The first rule of PR is get on the front foot. Don't be defensive. Don't play off the back foot. Get out there and control the message.
This appeared to be the philosophy underpinning the decision of gambler and former brothel owner Eddie Hayson to hold a press conference in Sydney on Thursday, at which the colourful Sydney identity strenuously denied having anything to do with the alleged NRL match fixing which NSW Police are currently investigating.
Hayson, flanked by celebrity manager Max Markson, spent a full hour in combat with the media at Sydney's plush Inter Continental Hotel. It was a weird event, although it started plainly enough.
"I am here to clarify lies," Hayson opened.
"I have never been approached by police or NRL to answer questions about match fixing. I've never fixed a match in my life, never. I've never bribed a player or even attempted to interfere in any way whatsoever with the result of an NRL game or any other sport.
"All these allegations are total fabrications and lies. These wild and unfounded allegations are just that. Police have been given false allegations. They have been sold a lemon. It's wrong, and shoddy journalism. It's very clear that several journalists in this room have not been able to report the truth."
One journalist conspicuously absent from the room was senior News Corp sports editor-at-large Phil Rothfield, who recently underwent scrutiny and a temporary suspension after revelations Hayson had placed thousands of dollars in Rothfield's betting account.
But the usual suspects were there -- foremost among them the Sydney Morning Herald's multi award-winning investigative reporter Kate McClymont and Channel Seven's Josh Massoud. Both attacked Hayson mercilessly.
But the weird thing about this event is that no one got anywhere. Hayson was asked early on what he actually does for a living. "I'm working on a project and it's confidential," was his not very illuminating answer.
Hayson lost control of his high class brothel Stiletto in 2014 and declared himself insolvent with debts of $52 million. How he got back to a state within two years where he can bet thousands on football matches, let alone hire the most famous spin doctor in the business, is anyone's guess.
And that's the kind of day it was. Everyone was left guessing. There are actual circles that are actually less circular than some of the circular questions-and-answers that threatened to get somewhere but ultimately went nowhere at what, in the washup, was a waste of everyone's time except perhaps Hayson's and Markson's.
Oh, there were some minor-to-moderate revelations by Hayson standards. Among them:
- He owes former boxer Jeff Fenech money.
- He bet on most of Parramatta's wins during their winning streak earlier this year.
- He said Porn shop owner Con Ange helped spread rumours of Hayson's match fixing involvement because Hayson owes him money.
- He gave freebies to footballers when he owned a brothel -- not in exchange for favours (like inside matchday information for betting purposes) but for "promotion".
- He had tried to put $30,000 into troubled NRL player Kieran Foran's Ladbrokes betting account, but Ladbrokes rejected it.
- And weirdly, he claimed that he saved Foran's life. "Kieran went through some really dark times this year. If I wasn't in his life this year he probably wouldn't be alive," he said.
But overall, like the sitcom Seinfeld, this was a show about nothing. The main difference is that this had all the farce but none of the fun.
The problem for the inquisitors was that after Hayson had made his outright denial of match fixing, no one was sure what they were trying to extract.
The problem for Hayson was that he said phrases like "I don't recall" and "probably" and "ummmmm..." far too often to sound convincing on all or any of the ancillary subjects on which he was quizzed.
And so, the whole strange carousel spun round and round, with Max Markson overseeing the affair with a facial expression that was half sneer, half smile.
What did any of this mean? Why were we even here? Did the media's failure to pin Hayson down on anything concrete add legitimacy to his claim (made in the preamble to his initial statement) of just being a regular guy who likes a punt?
Three years ago, Hayson was warned off racecourses for six months for refusing to name names in the More Joyous affair. Remember that sordid saga?
It's the one where Gai Waterhouse had a horse called More Joyous, owned by ad man John Singleton, and there were rumours that the horse was "off" (i.e., not at its best), and that someone had passed the info on. Eddie Hayson's name was all over that affair, along with Tom Waterhouse and the former NRL player Andrew Johns.