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We Asked Some PRs What to Do if You're Accused of Having Sex with a Dead Pig's Mouth

Because, today, it's a very topical question.

by Sirin Kale
21 September 2015, 12:35pm

(Photo by Guillaume Paumier via)

There are few certainties in this life. However, one thing we can know with almost absolute certainty is that, before today, nobody with any regard for their own happiness had ever imagined what it might look like if David Cameron put his penis inside the mouth of a dead pig.

Until last night. Because last night, the Daily Mail reported an allegation that while at Oxford University, the Prime Minister took part in an initiation event for the notoriously debauched Piers Gaveston Society that apparently involved inserting "a private part of his anatomy into the animal's mouth". And just like that, images – horrible, traumatising images – began to enter our minds: Cameron, red-faced and perspiring, glancing furtively around the room at all the older boys, grinning – but a sort of rigid, not-quite-letting-loose grin, like when you're just about to beat someone at Mario Kart but still need to concentrate quite hard – as he desecrates the animal's motionless face, his paper-white arse tense and sinewy as it pounds back and forth in a drafty Oxford chamber. We're not saying this is what happened, of course – or that anything happened. But it is what some people might be imagining.

Downing Street has issued a statement saying they "do not recognise" the allegations, made in an unauthorised biography of the Prime Minister by peer Lord Ashcroft. So far, that's the only kind of response they've given, and it's a disappointingly brief one. So what we thought we'd do is ask some PR experts what else Cameron could be doing now that he's taking a ribbing in the press. Unsurprisingly, a lot of them didn't want to talk to us, presumably because having your company name associated with pig fucking on Google isn't a great way to win clients.

However, here's what the ones who spoke to us would say, starting with Chris Rogers, Head of Public Relations at Whitehouse Consultancy:

"No comment" can come across quite badly and can be seen as a tacit acceptance of allegations. Given the nature of the allegations made against the Prime Minister, it's important his team issued as strongly worded a denial as possible. They will also need to establish what, if any, other accusations might be made within the book so they can be ready to respond to these as well. But any statement has to be carefully worded. If it emerges that even part of the allegations could be substantiated, a very strongly worded denial could lead to accusations of lying and would prolong the story.

I then spoke to Adam Powell, Senior Director at Ogilvy PR. He fired over an email, laying out a pretty comprehensive plan:

There has not been an outright denial from No.10 – instead, the oblique description that "we don't recognise" the account is used, which is never convincing.

Labour and [the] left-wing media will be making as much mischief as possible to try to undermine Cameron and buy Jeremy Corbyn some time to sort out his own shop.

The next steps for No.10, which I am sure they are all over, are, in brief: understand risks, prepare responses, stick to agreed lines and don't dance to others' tune, close story down and move media agenda on.

In more detail:

1) Someone needs to sit down with David Cameron and discover exactly what happened and how much truth there is to this story, if any. An uncomfortable, tough, but necessary conversation.

2) Then create a response plan for the worst-case scenarios, which could include, if stories are true, that pictures exist or others can come out of the woodwork and confirm the story.

3) In meantime, avoid responding to drip-feed of questions from gleeful media. Stick to prepared lines designed to close down the story. This also includes a line for PMQs.

4) Tone is all-important in all of this. Needs to avoid "plumminess", not be arrogant or defensive.

5) Adopt "business as usual approach" and portray Cameron in a prime ministerial light. Find topics, carefully selected photo-ops and meetings to demonstrate authority and leadership.

6) Portray story as something that is very low on the priority list. Also, where possible, question the motives of the "unnamed source".

7) Think very carefully about any photo-ops or similar events which may backfire and give the media and social media users the opportunity to ridicule PM or revive the story.

This will be thrown at DC for the remainder of his political career in the same way as the Bullingdon Club photo has been and will be. Key is to be aware of risks and plan how to best close down quickly and move on without compromising Cameron in short or long-term. If I was in No.10, I'd be trying to move the agenda onto bigger issues about the future of the country, not events from 30 years ago.

Sounds pretty comprehensive. Finally, I spoke to Terence Fane-Saunders, Chairman of Chelgate Public Relations. He told me:

Cameron [should] not have used "does not recognise" as a response. That is too well established as a PR wriggle sometimes used by people who can't actually look you in the eye and say it's a pack of lies.

His best strategy will be to say as little as possible. Let the media, political opponents, others have their fun. It will pass. Maybe not a seven day wonder. Perhaps 70 days. The lasting impression will simply be that Cameron may have been fairly wild when he was a student. Um, thank God! The thought that he might have always been a squeaky clean and shiny "head boy" type all his life would be too depressing to think about. Most of us did wild, tasteless, stupid things at uni. Then we grew up. We expect to be judged as we are, not as we were.

So there you have it: expert advice from a group of experts about what to do if you ever find yourself in the position Cameron has found himself in today.

@thedalstonyears

Want some more on the matter? Read: It Doesn't Matter if David Cameron Had Sex with a Dead Pig or Not