Des Gibson is three years shy of 50 but, when he speaks about the early days of his 30-year career in media, it sounds like an altogether different world. His mother was a copy taker at The Irish Press and a personal assistant to the paper’s editor Tim Pat Coogan. Her job involved managing dozens of other copy takers, all sitting by the phones transcribing stories from the paper’s network of writers. As a teenager, he was a messenger boy in the paper, frantically bringing sheets of papers between departments and then to the hot metal printing press. 

As a teenager, he was drawn to tabloids, and his dream job was to edit The Sunday World. In the end, he edited the title, as well as three other national newspapers – The Irish Daily Star, The Star on Sunday and The Herald. Few people have edited multiple national titles. It is hard to think of anyone else who has edited four. And, before that, as a 21-year-old, he edited his local newspaper, The Tallaght Echo.

As he moves away from the world of print to launch GPM Solutions, a boutique advisory firm offering media relations, crisis management, costs analysis and mediation, he cannot help but think of those early days – and how the industry has changed so dramatically. 

He experienced both the highs and lows of the industry – from boom-time growth to structural decline. “I know print journalism isn’t dead, but it’s fatally wounded. That is the best way to describe it,” he says. “In the years ahead, there will be less print newspapers in this country.”

He was there, too, for the rise and fall of The Star on Sunday. That changed how he viewed the role. During those years, he viewed his job as dealing with the headlines. After its closure, he decided the best thing an editor could do was managing the bottom line also. 

In this interview, he talks about: 

Ian Kehoe (IK): You edited The Star on Sunday, The Daily Star, The Herald, The Sunday World. And I am going to talk to your career and each of those titles. But first, you are now moving in the other direction. You’ve just launched a new company, GPM Solutions, Gibson’s Pro Media Solutions, a media consultancy and crisis management agency. You are a poacher-turned-gamekeeper. Why?

Des Gibson (DG): It’s not quite actually like I am quitting the business; it is more sort of stepping outside and looking back in. Over the years, this was something that I’d always planned. I always thought, through my experience with great communication companies that, as good as they were, at times they’d come to you looking for advice because they just didn’t have someone that had actual experience within that media field of actually driving news agenda – and managing publicity whether it’s good or bad. And some have experience in broadsheets. But certainly, there are none that I can think of within the tabloid sphere.

IK: That is a point. I’ve seen many leave journalism, a significant amount of the journalism brains trust, and primarily they have been working in broadsheets and leaving to join PR companies or become government advisers. But when you think about it, tabloids outsell broadsheets. 

DG: What you talked about, that brains trust of journalism in the country, it has contracted. There is no doubt about that. We have lost a lot of good people to government departments, charities also, as well as communications firms. We all talk about good publicity. And it’s a term that’s bandied out. But you have to know when the pitfalls of publicity too, the negative publicity, the downfall of negative publicity and engagement – when to engage and when not to. And if you’re going to, how to do that in a correct manner that doesn’t damage your company. We always talk about reputational damage, and also trust, sometimes you can’t get that back. 

Hot metal, copy boys and The Irish Press

IK: We’ll come back to GPM Solutions in a little while because I want to dwell upon your career. And as I said, it is a unique career. You edited four national titles. How did you get into journalism? Was there always an itch, a want to go down that road?

DG: As far as I can remember, there was nothing else for me. I had a bit of an opportunity – my mother at the time was a PA and copy taker within The Irish Press and she worked under the great Tim Pat Coogan. And at that time, that was a big job when you’re also over copy takers. So it was real power within a newspaper. She would have had about 25 to 30 copy takers. Also under her remit were copy boys who went on to be known as runners and messengers.

It’s actually hard to get across the importance of copy takers and the power that those positions held. I hate to sound like a complete fogey, but you are going back to hot metal days. I went in as a 14-year-old, as a messenger, and it wasn’t just the menial tasks of getting people’s dinners and that.

