EXCLUSIVE: Qatar World Cup 'Dirty Tricks' – Top PR Man Vanishes From Scandal Firm Website

3 August 2018

NOW you see me, now you don’t…

Sir Nicholas Lloyd – Chairman of the PR agency at the centre of the Qatar World Cup ‘dirty tricks’ scandal – quietly disappeared from the embattled firm’s website this week.

Whether the vanishing act – which included details of former Fleet Street heavyweight Sir Nicholas’s extensive links to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. – had anything to do with the headline-grabbing allegations against his business is anyone’s guess.

Where it all began – Sir Nicholas Lloyd worked for The Sunday Times early in his career

Just 24 hours earlier the renowned international spin-doctors he co-founded – BLJ Worldwide – had been exposed by Murdoch’s The Sunday Times as running ‘black ops’ to smear Qatar’s rivals in the race to host the 2022 World Cup.

The paper chose not to name Sir Nicholas in the story, which alleged breaches of FIFA’s rules – denied by Qatar – serious enough to see calls for it to be stripped of the competition.

However, after issuing denials of wrongdoing of its own, BLJ Worldwide also stressed it has “demerged” from former UK sister company BLJ London, under whose aegis Sir Nicholas has provided long term PR guidance to organisations including the Daily Mail newspaper, and Qatari Diar, the property development arm of the petrodollar-rich state’s sovereign investment fund.

Coincidentally, in its own extensive coverage of the story, the Daily Mail made no mention of BLJ Worldwide, despite the pivotal part played by Sir Nicholas’s firm in the latest controversy to afflict Qatar’s acquisition of the 2022 World Cup.

No mention: The Daily Mail’s coverage of the story did not name BLJ Worldwide

Some time between noon and 1pm the day after The Sunday Times’ scoop rocked football by claiming BLJ Worldwide sabotaged rival hosting bids from the US and Australia, all trace of Sir Nicholas was stripped from its online presence.

Byline Investigates is, however, today able to publish screen-shots of BLJ Worldwide’s ‘leadership’ section before and after the apparent take down.

Gone: Sir Nicholas’s profile disappeared (c) BLJ Worldwide

Prior to the Qatar story, BLJ Worldwide had traded heavily on Sir Nicholas’s deep influence on British and world media.

The 76-year-old formerly edited Murdoch’s News of the World tabloid – shut down by the mogul in 2011 amid a phone hacking scandal after 168 years in print – and also UK national newspapers The Sunday People and The Express.

He served Murdoch in New York on his publishing and TV interests, enjoying a working relationship that extended to a sponsorship through Harvard Business School, prior to the founding of Brown Lloyd James (BLJ) Public Relations in 1997.

And until Monday, BLJ Worldwide was effusive about its Chairman’s credentials.

‘Before’: BLJ Worldwide referred heavily to Sir Nicholas before the ‘dirty tricks’ story

Its website boasted: “Sir Nicholas’ career has spanned more than four decades, including the editorship of three of the UK’s leading national newspapers and as a popular radio host on LBC.

“Nicholas also spent time in New York as a senior executive with News Corp, where he worked across the group’s media interests – magazines, newspapers, film and television.”

Involved: BLJ Worldwide partner Mike Holzman (c) BLJ Worldwide

The Sunday Times’ investigation into BLJ Worldwide centred on the activities of its New York office, and in particular reported that partner Michael Holtzman rolled out a campaign to “gather dirt, create controversy and disseminate negative publicity across the globe with the aim of sabotaging Qatar’s chief rivals in the vote to host the competition.”

Sir Nicholas has long enjoyed a strong relationship with Qatar, having been the PR mind behind the £3bn residential development of London’s Chelsea Barracks, whose detractors included Prince Charles, since at least 2009, and has offices in its capital Doha.

Despite Sir Nicholas’s senior role in both businesses and their shared name, the siblings ‘demerged’ in 2010, two years after Worldwide started working with the tyrannical regime of the late Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and the same year it was revealed to be working to manage the image of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

The latest unwelcome publicity comes less than a year after the world of international public relations was rocked by the demise of industry heavyweights, Bell Pottinger, amid a client exodus over its own role in a plot to foment racial tension in South Africa.

Ethical questions: BLJ Worldwide

This week, key industry figures have called BLJ Worldwide’s ethical credentials into question.

Francis Ingham, director general of UK trade group Public Relations and Communications Association, told industry bible PR Week: “It is telling that the company in question is held accountable to no association Code. 

“So here’s our message to the public, clients, media, and decision-makers alike: if an agency has chosen to be unaccountable, you should ask yourself why, before engaging with them and their services.”

* Byline Investigates tried to contact BLJ Worldwide for comment but at the time of publication its website was down