However much you try to resist it, the story will always find a way out.
The news editor of a national paper once told me the only way to know if quotes are real is if they’re from a named person. Any mention of ‘sources’ or ‘insiders’ – or those treacherous ‘friends’ of celebrities – and you can usually rely on the quotes, if not the whole story, being made up.
In my experience that’s not always the case. Plenty of times someone with inside information has tipped me off with reliable information but wanted their identity kept quiet. Happens all the time.
‘Sources’ have been hard at work at Manchester firm Pannone for months. We’ve had rumours of an acquisition by the two emerging giants of the market, Slater & Gordon and Irwin Mitchell, as well as various speculation about the firm’s financial health (curious as its most recent results were, by any measure, excellent).
As I write, we have the curious situation where a rival publication has a report from a partners’ meeting where, sources confirmed, Pannone agreed to sell off its consumer business to Slater & Gordon.
The article states that more than 75% of the partners voted for the acquisition and that, in effect, Pannone will soon cease to exist.
Sometimes you have to admit another team has played a decent innings, and our rival was clearly fortunate enough to have answered the phone to a disgruntled partner who was at the meeting.
But the firm’s response, which apparently comes from the top, is still ‘no comment at all on anything at the moment’.
Despite the story being in the public domain, and the (legal) world and his dog knowing every last detail (or at least, thinking they do), the firm will not say a word. No clarification, no denial, nothing. Just a head in the sand and an invitation for more (potentially wrong) speculation.
Pannone, like every other firm, should have a ‘leak’ contingency plan. You have to assume you will not keep a lid on these types of discussions and therefore you must get to the media before anyone else does.
Currently the firm is leaking like a boat made of Swiss cheese – someone, for whatever reason, is dropping information to the press.
What firms must do is to set the agenda, get their message across unadulterated and keep staff and clients fully informed. Simply refusing that the story has got out will satisfy nobody and can only do harm. If there was a vote of the partners, I’m surprised there wasn’t a statement at the time and staggered there is nothing to say now.
Make no mistake, axe-grinders will not be afraid to tip off a reporter if they’re not happy with something. Either a firm should place water-tight gagging orders on anyone involved or it should come clean.
Managing partners may, with some justification, object to the intrusion, but once the genie is out of the bottle, there really is no other way.
John Hyde is a Gazette reporter