Decamot of the month

29 May 2018-Managing the News

Inspired by the following Decamot items:
fireworks; evangelist; snooker; cutting edge; Heather; safe haven; basket; grinder; apartment block; silk blouse

Not for the first time, EVE led the 6 0’Clock news on BBC television, but this time was different; it was not about her latest product launch or yet another mega Footsie acquisition; this was much more dramatic and personal.

As Mishal Husain calmly told viewers

“We are getting reports that the entrepreneur known to millions as EVE has been kidnapped. We understand that her helicopter was surrounded by a group of armed men when it landed in Battersea and she was taken hostage …. but I stress these are unconfirmed reports …. as soon as we have more, we will return to the story ….

It is rare for a well-known personality to be known by a single name; even rarer when the celebrity involved is female and rarer still if public recognition is due to spectacular business success.

Picasso, Pele, Matisse, Sting and Banksy instantly spring to mind as mononymous celebrities, but they are all male; what’s more, they are from the relatively specialist entertainment worlds of sport or the arts whose members often create single names for dramatic or marketing effect. Mononymous females like Madonna and Twiggy fit into the same category.

EVE, on the other hand, occupied a unique position by virtue of being a female but whose fame was based on proven business acumen; indeed, her achievements in terms of public recognition, eclipsed those of both Sir Richard Branson and Sir James Dyson to name but two prominent businessmen; the latter having managed to supplant Hoover in the public imagination as being synonymous with carpet cleaners.

Heather Smart was always determined to make something of herself, if only to live up to her name. She inherited a wicked sense of humour from her father who was frequently heard to remark “she’s smart by name and smart by nature; take it from me, this girl will go far – and frankly, the further the better!”

It was all innocent family joshing of course but it was fitting that her first big public deal was in road haulage.

Heather turned out to be the mystery buyer of shares in Eddie Stobart Group, whose fleet of lorries sporting their distinctive green and yellow livery were always driven by smartly dressed drivers in matching green shirts and ties whose instructions, amongst other things, were always to acknowledge the waves of fellow motorists where ever and when never possible; like some latter-day officers of the RAC or the AA.

Eddie Stobart had taken over the transport division from his father and transformed it from a small localised agricultural machinery business into a national logistics icon. Stobart lorries became a motorway phenomenon.

Eddie’s flair for publicity, coupled with a shrewd eye for business, had enabled him to successfully grow the business into a genuinely national operation but Heather had spotted a flaw in the strategy which she knew she could exploit if she could gain control. She had also been amused to discover that Eddie had named his first four lorries after famous females of the time – Twiggy, Tammy, Dolly and Suzi.

Following the successful takeover of Stobart by Heather Smart’s own hedge fund, she was Interviewed by a sceptical BBC business reporter on the Today programme who knew the Stobart history. She was asked about her role as the first female chief executive in a male dominated industry. Would her first move be to instruct the lorries to be given new male names?

Clearly unimpressed with the quality of the question and barely able to conceal her contempt for the reporter asking the question, she replied airily

“Not at all – in fact, as you seem to imply that I am the first female to run any business, why don’t you simply call me EVE?”

It was a put down that struck a chord with the wider public; from that moment on Heather Smart morphed effortlessly into EVE, heavily encouraged by intense media focus on her numerous business activities, which were frenetic by anybody’s standards.

EVE followed her Stobart acquisition with the introduction of a series of cutting edge products, the most revolutionary being a rival to UBER which enabled the entire logistics industry to optimise national distribution from warehouses situated throughout the UK by locating the whereabouts of 250,000 lorries in an instant. The supply chain of hundreds of traditional and on-line businesses were transformed overnight.

Amazon and Argos were early clients in a deal which gave EVE a revenue stream equal to 1% of the total turnover of all goods being carried by UBER supporting vehicles daily

In a nod to her father’s influence, all EVE’s vehicles carried the Latin motto above their cabs: -

NOMEN INTELLIGENTES, INTELLEGENTES NATURA

When the same BBC business reporter interviewed her again, hoping to be told how her version of UBER worked, he nervously referred to it as UTER not UBER, to which EVE simply replied – “well there’s your answer, Adam!”