People were actually printing out on hot metal. You were running with actual copy from department to department. And it was an essential task. Now for me, I always saw that as a stepping-stone. I wanted to be a journalist. I looked at these reporters and The Irish Press churned out incredible journalists over the years, many of whom are in top departments in RTÉ and other places at the moment. But for me it was that kind of getting in early, not letting people realise your true age, I was still in school. I had started school early. I managed to do my Leaving Cert and be out of school at 16. So for the final two years of school, I’d kind of built up to nearly five days a week working in The Irish Press, doing sports reporting, getting on to news reporting and courts.

Des Gibson: “It was ridiculous. At 15, I was entertainment editor of The Echo, even though I wasn’t old enough to go into a pub.” Photo: Bryan Meade

IK: And where did it go from there Des? You were very young when you were appointed the editor of a new title, The Star on Sunday. I mean, how did that come about? How did you go from kind of bluffing your way into the five days a week in The Irish Press?

DG: Well, there was a certain amount of bluffing terms and elements of luck. When The Irish Press closed in 1995, it was a huge news item at the time. For people that wouldn’t quite remember, it was April, May, 1995. The Irish Press had three major titles.

It was a morning paper, an evening paper and a Sunday paper. The Sunday paper was hugely profitable, but the daily papers were really floundering, it was also a huge cultural issue, there were nearly 600 staff for the actual titles coming out. So when that closed, it was a huge blow to me.

And for my mother, I also had a brother working and it was a case of what next? What came next, going back a couple of years before I was staffed in The Irish Press, I was doing some work for the new paper on the scene, The Irish Daily Star – some court work. I had also been doing stuff for The Tallaght Echo. So, when The Press closed, the owner of The Echo at the time, Dave Kennedy – who’s back now as owner – called.

It was ridiculous. At 15, I was entertainment editor of The Echo, even though I wasn’t old enough to go into a pub. So again, you’d have to kind of pretend on the age thing. I obviously wasn’t driving, so you’d either cycle or ask to be picked up to review nightclubs that you weren’t allowed to go into. But I mean, what that gave me was a huge kind of grounding in journalism.

He asked me would I move on to covering court work. And I had no legal background and say I was 15, 16. But at that time, The Echo wasn’t carrying people’s names or addresses. It was like being a 36-year old man. It gave me a great kind of education of six months doing that before The Irish Press then trusted me in doing it for real.

When The Irish Press closed, I went back to The Echo as editor, which again was scary – I was only 21 at the time – to have that responsibility. I had this young brashness that I could take on this big job at a local level. And because The Press had closed, there was a lot of good journalists there.

I thought, well, for the same money as a young person, I could give three shifts to experienced journalists. So, I had a number of great journalists like Michael Clifford, Andreas McEntee, Miles McEntee, the great photographer Austin Finn, coming up and doing shifts. And very quickly within a year, we kind of built up a great readership and sales were up. You talk about lucky generals.

I was lucky at the time. I mean, Tallaght was exploding in terms of the population. The Square was opening. So, it was a great time to be in that. I’m not seeking credit. It was just a lucky time. But on the back of that then The Star came in and offered me a job on news, which came as a surprise because at the time I was only doing bits of sport for them, but obviously my job as editor in The Echo gave me that start in The Star

The rise and fall of The Star on Sunday

IK: And within a couple of years you were editing The Star On Sunday.

DG: Within a few years they had launched a Sunday paper which was a big thing. It was seen as a rival to The Sunday World and The News of the World at the time. The Daily Star was so successful Monday to Saturday, and it was launched on the basis of doing it seven days a week. But quite quickly, within a couple of months, we realised it wasn’t that easy.

We opened on a huge fanfare with Gerry Ryan and Louis Walsh and all these great columnists and huge fees. We were spending money at a massive rate.

Within a number of months, they realised that the Sunday market was incredibly different and we needed to have a dedicated Sunday staff and a Sunday editor. Thankfully they trusted me with the job and even though people say it didn’t last long – well, actually it lasted nearly seven years, it went from the end of 2003 to January 2011. And I’d say during that time, and particularly the closure – I learnt more about the business than at any other time.

IK: You were there for the closure, what was that like? 

DG: It was horrific.

“I have to work on the bottom line as well as the headline, and that’s always been my mantra since.”

