Simon Greenberg, who has just been appointed head of corporate affairs at News International, is used to stiff challenges.
From 2004 to 2009 he was comms head at Chelsea Football Club, battling a sceptical and sometimes defiantly hostile bunch of sports hacks over the activities of moneybags proprietor Roman Abramovitch and various managers including the fiery Jose Mourinho.
He then left in the wake of departing CEO Peter Kenyon to surface as comms head of England’s disastrous bid for the 2018 World Cup, well and truly scuppered by FIFA boss Sepp Blatter.
As a former (and successful) sports editor of the London Evening Standard Greenberg was well-qualified to take on these two Herculean challenges. But heading up PR for News International, the UK arm of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, looks likely to be tougher still.
News is currently facing a tidal wave of bad publicity over the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World that threatens to engulf former editor Andy Coulson, now PM David Cameron’s director of communications, and various News executives who have told, inter alia, a Parliamentary committee that they knew nuffink about it.
News is also under fire from other UK media owners and large sections of the establishment over its bid to take over the 61 per cent of UK pay-TV broadcaster BSkyB in a £12bn deal. They say the deal, if culture secretary Jeremy Hunt allows it through, would give News too much power and damage media ‘plurality.’
This is highly debatable but the ongoing embarrassment at the NoW is hardly helping News’ case.
Can the combative Greenberg put a lid on all this stuff?
Of course not and News International CEO Rebekah Brooks, herself a former editor of the NoW and the Sun, is daft if she thinks he can.
But sources at News say the two issues are taking up too much executive time including that of strategy director Matthew Anderson who must be tearing his hair out if he’s been attempting to deal with this lot.
Greenberg, at least, is used to facing heavy duty flak. But, as a former senior hack himself, he will know perfectly well that, if Coulson is eventually fingered for condoning phone hacking, all the PR skills in the world won’t get News international very far.