The Guardian heaped further ridicule on the hapless individual with its headline the next day

“EVEntually, you will get it ADAM”

EVE built a reputation in the City based on hard work and careful research, plus an ability to embrace technological innovation. What really marked her out as unique though was her outrageous sense of humour, often at the expense of the BBC, who found it harder and harder to pigeonhole her achievements.

On one glorious occasion she offered to pitch her latest new business idea to the Dragon’s Den TV programme. Anxious to recover their reputation for up to the minute news, the BBC readily agreed and advertised that EVE was to appear on their flagship business programme.

EVE’s new business idea was for an everlasting match which, if successful, would put market leaders like Swan Vestas and Bryant & May out of business. Her introduction was delivered in suitably understated reverential tones without a hint of the PR fireworks to follow

“Promethean Everlasting Matches are made of Umbeka wood.” She announced “The heat from the flame makes the wood grow as fast as the flame consumes it. They will be created by the Eternity Perpetual Company on the planet Umbeka”

An alert BBC producer intervened just as one of the regular Dragons, Peter Jones, was about to invest in this brilliant new business opportunity. The BBC man had recognised that EVE was actually reading from an early episode of Dr Who, which she had found on the internet. Fortunately for the BBC and Peter Jones, Dragon’s Den is recorded ahead of broadcast, but the Corporation was left with an awkward PR moment to explain to fans of the programme.

The truth was the media generally had great difficulty in putting EVE and her persona in a particular category.

She was not an evangelist for women’s liberation. She was apolitical, but she did believe in personal responsibility. She did not think the state should be involved in anything that private enterprise could do better, but she was always ready to accept that some individuals in genuine need could benefit from a safe haven in times of extreme personal stress. Here, possibly, was a legitimate role for the state to play.

**************

EVE sat at the controls of her Robinson R44 four-seater helicopter as it hovered above Eve Tower, the newly converted apartment block which served as her HQ, on the south side of the Thames close to the London Heliport, opposite Chelsea Harbour. She smiled to herself as she looked down, knowing that she had put in a bid to acquire London's only licensed heliport from the Rueben brothers. She had plans to expand the brand using a modified version of her highly successful UBER haulage app.

Landing on her own HQ was a scary manoeuvre but one she had performed successfully many times since she took possession of the R44 a year earlier; yet she always felt obliged to touch the lucky frog neckless which hung round her neck over her favourite silk blouse ……. just in case.

The large H painted white on the flat roof of Eve Tower grew larger as she saw her PA emerge from a side door on the roof to greet her as usual, armed with two round landing bats which she waived to indicate the direction of the wind and the most appropriate landing spot.

Coming to rest as directed, she switched off the engine, unbuckled her seatbelt, opened the door and swung down the retractable steps. She was about to put her foot on the top step when she heard a male voice scream at her.

“That’s far enough EVE – go no further or Jo here will be dead meat!”

EVE looked up with a start to be confronted by three armed men dressed head to toe in black track suits and matching balaclavas with cut out eyeholes; one of whom was holding her assistant Jo Smith round the neck.

“I’m sorry EVE – they told me to let you land”

EVE took a deep breath, brain racing heart pumping as she struggled to stay calm and assess her options. As ever, her first thoughts were humorous …. Her way, she argued, of releasing the tension.

“What basket case would attempt a hostage take in broad daylight on a tower block with no visible escape route?” she wondered “Who ever thought this one up has surely put himself in one hell of a snooker?”

Holding her hands in the air to demonstrate she was unarmed, but all the while searching for some Dutch courage, she said

“Go on, let me guess! Your name is Ronnie O’Sullivan, but you are auditioning to be the next James Bond!”

Jo stifled a nervous laugh, relieved the focus had shifted away from her and on to her boss.