Des Gibson

IK: I was at The Business Post when it went through an examinership period. And you’ve got one hundred days to save the business or not. It went right down to the 100th day and how tough it was for staff where they didn’t know if they were going to have a job in a couple of months’ time.

But it was different with The Star because there was an element of finality to it. 

DG: I think that moment shaped my career more than any other. I got a national job, I’d just turned 30 and within a number of years it was my first national job to close. I felt a lot of hurt and felt a  responsibility for staff, a lot of good staff had either stayed with us or left other positions to come work with us. And I remember at the time our sale was just over 51,000 a week, selling it more than two quid a pop, it was serious revenue coming in.

But the background was, it was a decision taken at the last board meeting of the year just before Christmas. It was a board spat – we were half-owned by INM at the time and half-owned by a company in England, and it was just a board spat. It ended up with the owner at the time basically throwing his toys out of the pram saying, okay let’s shut it down, because it wasn’t making money. But there was no kind of inclusiveness, or asking, okay, so how can we solve this? Because there was lots of stuff we could have done had I been asked, but I thought at the time, that’s not the job of the editor. The job of editor, I was told, was to bring out the best product you can, and let us worry about the finances. But what that did for me was to turn me into a manager and a leader. It made me think, right, never again will I take up a job that I’m just working on the headlines. I have to work on the bottom line as well as the headline, and that’s always been my mantra since.

So any job I took was on the understanding that you can work on weekly P&Ls and know where you’re going. And if things need tweaking you get time to do that and you can run a business rather than just running a product.

IK: Because it is easy just to look at the headline. I have been there myself. And then you realise that you have to work within budget, work with the advertising department and look at the finances. 

DG: And there’s no difference between tabloids and broadsheets or broadcasters. I mean, you need to protect your staff and the actual business.

Running The Star, The Sunday World and The Herald

IK: And you took that model then to The Star itself?

DG: The Star asked me to stay on. There had never been a managing editor, and I was never going to get stuck like that again, so I was the first managing director of The Star. Which meant that you were able to demand everything from payroll to all contributors.

So you can make sure that the books are balanced and it meant that if you wanted to invest in something, or invest in talent, you accepted the fact that you may have to trim elsewhere. But you got used to that and at least it was in your hands.

IK: Yeah, and how long did you edit The Star itself for? 

DG: I actually had two stints in The Star. I was managing editor for approximately four years and then editor for four years while holding both titles. So, I suppose about kind of seven, eight years in total and then left The Star in 2017 and did two years in INM. A job came up as group head of the tabloid division of Independent News, which essentially was The Sunday World and The Herald

Right from day one starting in journalism, I knew I wanted to work in tabloids. And at that time The Sunday World was and continues to be the biggest tabloid in the country. I suppose it was a life dream. If I ended up as editor of The Sunday World and The Star that would be.

IK: And what was that transition like? You’re in The Star a long time. You know the culture, you know everything else. And then suddenly you’ve a job where you’re essentially editing two newspapers.

DG: Yeah there were two difficulties. One was it was a seven-day operation. But it wasn’t that much of a change because in The Star you’re working on a six-day week anyway. They both had their unique challenges.

When I discussed the position with them initially, we knew what the issues were. The Herald was a 130-year-old brand, a monster of a brand really, that was in decline. Even though it was only less than 20 years when its biggest rival had gone. So, you wondered why it wasn’t being more successful. There was also a kind of identity crisis with it in terms of it didn’t know whether it was a morning or an evening paper, and there were various other issues.

Des Gibson: “Mistrust had built up over INM for more than a decade.” Photo: Bryan Meade

The Sunday World on the other hand was selling hugely and continues to do so, bringing in lots of revenue. If anything, it suffered a small bit from a trust issue and a long legacy of legal issues that needed to be cleared. So, there were those kind of dual challenges with the two papers that were kind of unique to both.

But at the same time, the idea was to move it into a seven-day operation. In The Star, we were almost an independent republic of The Star. We kind of prided ourselves, you worked hard and you played hard. I mean, we had some great times through the years when things were rising. When people talk about the death of newspapers, I remember in The Irish Press they said there wouldn’t be print by the end of the century. In 2010, we were selling 115,000 every day in The Star and you kind of go, when does this end? We subsequently know the crash happened. And obviously, the smartphone was a huge thing.

