I don't know if this long story will revive this thread, but it's juicy. http://www.sportspromedia.com/bishop.htm
Formula One’s most famous editor Matt Bishop has had a nightmare start to his new public relations career at McLaren Mercedes
You couldn’t make this up
and believe it, we tried
The cozy relationship between sports journalists and the world of public relations took a nasty knock last month as Matt Bishop, arguably Formula One’s best known journalist, left his job as editor of F1 Racing magazine and decided to take the PR shilling at one of the sport’s top teams. But his newly-created job as director of communications at the McLaren Mercedes team straightaway pitched him into the middle of a tense and longstanding battle between team principal Ron Dennis and FIA president, Max Mosley. And in an amazing story, which you couldn’t make up, round one went to Mosley.
When F1 Racing’s editor-in-chief Matt Bishop announced he was taking a new job on 26th September 2007, it came as quite a shock, particularly as he was leaving to become director of communications at the McLaren Group, which owned the McLaren Mercedes F1 team. Most people wondered why Bishop would want to leave such a powerful job and take what was obviously a far less powerful and prestigious position. As editor of arguably the world’s biggest sports magazine, he was a very powerful man; he had been a staple on the
BusinessF1 magazine Power List since 2001. Now all that was threatened.
There was really only one answer – money. He may have enjoyed immense power as a journalist, but the pay was poor. The salary in his new job was closer to US$400,000 than the US$150,000 he had earned as a magazine editor.
When Bishop submitted his resignation to Peter Higham, the publishing director of Haymarket Publishing, the owner of F1 Racing, he asked to leave straight away. Higham refused and Bishop was told he would have to work out his three-month notice period in full. Higham had already had a bad week. A few days earlier, another star editor, Damien Smith, and F1’s best known writer, Nigel Roebuck, had also told him they were leaving. Higham was losing what were arguably his three top people, all in the same week. He told them all they must work their notices in full. Smith and Roebuck understood, but Bishop was bitter. Used to getting his own way, he couldn’t understand why Higham was being so trenchant.
Nonetheless, Bishop accepted his employer’s decision and prepared to work out his time even though he would have much preferred to have got on with his new job. As the news began to leak out, Higham announced that Bishop was leaving.
The terseness of the press release reflected Haymarket’s displeasure. Haymarket was stung at what it saw as disloyalty after 11 years. Its press release simply read: “It is announced that Matt Bishop will leave Haymarket, publisher of F1 Racing and Autosport, to become Head of Communications and Public Relations for the McLaren Group, effective January 2008.” But as far as Haymarket was concerned, from that moment on Bishop was a dead man and it wanted nothing to do with him. His job was advertised and after Bishop finished off the November issue of F1 Racing he was told to have nothing further to do with the magazine.
To make life as difficult as it could, Haymarket was prepared to pay him three months salary to do nothing. He was left twiddling his thumbs. He took the opportunity to get himself fit with visits to the gym at every opportunity – and there were many.
He lost a lot of weight, but after 11 years Bishop couldn’t sit still and do nothing. He started giving informal advice to Ron Dennis and liaising with the team. Although he was still at his desk at Haymarket, he effectively started working for McLaren. Dennis certainly needed the advice after the summer fiasco when his team was found guilty by the FIA of spying on Ferrari, fined US$100 million and excluded from the 2007 world championship.
Afterwards McLaren complained to the FIA about similar conduct by Renault. And Bishop went to work on the upcoming complaint to the FIA that the Renault team had spied on McLaren.
Sometime on Thursday 22nd November 2007, around a dozen key British journalists received an email from Bishop. The email was effectively an unofficial briefing from the McLaren Mercedes team on the upcoming hearing.
Although it was interesting enough, most of the content was already in the public domain. But what it did was sum up the McLaren case against Renault apparently very succinctly. It was designed to give McLaren a PR boost in the newspapers before the hearing and influence public opinion behind the team.
McLaren had actually taken its cue from Ferrari for this. All through its own hearings earlier in the year, Ferrari had skillfully briefed Italian journalists, who had printed stories undermining McLaren. The stories were reprinted 8 throughout the world. Both Bishop and Dennis hoped the same thing would happen after the email went out. Although it was an anonymous briefing, to give it credibility Bishop sent it out on his own Haymarket email address: ‘Matt.Bishop@haymarket.com’. That was no surprise as Bishop often sent emails to journalists updating them on Haymarket matters and his own extra curricular affairs. For example, a week later he sent out an email on behalf of another of his clients, an event called the Motor Sport Forum in Monaco. Bishop was paid US$10,000 to be its chairman and in that email he extolled the benefits of attending.