EVE’s off the cuff remark seemed to catch the three hostage takers off guard. They didn’t seem to know how to respond. The longer the silence, the more EVE grew in confidence – to her this was feeling more and more like one of her city deals which always called for nerves of steel as the denouement approached.

“In situations like this” she asked in a voice which sounded more assertive than it actually felt “I prefer to deal with the organ grinder so which of you mute monkeys best fits that description?”

The mute monkey holding Jo Smith indicated, by waiving his rifle, that EVE should climb down and follow him; whereupon his two colleagues took up places behind her. Not wishing to precipitate an uncontrolled response, EVE followed their instructions to the letter.

The complete landing party now made its way down to EVE’s office created out of what was originally designed as the penthouse suite. As they approached one of the inner doors, EVE was aware that her mobile phone was throbbing in her jacket pocket. She had switched it on immediately on landing but left it in silent mode. She now fingered it surreptitiously on the outside of her pocket to accept the call without being able to see who the caller was.

*****************

The phone rang on Adam Parsons desk at the BBC.

“Adam – I need you in my office NOW!”

The BBC’s business editor had been expecting the call from the moment he saw the lead story on the BBC TV 6’Oclock news. It had come as a complete shock to him. He may have had history with EVE, which was sadly all in the public domain, but he would not have wished her ill.

It was Mark Lord, the editor of the Today programme, in an agitated state. On arrival in conference room 3b on the third floor of Broadcasting House, Adam was surprised to see the head of news gathering, Helen White also present, looking anxious.

Adam’s first thought was to get his retaliation in first.

“Where did you get your tip off about EVE being taken hostage? It wasn’t from me that’s for sure!”

“Mea Culpa” said Mark Lord “I received a tip off from an anonymous caller, so I passed it upstairs straight away – it being a business story I should have checked it out with you first, but sadly I didn’t. You saw the result for yourself. The switchboard has been swamped with callers demanding more information ever since.”

“Have you informed the police?” said Adam determined to seek and permanently occupy the moral high ground.

“I thought about it, but we have no proof the caller was genuine” replied Helen White

“Then why lead the Six O’clock News with an uncorroborated story? The fiasco you authorised with Sir Cliff Richard should surely have taught you something. What is it about helicopters that switches you on?”

“That’s enough Adam – Helen was only doing her job”

“But EVE might be in danger for Christ’s sake – I know I haven’t covered myself in glory where she is concerned but she is a smart cookie, a serious business player. She deserves to be treated with respect!”

“Oh, whoopy do!” said Helen White with heavy sarcasm “Hold the front page – Adam has fallen in love with EVE”

“Well it certainly made the earth move first time round” muttered Mark to himself.

“Look, why don’t I just try calling her on her mobile?” said Adam constructively

Mark Lord and Helen White looked at each other incredulously, but with mixed emotions, as Adam dialled the number.

***********

Whilst his colleagues kept guard, Mute Monkey No 2 took a call on his mobile. EVE sat watching from her desk with Jo Smith perched on the arm of a settee looking perplexed.

“Yes” said MM2 “The eagle has landed. What news your end?” He listened then nodded into his phone, put his hand over the receiver and spoke to his two colleagues.

“They’ve got the Virgin – so we are now in play!” Overhearing all this, EVE became more and more irritated by what she interpreted as childish naïve fantasy language. She determined to challenge her captors when all of a sudden, the mood changed completely as the three hostage takers proceeded to take off their balaclavas and placed their rifles on the floor.

“What is this all about?” said EVE barely able to suppress her anger. MM3 immediately took up the initiative

“I am very sorry if we frightened you EVE, but these rifles are fakes – they are from the drama department. This is Cambridge University Rag week. This year’s organising committee was determined to come up with something spectacular. It’s getting more and more difficult to make an impact on the public’s imagination. One of the members came up with the brilliant idea of taking you hostage. We intend to ransom you to the highest bidder.”