But I suppose in terms of the backdrop of all that, the idea of The Sunday World and The Herald was a vision that could manage them both as a seven-day operation and let them both thrive.

Culture and mistrust at INM

IK: I talked to Peter Vandermeersch who is now the publisher of INM through MediaHuis in Belgium, and he talked about the culture. And when he arrived in, staff morale was on the floor in INM at that time. What was your experience of going into it on a full-time basis and then leaving it?

DG: Okay well, there were real challenges when I went in. First of all, the culture was a huge issue, there was mistrust of staff and correctly so.

I mean, we talk about trust-building, but mistrust had built up over INM for more than a decade. Cynics will say longer than that. But really, you can nail it down to six or seven years prior to the MediaHuis take over in 2017. Some of the public spats and what had gone on eroded confidence in the brand. There was talk inside of the brand being toxic and whether we needed a rebrand, which is incredible when you talk about a brand that was that old, and that kind of rubbed off on staff. Also, they kind of felt that the board at the time kept changing. And they were that much detached, you didn’t quite believe what was being told, even at floor level. You’d have, let’s just say, fractious and really kind of angry, angry scenes on a normal kind of staff announcement.

Restructuring The Herald, managing decline

IK: And the decision then to leave. And I know you went back and you did a stint, you helped them out with The Star again for a period. But it’s a long time to be doing some heavy lifting. Was it in your mind then at that point? Just – I need something different? And I know you had done a number of business courses. 

DG: Again, that came back to The Star on Sunday education. Every day is an education. But I think, going through the years, I probably learnt more sometimes from really bad leaders and bad managers as much as I did from good ones. As I mentioned earlier, I started so young in papers and I’d known nothing else. Sometimes, you talk to people and you talk about thriving businesses and you talk about growth expectations for next year. What you’re doing essentially in newspapers is managing decline.

“It just seemed to be kind of managing decline on an annual basis. And that can get wearing at times.”

Des Gibson

And that’s no disrespect whatsoever to print. People slag me because I’m such a defender of the print press, because I do believe there’s absolutely a position for print press going forward. And I’m very, very proud of my background in it. But it just seemed to be kind of managing decline on an annual basis. And that can get wearing at times. 

IK: And trying to do it gracefully.

DG: It was in my mind, even before going to INM, that I was going to give it a couple more years and then I wanted to do something different because I’d been doing it since 14. Part of that plan was I hadn’t gone to college. I had no qualifications whatsoever. So, I went back around 2014 and started studying. I did first a diploma in leadership and newspapers and then started on a masters programme.

So I did diplomas in finance and business management as well as strategic HR which culminated in a masters, which I finished in 2018. I wanted a two-year stint in INM. 

The key things which weren’t very popular were The Herald switching unashamedly to a morning paper, because essentially it was going out in the morning and then a second edition was going out at half 11, 12 o’clock in the day.

So it was essentially more of the paper, the same content, but we were sending out vans and it was just unsustainable. It wasn’t popular because there were always reasons in the culture why it could never be done. One was regarding junior soccer, another one was regarding essentially racing because you needed racing for the next day. But my argument was I could buy the Herald in the morning at half 10 in my shop and it wouldn’t have that day’s racing, it would have the following day’s racing.

We were expecting a lot of calls, we did get about three to four hundred calls, which is a lot for people to call, make a complaint and ask for someone to call them back. But we’d been down that road before in The Star several times. What you do is try and manage them in terms of every one that you can try and talk round as a reader held or reader gained.

Highlights of the job

IK: What were the highlights when you look back upon it? And I’ll come to the future of the media in a moment. But the highlights of it? 

DG: Highlights are when you’re editing and you feel that you won that daily battle. They talk about fast-moving consumer goods. Apart from what’s on the supermarket shelves like the milk and bread, newspapers, as you know as well, are the most fast-moving consumer good because essentially you get one shot at it, you work all day to bring that out. 80 per cent of our sale is from 8am to 12pm.

IK: The first four hours.

