Toby Young, tweets and the challenge of hiring the right people

By early Tuesday morning, the name ‘Toby Young’ had been trending on Twitter with nearly 50,000 tweets. The outraged Twitterati were celebrating that their pressure on the government had resulted in Young falling on his sword. And this, despite earlier support from the PM and senior government ministers, like the Johnson brothers.

Just days earlier, Young, an abrasive ‘shock-jock’ of a journalist turned founder of schools, had been appointed to the UK government’s Office for Students (OfS).

His downfall, it seems, stems from a combination of his long-form articles on eugenics, among other topics, and his track-record of obscene tweets which are covered in detail elsewhere.

And aside from the time it took for Young to go (many were presuming it would be a firing by the government, when they realized about the man’s previous form), the whole sorry affair prompts questions about how people are appointed to quangos. What is the process, who administers it, and who made the final decision that Young was the preferred candidate?  Or was this a case of ‘jobs for the boys’ – or as the phrase went on the radio on Tuesday morning, the ‘chumocracy’. Or worse still – was there no process, was it finessed, or was it ignored?

When my son joined the forces, his background check included my background and even my parents’.  When I appointed someone to my team in a large company, for some sensitive roles in security, with the candidate’s permission, we undertook deep due diligence into the person’s professional and personal background in order to ensure they were what they said they were on their CV. It’s also common for references to be taken from a candidate’s previous boss AND the colleagues on the same level with whom they worked.

The key challenge for the government now is to share the process whereby Young and the others appointed to the regulator are selected, applications processed, decisions made and background checks undertaken.  It’s not clear to me how this works, but as the committee is funded by the taxpayer, it should be made clear.  And specifically, was this process properly applied to Toby Young, or was there a nod and a wink between old mates?

It’s disappointing that the government cannot immediately spring to the defence of the human resources processes in this case, but it’s not surprising. Perhaps if they had done their homework, they would have been ahead of the curve and may not have been in the position of having to reactively deal with this fiasco.

Lessons learned?  Apply a clear, transparent and robust process for the appointment of members of regulators and watchdogs that is at least as tough as the processes used for the appointment of civil servants and managers in many businesses.

Classic final lesson? An issue ignored (or not searched for) is a crisis ensured.

STOP PRESS: Commissioner for Public Appointments, Peter Riddell, said on BBC Radio Four’s PM programme later on Tuesday that the process was followed, interviews conducted by an independent panel, but that the candidate’s web and social media profile wasn’t ‘googled’ and ‘common sense plus’ wasn’t applied in terms of flagging his social media activities to a minister.

 

Government issues media advice for people caught up in disasters… Really?

The UK government has issued advice for those members of the public caught up in a crisis or a disaster – don’t hold your breath – it’s mainly a marketing push for its radio, TV and newspaper complaints channels.

It recommends people talk to a lawyer and that they should be aware of PR companies who can help manage the media.

As a card-carrying member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (MCIPR) for more than 25 years – I would dispute this advice.  Not because I don’t want my colleagues winning business, but because working with victims of disasters and taking a fee off them is generally NOT something ‘PR people’ do.

I’m pretty sure few, if any MCIPR or PRCA members would seek out paid work members of the public who have been affected by disasters, unless the individual was well enough to sell their story to the highest bidder – and again, that’s not supporting victims, it’s monetising their experience.

Yes, PR people work with business facing crises and to help them present themselves in a transparent and responsible way.  They also work with celebs to manage relationships with the media and sometimes with governments, NGOs and multi-lateral organisations to help them get their message across to attract funds and support for humanitarian work and campaigns.

Our team here at CrisisManagement has worked on response and communications for significant issues and crises.  We’ve supported people whose family members have been impacted by natural disasters, unlawful detention, terrorist kidnap or killings, but we’ve done that within the context of a corporate response to international crises, not as consultants.  In those cases, we’ve often worked with third-party professional psychological care-providers, but we’ve never taken this kind of work to charge a fee. We have worked with and against lawyers who have initiated multi-party actions on behalf of hundreds, thousands and hundreds of thousands of plaintiffs, but that’s another story.

If an individual member of the public finds themselves in the middle of a media storm resulting from a terrorist attack or other disaster in the UK, often the police, and their experienced communications people, will help them keep a low profile and protect their privacy and that’s exactly as it should be.