EVE managed to half supress a nervous laugh before saying

“Whilst I’m always keen to encourage enterprise and initiative, have you considered what you would have done had we – Jo or me that is – if we had suffered a heart attack while you were acting out your pathetic little fantasy IRA plot? And what makes you think anyone is going to want to pay to have me rescued?”

“Ah, yes, well, …” said MM3 shamefacedly “It was a risk I admit, and I am not proud of putting you through it, but the reward will be millions raised for Children in Need!” EVE smiled momentarily as she looked down at her phone to see the missed call had been from Adam Parsons, a fact she kept from her captors for the moment.

“So, what happens next and who is the Virgin MM2 was referring to in his telephone call?”

**********

“Bloody hell – what do we do now?” said Helen White as the three BBC hacks tried to make sense of the muffled conversations coming out of Adam’s mobile phone which had eventually been switched off in mid-sentence.

“Look, let’s not panic!” said Mark Lord. “Although I couldn’t make out who was saying what at times, it’s clear that EVE has been kidnapped but I don’t think that she is in any immediate danger. We need a strategy to recover control of the situation from a BBC perspective”

“What!” exploded Helen White “Put out some retraction – sorry viewers, we gave you some fake news 30 minutes ago – very sorry but do keep us on air by paying your licence fee! ITV will have a field day at our expense”

Helen White’s rant was interrupted by Mark Lord’s red priority phone’s distinctive ringtone

“Yes!” he said abruptly grabbing the receiver

“We have the caller on the line again Mark – shall we put him through – security will be listening in”

The voice was clear calm and positively oozing self-confidence.

“We have taken two hostages – EVE and Sir Richard Branson. They will come to no harm if you follow instructions. The price is £1 million for each of them, or you can choose to ransom them by public donation, the choice is yours. I will call again in 30 minutes”

******

“How did you capture Richard Branson?”

“That was relatively easy” said MM1. He is due in Cambridge tonight to speak at the Cambridge Union – we knew which hotel he was staying at so we arranged for a car to pick him up, but it took him to a secret location where he is being held. He will be getting the same briefing as you right now”

“So how do you propose to raise the ransom money?” said EVE.

MM2 now took up the narrative as it became increasingly clear to EVE that, like it or not, they had a well thought out plan and were determined to see it through.

“Plan A is to get the BBC to invite viewers to vote on which of our two hostages is worthy of saving. We have already put a mechanism in place so that every vote cast via the BBC website will be worth £1 as a donation to our Rag Week account.”

“Plan B is to ask you and Mr Branson to put up £500,000 each to secure the release of the other. This has the advantage of guaranteeing Children in Need £1 million which would be a Rag Week record! According to the Sunday Times rich list, neither of you would miss it; and just think about the publicity you would get for your various businesses”

“Ingenuous” said EVE “But it has two flaws. Firstly, you are relying on the BBC to take you seriously – if they don’t, Plan A is dead in the water. Secondly, contrary to what you might think, neither Richard nor I necessarily have £500,000 lying around. We could both turn you over to the police instead”

MM3 now took up the story.

“What you say EVE is logical and may yet prove accurate, in which case we have wasted an awful lot of time. On the other hand, I can tell you that 25 minutes ago, the BBC led their 6 O’clock News with your kidnapping so Plan A is at least at the first stage. As for Plan B, we all know what a media tart Sir Richard Branson is when he needs publicity. He is about to relaunch Virgin Galactic – why else do you think he agreed to speak at the Cambridge Union?”

EVE was deep in thought, but a possible Plan C was beginning to form in her head. The three MMs waited for her response with some trepidation.

“OK” she said suddenly “Get me Richard Branson on the phone and I will see if I can negotiate a third alternative but clearly we haven’t much time so jump to it!”

They did and a few minutes later Sir Richard Branson and EVE entered into negotiations via a mobile phone link provided by MM1. Both understood the need to move fast if there was to be a mutually beneficial outcome.