DG: The first four hours, if they’re not sold then they’re gone. And you’re starting then at 12 o’clock on a blank canvas for the next day’s paper. So you’re kind of working at that all the time. And so you get these daily battles.

I suppose if I look back on some stories – it’s hard to translate now because it was a moment in time and it wouldn’t seem like huge stories now. What I can think back is of a particular craze regarding headlines that will always stick and that’s less about the actual breaking story. It’s often to do with a story that is national news that’s going to be in every paper. But just the difference is how you treated that story. For example, when Martin McGuinness finally shook the hand of the Queen and it was going to be on the front of every paper, it was really, many would argue, a broadsheet and a tabloid story.

Tabloid readers don’t get enough credit for being politically aware, but at the same time, you had to give it that spin. So our headline that time was “Tiocfaidh ar Lámh”, it kind of gave our own unique spin on it and it was very successful. Another one from the political level last year was during the second lockdown, it was really hot. And Micheál Martin came out and gave this kind of speech, he’s asking people to wear the green jersey, but stay at home. They can still exercise in their gardens. And our headline in The Star the next day was “Go Out Your Back and Tan”. It’s just that treatment of a story that you feel that day, that actually hit. I’ll actually give you one that’s further back. And you’d think this would have nothing to do with a tabloid, it was the bank bailout. That bank bailout when Cowan and Lenihan had repeatedly denied it was even going to happen. When they finally came out and made that announcement, we ran that picture and just a simple headline of ‘Useless Gobshites’.

And it actually kind of, you feel a bit icky, is this going to work? But it did. And it means that you’re running a story that – everyone has the same story. But it’s just that bit of attitude on how you got it across.

Taking on the Kinahans

IK: They’re kind of zeitgeist moments. A really interesting one was your stance on Daniel Kinahan and boxing, Des. People might not realise this in the background but The Star took a big stand over – was it the Tyson Fury fight? And you took a stand, you called upon other national newspapers simply not to cover the fight. Not to do it because of what was going on with the Kinahan gangland situation and what’s been alleged, what’s been said in court with Daniel Kennan’s links to gangland crime?

DG: Well there’s no alleged, I mean, it’s an actual, not just links to gangland crimes, he’s actively directing crime. And for me, that wasn’t a big call. I suppose again, it came down to the treatment. We can all give out about Tyson Fury, Daniel Kinahan in the background – and many people would know this – but he’s been trying to kind of whitewash his reputation. And one of those ways was to get through in terms of in the Middle East particularly, reinvent himself as some kind of respectable businessman in the boxing spheres by acting as a boxing promoter.

Where Tyson Fury did him a great disservice and us, the justice system I suppose, a great service was that he came out and outed Daniel Kinahan as the man who was going to make this massive, the world’s biggest fight between himself and Anthony Joshua, a world unification fight. You’re talking about literally hundreds of millions in terms of pay per view and so on. So he outed Daniel Kinahan as the fixer, as the man, the king, my friend. And that was just the switching point. We took a stand that not only were we disgusted, but that we were taking the next level that we were not going to cover it, if that fight came about. We were not going to cover any of the fight in either preview or after the fight, and we’d do similar for other fights where Daniel Kinahan is involved. I thought that was our step. But then there was a great silence. You felt that, and there is a snobbery there.

If The Irish Times had done it, the national broadcaster would have led with it and we felt it kind of was ignored a bit, so we said well, we need to crank this up. We did daily editorials reiterating our stance, but also then put it out through our paper regarding all other outlets to try and join us. We sent it out to every national editor in the country, on a personal communication, but also then took a step to contact and to organise our UK counterparts. I’m going to send it to every other national editor in the UK too, and we put pressure on the likes of Sky and RTÉ.

Berkeley and the bad days as an editor

IK: Yeah, and the fight fell apart in the end. Listen, we talked about zeitgeist moments, putting the headlines around the bank bailouts, the lockdowns and stuff. I mean, are there times when you misjudged it Des, when you look back and say, gosh? Sometimes I look back upon papers and I go, why did I do that? Or what was that headline about, or I should have gone a different direction. I know it’s difficult to look back, but at times have you ever felt something was wrong?

