For all the fuss over Sean Rad’s interview with the Evening Standard — culminating in Match Group being forced to make an SEC filing about sodomy — there’s one aspect of the story that, understandably, hasn’t received much scrutiny.
Tucked away in a paragraph about a fancy watch and an ugly car, we learn the identity of Rad’s personal art expert: Matthew Freud.
So far he’s been too busy for extravagance (apart from his gold Audemars Piguet watch and $ 115,000 black Mercedes G-Class SUV) but says he wants to start an art collection with the help of PR Matthew Freud, with whom he had dinner last night.
Matthew Freud certainly knows a thing or two about art: His office is lined with works by “Hirst, Banksy, Warhol, Francis Bacon and the Chapmans.” He once co-owned the art concept restaurant, Pharmacy, with Damien Hirst.
Freud also happens to be the nephew of Lucian and great-grandson of Sigmund, making him an ideal mentor for a CEO whose app facilitates the sharing of naked portraits of one’s lovers and who told the Standard that “the last woman he shared a bedroom with was his mother.”
But Freud great-grand fils is better known as one of Britain’s most skilled media manipulators – described by Adam Curtis as a “star” of the “new culture of public relations and marketing in politics, business and journalism.” His agency, Freud Communications (now just “Freuds”) was founded in 1985 and specializes in “advising chief executives and business owners, in situations including crisis, management of change, strategic direction and reputational challenge.” Until recently, Freud was married to Rupert Murdoch’s daughter, Elisabeth. Oh, and he’s related – through his great grandmother – to Edward Bernays, aka “the father of public relations.”
It’s surprising then, and no small measure ironic, that just hours after dining with Freud in London, Rad would commit suicide by journalist in the pages of the Evening Standard, by appearing to threaten a female journalist:
Rad is “defensive” and still “upset” about the article, muttering mysteriously that he has done his own “background research” on the writer Nancy Jo Sales, “and there’s some stuff about her as an individual that will make you think differently.” He won’t elaborate on the matter.
Surprising, certainly. Ironic, perfectly. But unprecedented – not entirely. Several journalists, including yours truly, have pointed out similarities between Rad’s veiled threat towards Nancy Jo Sales, and the threats made by Uber exec Emil Michael against Pando’s Sarah Lacy and her family.
What most reporters have missed, though, is how Freud’s involvement in the story takes the coincidence much deeper, and much weirder.
Rad made his threat against Sales hours after attending a dinner hosted by Freud. As I wrote back in May, Emil Michael made his threat against Sarah during a dinner hosted by another British PR guru: Ian Osborne.
Freud and Osborne are both affiliated with the infamous “Chipping Norton Set” – a gang of upper middle class Brits who flit between each other’s Oxford and Surrey homes, ride each other’s horses, and otherwise behave exactly like characters in an Evelyn Waugh novel. Both Obsorne and Freud are tight with the Murdochs, and also with British Prime Minister David Cameron. And both have recently made their services available to American tech execs needing some PR help.
Osborne has advised Uber, Sean Parker, and Marc Benioff and is a partner in Yuri Milner’s DST. Freud’s clients include Cisco, Bill Gates, and Blackphone but he recently told a reporter for (guess where!) the Evening Standard that he’s trying to better understand technology, admitting “my generation isn’t au fait with all this YouTube shit.” He was recently seen giving a tour of his home to YouTube celebrity Alfie Deyes, and now there’s the dinner with Rad.
No one at Tinder or Match will talk – on or off the record – about whether anyone else from the Chipping Norton Set was present at the Rad/Freud dinner. They are too busy spinning, privately to journalists and publicly on television, that Rad’s comments were taken out of context and that really he just meant he had Googled previous work by Sales and only meant to smear her professionally. Nor does anyone I’ve spoken to in London seem to know who else was present. The closest I’ve come to an answer so far is that several “important” people were in attendance.
One tech exec quoted threatening a female journalist after being wined and dined by a member of the Chipping Norton Set may be regarded as unfortunate. Two looks like carelessness. But absent any evidence to the contrary – and I’m going to get a copy of the attendee list for that dinner if it’s the last thing I do – we have to chalk it down to coincidence.
What I do know is this: Not long after Emil Michael made his horrifying comments about Sarah, Uber decided to hire Chipping Norton Set-er (and friend of Ian Osborne) Rachel Whetstone as the company’s new head of communications. Similarly, Rad could do a lot worse than asking Freud or one of his cronies to take control of Tinder’s disastrously incompetent press machine.
After all, we Brits might not be au fait with “all this YouTube shit”, but when it comes to getting you into the newspapers, and then helping you back out of them, nobody does it better.
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