wouldn’t want to see in print – and that includes repeating inflammatory or damaging words, even if used in a negative context. As in Harri’s case, those words often become the headline and have the opposite effect to that intended.

Furthermore, if you’re going to cite examples, make sure they’re consistent with your overall message. The image of the Prime Minister singing a seventies disco classic with his new communications chief simply reinforces those perceptions of buffoonery. (Similarly, was eulogising Peppa Pig World in a speech to the Confederation of British Industry – as Johnson did last year – really going to burnish his credentials as someone serious about business?)

In another departure from PR best practice, Harri was repeating a private conversation he had with the Prime Minister, which he must have realised would be picked up by the mainstream UK media. Johnson’s official spokesperson declined to comment, saying he “would not get into private conversations”.    

And in telling the story, Harri has become the story – something which PR professionals usually go to great lengths to avoid. Their job should be to develop communications strategy, shape the messages and advise on their delivery from behind the scenes, rather than taking centre stage.  

Reactions from the Prime Minister’s opponents

Not surprisingly, the Prime Minister’s opponents have leapt on the comments, with Labour calling out the “clown show nonsense” and Nicola Sturgeon branding them “offensive” in the current circumstances.

Time will tell whether Harri and the rest of the new Number 10 team of “grown-ups” can help to reset the balance, restore trust in the government and ensure that the Prime Minister does indeed survive. There is no doubt that the task is immense – but it is certainly providing plenty of fodder for PR case studies.

Sarah Peters, 08/02/2022

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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Dominic Cummings: The Source of Boris’s Problems

Dominic Cummings has been hell-bent on staying in the public’s eye through his continuing campaign to pick apart Boris Johnson’s political career, slice by slice. However, should the mainstream media be giving such primetime limelight to accusations from a man who holds such a personal vendetta against the PM that any statement he makes is smeared in bitterness? 

Dominic Cummings has been drip-feeding his blogged claims to the nation’s journalists ever since he left No. 10, slamming the brakes and, knowingly through the media as a proxy, halting the government and the country from moving forward towards some sense of normality. Whilst holding the government and the prime minister to account is an honourable necessity of any functioning modern society, it does feel like there is a danger of slipping into the pedantic and petty. The public is left with contemplating the difference between a party and a gathering, which all feels rather paltry in comparison to the mounting possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine looming on the eastern horizon. 

Of course, the wider question emerging is Boris’ integrity and whether he lied to Parliament – which is indeed significant stuff. But are we really going to let Cummings derail the current Government, if not now then later, such is his determination to dethrone and cause reputational damage to Boris Johnson, not to mention Carrie Symonds? What would that do to Cummings cause celebre – the Brexit project?

What are the lessons to be learned?

That leaders and high-profile individuals have enemies and vulnerabilities the media love to exploit. The old adage keep your friends close and enemies closer springs to mind. That relationship fall-outs between leaders and their advisers/co-workers can become highly distracting, circus-like, and sometimes so toxic that they overshadow the main act, to mutually devastating effect.  The public interest is only maintained for a limited time. Then the desire to get rid of all protagonists is overwhelming, meaning neither side prevails. 

That the media can be a very powerful estate. Their agenda influences public opinion, customer behaviour and regularly makes or breaks careers.

We’ll soon see if wounded Boris manages to limp on next week. Meantime we can’t help thinking that his choice of co-workers is another failing to which we should have been wiser, and whether Dominic should have been made to sign an enforceable NDA. That said, employment lawyers remind us no agreement would prevent the reporting of criminal allegations. Dominic might not be so easily put back in his bottle.  Grab the popcorn once more.

Declan Flahive, 28/01/2021

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The Power of An Apologetic Truth

Few among us could genuinely deny having made errors of judgment, whether inadvertently or otherwise. To err is human, as we are told. But so often these days otherwise forgivable missteps by public individuals captured in the omnipresent lens of social media are made infinitely worse by their first reaction to exposure of the initial wrongdoing. Molehills become mountains, challenges crises from which it can be truly hard to recover, if not already fatal to both career and reputation.

It strikes Bell Yard Towers that 2022 has begun with a flurry of high profile misconduct that might so easily have been prevented had the protagonist made better decisions in the wake of their original misdemeanour. The Prime Minister is obviously a case in point. Why obfuscate when asked the seemingly simplest of questions – “did you attend a party during lockdown?” It was surely inevitable that photographic evidence would emerge, let alone credible testimony by others, given the numbers of people also in attendance on each occasion and the politics involved. A swift admission, recognition of wrongdoing, reflection and public apology would have allowed many voters to put the issue to bed. Sadly, decisions taken once the first party was exposed have led us all down a rather bumpy garden path.

Sporting supremo, Novak Djokovic would have known that tennis aficionados, let alone casual observers, were well aware of his stated aversion to inoculations, his desire to determine what he puts into his body let alone his refusal to confirm publicly his unvaccinated status.  So when the Australian Open announced its all-player vaccination requirement all eyes were on Novak to see if he’d be withdrawing or whether a controversial route would be found for him to compete. As it was, the late confirmation of his medical exemption came as little surprise. Equally predictable was the swift public scepticism as to its validity. But the real astonishment was his tone-deaf social media posts proudly confirming his voyage to the southern hemisphere – waving his immunity in the face of a pandemic-hardened local population. This red rag to the bull that is Prime Minister Morrison, someone fiercely in election-campaigning mode, was unlikely to end well. But even then there remained the opportunity to recover his pride and reputation by returning to Monte Carlo acknowledging the errors made.  Sadly, he double faulted.

Prince Andrew’s decision to front public disquiet with a sit-down interview with one of the country’s most high-profile and able journalists was, perhaps predictably, a disastrous move, not least because of the implausible ‘evidence’ he gave which he believed would enable him to disprove the serious allegations he faces. Were you the complainant, you might well consider this decision to ‘tell-all’ a deeply provocative act that might fuel the determination to have your day in court rather than consent to a quick and quiet pay-off. The failure to show empathy for the victims or offer any apology for his relationship with Epstein compounded the situation. Sadly it has been left to the Royal Family to act decisively.

The common theme throughout these errors of judgment is a lack of awareness of the right thing to do from the outset: tell the truth, acknowledge the perception of past acts and say sorry. In other words, own the difficulty. In some of these cases, the sting may not have been fully eased by these three seemingly obvious steps, but they may have gone a good way towards pacifying an increasingly disillusioned audience. Of note in at least two, if not all three of these cases, public opinion swayed wildly as bit-by-bit more facts have emerged. But reputations are rarely enhanced by the drip feed of titbits that give oxygen to the controversy yet raise more questions than answers. 

In our line of work we surprisingly still see circumstances in which an early apology and recognition of the hurt or difficulty caused could have prevented the descent into contested and costly litigation. The power of an apology to take the wind out of the sails of even the most ardent opponent remains widely underappreciated. An apology is not necessarily an admission of liability, rather an expression of empathy that, provided sincerely expressed, can be a route to forgiveness and mutual understanding.  

People in the public eye could certainly benefit by taking counsel from diverse and objective advisers prepared to speak truth to power, telling it as it is. 

By Melanie Riley, 17th January 2022

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

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