DG: Yeah, you get those. I always think that in terms of when you’re a newspaper editor, anyone who tells you that they’re 100 per cent is mostly lying. Let’s talk about a big world event like 9/11. You know you’re going on the front page and wiping out a front page of a picture and a headline, you’re 100 per cent maybe those days when you go, you know what the front is. Other times, it can be 70-30, sometimes it can be 51-49. And that’s being honest. I don’t know about times of regrets or where I got it wrong.

But I always say after it’s done, if I was armed with the same information I was the day before publication, I would be making the same decision. Sometimes fronts hurt people unnecessarily. And you worry about them afterwards.

Like maybe the wipe-out front page on Katy French just days before she passed. There were others like the Berkeley balcony tragedy. Our treatment on the front seemed distasteful to many readers. And that was a challenging time. I felt that it was the correct treatment. But you come under pressure by the decisions you make. We had a situation, not just a public backlash, a huge public backlash driven on social media, which came right to the chairman of the board wanting me to relieve my duties that day.

It’s not about writing it out. I decided to go the opposite way and ask that whoever was taking the calls would actually take a contact address. Anyone who emailed was emailed back and asked for an actual contact number or a phone number and anyone that was supplied, I rang personally and went through and that took days, but we got there.

And you try and explain. You can explain in an editorial in the paper. I don’t think that’s good enough. You can do that. We did that as well, but also kind of contact everyone on an individual basis and hear the concerns. And you feel after that, it doesn’t fill you with a great feeling.

I remember there were certain fallouts of that. It was a number of weeks later, I got a call from the picture desk: “Will you have a look in the system?” It was the Syrian migrant crisis and a three-year-old boy washed up on a beach in Turkey. It was one of those calls, will we run it on the front? Those calls are difficult enough on a normal day, but we had the backdrop of the previous story and you’re talking about bodies. Now Berkeley was a covered up situation; the Turkish one, the Syrian child was fully there, and you make that decision. We did run it front and you run with a reasoning that you are trying to reinforce the message. 

The future of the media and why the smartphone changed everything

IK: The future of media – Des, obviously a student of it, you’ve been heavily involved in it. As you said, you’ve had to manage decline for a period and that involves an element of cost cutting and so on.

What’s your take? Are you worried about the future of print? Do you think it’ll always be there, is the industry going to change?

DG: Well, I know print journalism isn’t dead, but it’s fatally wounded. That is the best way to describe it. In the years ahead, there will be less print newspapers in this country. Certainly on the Monday to Friday model, weekend papers are still doing incredibly well. In terms of this lockdown, many Sunday papers have actually increased their sales and their readership. But it’s at a real challenging crossroads.

I’d even put it was at a challenging crossroads five years ago. The smartphone was the big game-changer. I mean, when people talk about the internet and news websites, I always say, I’m not going to bring my laptop on the Luas for a twenty-minute journey. The phone was the big game-changer.

But that doesn’t mean print is dead. It just means you have to adapt properly. You have to have sites and podcasts and sites that actually complement the print, because there is still print advertising.

IK: That’s where the money is. Everyone’s talking about digital advertising being the panacea, it’s just not there.

DG: That argument died two years ago when digital advertising actually turned for the first time, it was on a curve up, and that suddenly kind of had people scratching their heads. Hang on, this isn’t meant to happen, it was meant to migrate from print directly.

I get feedback all the time from certain advertisers that they’ve independent research is that it’s a trust element with print. But they will do an element of digital advertising, it’s for both. So you have to deal with the downturn in sales, which will happen. And unfortunately, that means adjusting your cost base all the time. Now technology has had a great plus, because we can do things much cheaper for print, in the print sphere that we could never do before. So you have to take the pluses with the minus. There’s been lots of pluses in terms of it.

IK: You were talking about runners and copy boys and all of that. But the profession, I use that phrase, the profession has changed in terms of how it gets stories. Even now. What’s been your reflections on that?

DG: Look at companies that have been successful, like the Storyful model of authenticating videos. Even ten, 15 years ago, there’d be a time where something would happen, whether that be an accident or a shooting or something in the city centre, where if you didn’t get there quickly enough or within minutes, you’ve missed it. The same thing with a lot of court stuff and so on.