“Hi EVE! Although we haven’t actually met, I have been an admirer of yours for some time - congratulations on the Stobart deal”

“Thanks, Richard! You are very kind but I’m only following in your pioneering footsteps – at least we share an interest in transport! Which brings me to the crux of the issue. I propose we guarantee putting up £1 million pounds between us and then get the BBC to run a poll on which one of us is worth saving. Whoever wins, the other pays a proportion of the £1 million according to votes cast. For example, if you get 70% of the vote, then I pay 70% of the million leaving you with 30% to pay and vice versa. What do you think?”

“I like it EVE, but I would feel very bad if I did win and you had to pay the lion’s share of the ransom. Can’t we have a side agreement that, in reality, we will share it down the middle 50-50?”

EVE had anticipated Branson’s response so, after a short pause for apparent deliberation, she calmly put her ultimatum.

“I will agree to your proposed amendment, which incidentally I accept in the spirit that it is offered, but on one condition!”

“Name it!” said Branson, anxious to move on to the Cambridge Union.

“At the Cambridge Union debate tonight, you announce that I will be the co-pilot on your initial Virgin Galactic flight, which I understand is scheduled for the end of next year”

There followed a pause of fully 45 seconds which is lengthy by any standards but especially testing during high level deal making. EVE put her finger to her lips to prevent the three MMs intervening.

Sir Richard’s voice finally broke the silence when he said,

“You’ve got a deal EVE!”

*****

Helen White called the usual news channels and the police to explain – “strictly off the record, you understand” – that the BBC had been subject to a hoax call but that they were turning it into a positive by humouring the students responsible as Children in Need would be the beneficiaries. The police were not impressed but accepted the situation. With their forces permanently stretched, a full-blown terrorist incident would not have been welcomed.

The BBC’s competitors from ITV and Channel 4 News to CNN, Sky, Bloomberg and Fox, didn’t believe a word of it but couldn’t see the point of wasting resources proving that the BBC’s management of news needed major surgery. They knew they could rely on the British Press to remind their readers about the purpose of the licence fee, value for money etc. etc.

The BBC website almost crashed with the interest shown by viewers wanting to vote in the poll, most of whom were probably unaware that their bank or mobile phone accounts were being raided for £1 each time. All they knew when the results were declared at midday on the following day was that EVE had scored a decisive win by securing 60% of the votes cast.

At a crowded press conference held at the offices of the Cambridge University Rag committee’s headquarters in Mill Lane Cambridge, Sir Richard Branson conceded defeat to EVE who graciously accepted his offer to be the co pilot on Virgin Galactic’s maiden voyage scheduled for two years hence. The tabloid press went wild with the Virgin chief known thereafter as Sir Richard Ransom.

The City was forced to re assess EVE’s business trajectory which she knew would help her in her bid for control of the London Heliport. When Sir Richard learned of her successful takeover later he called her from Nectar Island.

“Well done EVE! You didn’t tell me you had a bid in when we did the Rag caper!”

“You didn’t ask!” was her quick response “but you can buy in to the project if you would like” she added

The silence lasted longer than 45 seconds

*******

Two weeks after the high-profile hostage escapade, three people sat down for a celebratory dinner at Franco’s in Mayfair.

Adam Parsons had booked the table for himself, his wife Angela and their son Matthew who was in his second year at Corpus Christi. The champagne was on Matthew who was able to tell his parents that the Rag Event had created an all-time record raising over £4 million.

“Congratulations son!” said Adam “But you might have told me what you had in mind when I gave you Mark Lord’s personal extension number at the BBC”

“Yes, Dad I’m sorry but the committee seem to let their imaginations run riot. I figured you wouldn’t be involved, especially as you have a less than complimentary reputation where EVE is concerned!”

“Don’t worry about it Matthew – real journalists know the truth – it has never held me back. In fact, it has all worked out rather well.

“Oh” said Angela curious at her husband’s relaxed mood “How come?”

“Helen White has been promoted out of trouble and might even become the next Director General. Mark Lord is delighted to have Helen off his back at last and I have accepted a new job! From Monday, I will be Head of News at Channel 4!”