But the McLaren briefing, although it merely repeated public information, turned out to be highly controversial and infuriated Renault’s team principal, Flavio Briatore, because it was so inaccurate. In fact it was more than that, according to Briatore it was a “pack of lies” that Bishop had been given by McLaren to pass on to his journalist contacts.
Briatore was furious and consulted his lawyers. FIA president Max Mosley was also furious because he believed it undermined the upcoming hearing.
Bishop’s briefing stated that, 1) 33 files of confidential technical information belonging to McLaren were copied on to 11 floppy disks in March 2006, by engineer Phil Mackereth and were all loaded on to Renault computers in September 2007; 2) The 33 files contained more than 780 individual drawings outlining the blueprint of the 2006 and 2007 McLaren F1 cars; 3) The information was discussed by up to 18 Renault employees, including seven engineering bosses and heads of department, including chief designer Tim Densham; 4) Witness statements revealed the information was viewed on 11 Renault-owned computers.
The briefing further stated that McLaren was adamant that its rival Renault gained a “clear benefit and unfair advantage” from the use of the intellectual property. The briefing stated that McLaren’s solicitors had had to forcibly remind the FIA about how seriously they were taking the matter. And it stated the McLaren team was sure that the information was used, to the Renault team’s benefit.
Bishop quoted McLaren’s solicitors Baker & McKenzie as saying: “It is clear that McLaren’s confidential design information was knowingly, deliberately and widely disseminated and discussed within the Renault F1 design and engineering team, thereby providing them [the Renault F1 design and engineering team] with a clear benefit and unfair advantage.”
And according to the briefing, Baker & Mckenzie was upset at the way Renault had dealt with the matter. The solicitors complained of a ‘cavalier attitude’ on the part of senior Renault F1 personnel during the investigation, and that submissions from Renault staff were “incomplete” and “misleading” and “contradictory”.
The email had the desired effect. Articles virtually repeating the briefing verbatim were published throughout the English media and duly picked up across the world. But as it was mostly known stuff it caused nothing like the sensation that Ferrari’s leaks had a few months earlier. Still it pleased McLaren team principal Ron Dennis. It was exactly what he had employed Bishop for: to get out what he believed was the truth.
In the articles that appeared the following morning, journalists wrote that the information had come from a ‘leaked memo’, which was untrue in itself. The leak was generally seen as an attempt by the team to dispel the impression within the sport that the illegal transfer of technical information from McLaren to Renault was of a lesser order of importance than McLaren’s possession of Ferrari secrets.
The Times newspaper was the only one that was sceptical and called the tactics “crude”. It said: “The leak of the memo from McLaren and its timing is as significant as what it contains. The Woking-based team have resorted to radical measures to pile on the pressure, not just on Renault but on the FIA in what looks like a fairly crude attempt to try to prevent the WMSC [FIA World Motorsport Council] brushing this affair under the carpet.”
Ed Gorman of The Times wrote the most penetrating comment. He questioned McLaren’s motives and called the briefing “counter-productive”. He was amazingly prescient when he commented: “However, only time will tell whether this could prove counter-productive. Max Mosley, the president of the FIA who has never seen eye-to-eye with Ron Dennis, the McLaren team principal, may take a dim view of McLaren’s decision to leak information from their confidential submission to the WMSC. There are also other powerful voices in the sport who do not buy McLaren’s version of this affair.”
Gorman was the only journalist who read it right.
But Gorman only got half the story; he failed to spot the errors in the briefing. Someone at McLaren, and Bishop himself, was being extremely naive and the briefing was packed with some very basic flaws. The claim that 780 individual drawings and the entire technical blueprint of the 2006 and 2007 McLaren F1 cars had been stolen was patently ridiculous, even to someone with only a basic knowledge of computers. Almost everyone knows that an old-style floppy disk has a maximum storage capacity of 1.2 megabytes. The average illustration is usually at least two megabytes. Anyone with the notion that “the entire technical blueprint of the 2006 and 2007 McLaren F1 cars” could be squeezed down to 26.4 megabytes was on some other planet. Surprisingly this tosh was repeated seemingly without question by at least 12 British journalists, including such redoubtables as Jonathan Noble, arguably the most knowledgeable motorsport journalist writing today. Noble and others simply took what Bishop said at face value. It was astonishingly naive.
But as soon as it was published it raised the eyebrows of Haymarket’s new publishing director, Peter Higham. Higham formerly ran LAT Photographic, a Haymarket subsidiary, and knew his megabytes from his gigabytes. But he thought little more of it at the time.
One leading editor was also surprised to read the story in his own publication when he returned from holiday. He said: “It is no credit on any of us (as journalists) that we made no attempt to verify the facts contained in this briefing.” That particular editor says he will never trust anything from Bishop again.