Now, there are so many amateur journalists, you could say, with the smartphone – and a lot of them are driving the news agenda. So you get the plus of being able to use that footage. But also, you have to authenticate it yourself. You have to have that kind of three-step programme that you are happy. You’ve had three levels of authentication in terms of being able to verify it yourself before and being able to stand over every word and every picture.

A snobbery against tabloids and the high cost of litigation

IK: Do you think there’s a snobbery towards tabloids?

DG: Oh, yeah. I was thinking this earlier Ian, that the first time we met was actually on a stage where we were on opposite sides of a debate. I can’t remember what the subject matter was. But I remember it was yourself and Kevin O’Sullivan, the editor of The Irish Times at the time, and myself and someone from a website on the other side. But the general gist of the debate, as far as I remember, it was on the lines of who can you trust and the different standards with tabloid journalism. 

And I actually think there’s no different standards and that we all run by the same standards. And I think good newspaper editors can edit business newspapers or tabloids. Because the same standards apply. 

IK: And the same legal system does. 

DG: And it’s an archaic legal system. We’ve the worst defamation laws across Europe. The reason why libel cases are so few and far between in court is because it’s so bloody hard to defend, first of all. 

IK: Secret settlements.

DG: From a financial point of view, you let a case go to court because you feel if you don’t it will damage your brand. It makes no financial sense even to win a case, because you’re still going to be out of pocket. The lawyers and barristers will always win regardless win, lose or draw.

And we both have experience at that level. But I’d argue and I argued that day when we were about that debating, I think it was about 10 years ago, that there’s such stringent defamation laws that you literally live and your career lives and dies by your decisions.

Often in the last 10 to 15 years, the worst, most expensive mistakes were actually made by our national broadcaster and broadsheets in this country. So, this misconception that there’s different levels of verification needed and that tabloids will just run with anything, I mean, that’s just not the case. I think that’s borne probably out of 1990s Britain in UK journalism. But that certainly hasn’t stretched over here. 

Learning from business leaders

IK: A large part of what you do, Des, has been business. And when you look at it, are there business leaders out there that you look up to? Are there qualities that you look for in a business leader?

DG: There are certain business leaders like Buffett and Bezos that we all know of and what they did. But what they do, let’s say Bezos, in particular is adapting a business. I think we could argue certain tech firms and so on, and don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they’re lucky, but there was a curve and there was an ingenious moment that started it and it rose. 

What Bezos did and what Ortega did in Spain with Zara, is adapting a business to turn into a global brand and essentially turn it from a dying business and adapt and change that kind of culture and expertise, to actually turn it into a great one. 

I’d say closer to home here, I’m a great admirer of Michael O’Leary in terms of what he does. His brashness and his kind of: “You know what? This is what I believe. And this is what I’m saying.” Not making apologies. People snipe at his wages but there’s a reason why he’s on those. Same thing with the likes of Stewart Kenny and Paddy Power and David Power himself. 

What they did, by starting in a small couple of shops, adapting, bringing in people like Corcoran and so on, they adapted a small business but made it into a global brand and didn’t just stop and get taken over. They moved to the UK and then since Italy, Australia…

IK: And going after the US market at the moment. 

DG: To look at companies like that, Irish companies that have actually done it on the world stage, I mean, you can only admire.

The GPM elevator pitch

IK: GPM Solutions, what is it? What’s the pitch? What are you going to be doing and who are you going to be working with?

DG: It’s going to be very much word of mouth, it’s going to be with people I’ve worked with through the years and it’s very much about smart media communications. First of all, do you want the message out there, and help to get that out in the best way, whether it be good news or bad news. There are times for crisis media management that people just don’t do well.

I felt that was kind of an area there. So, it’s really from good news to bad news and back again. Also other areas like internal as well as external communications and mediation and so on.

IK: And the website? 

DG: It’s

IK: Well Des, thank you very much for joining me here today. It’s a longer podcast than normally, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

I wish you the very best success with the company. We’ll have you back on and you can tell us how you’re getting on. So, thanks a million. 

DG: Thanks for having me.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


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