The briefing and its wide dissemination had totally the opposite effect that Bishop had intended. It threw Richard Woods, the FIA’s director of communications into a state of apoplexy after he was leant on by Max Mosley to do something about it. In some ways Bishop had played right into Woods’ hands. Woods had already targeted the former editor for some ‘treatment’ after he joined McLaren. From being an FIA favoured son, he had gone to the top of its ‘enemies list’ maintained by Woods. Especially when he had turned F1 Racing overnight into a pro-Dennis, anti-Mosley magazine. The briefing delivered him straight into Woods’ arms.
Meanwhile, Flavio Briatore fumed at Mosley and told him he wanted something done. Woods duly threatened McLaren and on Wednesday 5th December, ahead of the hearing in Monaco, it was forced to issue a most embarrassing communiqué effectively distancing itself from its own director of communications. It was extraordinary and unprecedented. Journalists couldn’t believe it.
The statement from McLaren was totally humiliating and admitted the most glaring inaccuracies. In a statement this time put out by Ellen Kolby, the team’s communications manager, the team admitted the briefing was totally untruthful. It admitted that of the six facts in the briefing, all six were wrong. It said that it was not 18 Renault employees that had viewed the McLaren data but nine. It said that it had not been uploaded to 11 computers but just one and only two Renault staff had viewed that. The greatest error of all was to state that 780 technical drawings had been stole by Mackereth and put on the floppy disks. The true figure was 18 drawings.
But the biggest lie was that Mackereth had stolen the “entire technical blueprint of the 2006 and 2007 McLaren car”. In reality all he had taken was a textual summary of the 2007 car of little use to anyone. To describe it as the whole technical blueprint had been “just stupid”.
McLaren ended its release by saying: “We are pleased to assist the FIA in making the above clear in advance of tomorrow’s hearing.”
When Peter Higham read this, it was his turn to be apoplectic. Haymarket executives had already been “thrashed” on the telephone by Richard Woods. What Bishop had done threatened Haymarket’s whole relationship with the FIA on which it depended.
Higham was furious with Bishop and in that moment the 11-year relationship between Bishop and Haymarket was destroyed. Anthony Rowlinson, a former colleague of Bishop, said: “It was one of the tightest in Formula One.” Insiders say that there is now no relationship and that may be a problem when Bishop starts his new job at McLaren. But Bishop had been lucky, or at least thought he had. McLaren didn’t say that he was the author of the briefing and admitted it had been behind it. The FIA also kept silent about his identity. Fewer than a dozen journalists knew it had come from him, and as they had been duped were none too keen to publicise it. But Ed Gorman at The Times told his colleague Kevin Eason all about it. Gorman had been the only journalist to be critical of the briefing and he thought it all highly amusing. Eason is a former Formula One journalist for The Times who now writes a well-read sports column every day in the newspaper called ‘The Insider’. The Insider is basically a gossip column with a sometimes scurrilous edge.
Eason wasn’t party to any arrangement to keep Bishop’s name secret.
So on 7th December he named Bishop as the author of the briefing. Eason called the affair an ‘Agatha Christie potboiler’ and said “it would not take a Hercule Poirot to deduce that the briefing was inspired by McLaren, given that Bishop joins them next month as communications director”. Eason added: “Bishop stood corrected by his own team before his backside has even hit his new office chair, while Haymarket must be wondering what he was doing briefing on their email system, dragging them into the row.” Eason wasn’t being malicious to him, it was just another story and he wasn’t aware of the sensation it would cause.
When he was outed, Bishop was in Monte Carlo where he had just completed his two days as chairman of the Motor Sport Forum. He was hanging on to attend the FIA Awards Gala that evening. He was furious that he had been named, believing it had been agreed that his name would not be mentioned. But Eason was seemingly unaware of that, or deliberately ignored it.
However the story was not over. As Bishop unpacked his tuxedo at the Meridien Beach Plaza Hotel where he was staying he took a call from Richard Woods on his mobile. Woods told him he was no longer welcome at the gala and that his invitation was withdrawn. It was totally humiliating especially as Bishop had in previous years been an honoured guest and one of the few journalists to receive an invitation. In past years he had also been paid to compere the event. And Woods was not finished. He made sure that everyone at the gala knew that he had banned Bishop, including Kevin Eason who was by pure coincidence a guest. Apparently guests at the gala discussed nothing else. It was duly reported in Eason’s The Insider column on Monday morning. Humiliation complete.
Now as the dust settles it appears that much of the action in the 2008 Formula One season will be off the track. In one corner is Max Mosley and his PR rotweiller, Richard Woods. In the other are Ron Dennis and his novice mouthpiece Matt Bishop.
As one very experienced journalist said: “It’s easy to predict the outcome of that battle isn’t it?”