Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Emma Harrison and the media

Looking back on the story of A4e, I'm struck by the relationship over the years between its owner Emma Harrison and the media.  To say that she was the face of the company is a gross understatement.  She seemed to see the company as a reflection of herself.  Her picture was prominent in their offices rather as dictators demand huge portraits of themselves all over their countries; and as the company grew so did her sense that it was all about her.  Staff were "rewarded" by being invited to weekends camping in the grounds of Thornbridge Hall.  The select few got to have "tea with Emma".  Most of the employees saw this for what it was, but daren't say so out loud.  Yet the media were continually charmed by her.
I didn't see the Secret Millionaire programme she made - and I'm glad of that.  But whenever she was interviewed about her supposed area of expertise something strange happened.  Harrison appeared on the Daily Politics once and was taken apart by Andrew Neil.  Yet about a year later she appeared again, and got very soft treatment, as if Neil had forgotten the first interview entirely.  Then she appeared on the same programme as "guest of the day" and contributed absolutely nothing.  Channel 4's worthy Benefit Busters series featured two films made in A4e offices, and one of those at least should have set alarm bells ringing about what was happening in New Deal - but didn't.  In a brief interview after the second film Harrison bragged about her contacts in government.  It was then put to her that a big problem for the unemployed was that short-term work meant long delays in getting benefits again when the work stopped.  What should be done about that?  Her reply was memorable: "How should I know?"
On Radio 4's The Moral Maze it was Harrison herself who had to correct the presenter, who thought A4e was a charity.  And on the Today programme the interviewer, Justin Webb, seemed mesmerised by her, asking no relevant questions and letting her talk rubbish.  A high point (or low, depending on your point of view) came with her starring role in Famous Rich and Jobless, a horribly exploitative series of poverty porn.  (Even today the BBC's website page for the programme describes A4e as "the largest employment agency in the world, responsible for getting thousands of people back to work".)  Harrison was supposed to be an expert, helping and guiding.  One unemployed man was recommended to go to a specialist agency.  Problem solved?  No.  After the series was shown he was still out of work and very bitter towards Harrison, who had promised help.  She couldn't do anything, she said, because A4e didn't operate in his area.  In another series on another channel Harrison was pitted against another expert to find a job for someone who was "hard to help".  She solved it neatly - by calling in a favour from a friend to give the lad a trial at a job.  And she won.
Harrison had become a celebrity, employing a celeb agency to get her work, and she popped up regularly on such diverse shows as Eggheads (I missed that) and Masterchef (as a guest at a dinner to sample the contestants' efforts).
It must have been hard when all that stopped so abruptly.  Perhaps that's why she agreed to the interview on Channel 4 News, long after her fall from grace, when the A4e WP results were leaked.  Surely the media would be kind to her again?  But that was in the past, and it was a disaster.
The media can build you up, but they can also bring you down.


  1. I remember contacting Emma Harrison personally via email. I told her in no uncertain terms about the disgusting way I and others had been treated by her company. I did not expect a reply to be honest.

    When she did reply, the answers Harrison gave (which Historian was kind enough to post here) were as patronising as they were evasive. She pretty much made it look as though I was the problem and not A4e.

    It was all about how A4e supposedly helped even those who ''did not want to take part''. Again, making it look as though her critics were the issue rather than her company's practices.

    Emma Harrison was in complete denial about A4e. It would appear she believed her own hype and saw critics as mere nuisances - even those such as myself who were clients of here company. Not surprising when feted by the likes of Blair, Brown and Cameron.

    Many contributors here and elsewhere could see which direction A4e was heading and we've been proven correct. Perhaps If one were to write a business book about how NOT to manage your company, then along with Robert Maxwell, Fred Goodwin and Gerald Ratner, Emma Harrison would have to warrant an honourable mention.

    1. Sick of the Work Programme19 March 2015 at 03:47

      It is not surprising that Emma Harrison responded the way she did- as is evident from her stance in the Channel 4 interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy, she comes across as being someone who does not want to accept blame and has a strong sense of entitlement. What I still find difficult to get my head around is how she was able to become a millionaire on the back of receiving public money for owning a company which in reality has on the whole done very little to help its 'customers.'

    2. I'm playing Devil's Advocate here, so please don't hate me. ;) I have the utmost sympathy for iMatt (if he wants sympathy, that is), I'm just better at being neutral and or positive.

      To be fair to Emma Harrison, it wouldn't be very wise for her to be too negative about her company (or former, whichever you like) as there are still many people working for it. If her comments about how bad A4e was doing in the W2W sector "got out" and became public, then I'm pretty sure that would spell certain disaster for her. She may act like an ego-centric person, much like our ol' buddy, IDS, but at the end of the day, if you own and/or operate a company that has hundreds or thousands of employees, the last thing you do is outright critise them and the whole company just because of the actions of a handful of people within. I believe it's called "the company line"; no matter how bad things are, if you're in charge or acting as spokesperson, you try to stay positive as much as possible. Unfortunately, for some people, that often means placing blame on others, which IS WRONG. Remember the old saying "if you can't say something nice..."? Yeah, well some people were taught that but refused to listen. :(

      In a perfect world, Emma Harrison would be honest and quick to resolve any problems within her company if someone was to make a complaint. But, alas, this isn't a perfect world. At least in this world demons and ghosts can come back to haunt you when you make serious errors in public. (insert evil smiley here)

    3. I was not seeking sympathy of any sort. Nice of you to offer though. As I always say with regards to A4e and their ilk, do not take my word for it - just look around at what many others were saying about the company and the W2W sector in general.

      Considering the sheer number of complaints about A4e, I doubt it was a mere handful of her employees. It seemed more likely the culture within. And without wishing to get personal, if Emma Harrison really cared about the her staff and the reputation of her business, perhaps she'd have made sure her staff were better trained and addressed some of the deep issues within her company. it's one thing being positive. It's quite another being in total denial.

      After all, if A4e were a company that had to chase each and every customer rather than relying on taxpayer funded contracts, they'd have gone under long ago as their customers would have voted with their feet and deserted them.

  2. The weird thing is how Emma Harrison and IDS are so comparable,they both disregard the facts,yet have a mantra of "I believe" with a smug look that reminds me of somebody that has fixed a race and knows that regardless of the outcome they will be taken care of.

    Will A4E command a price that it would of before all the publicity? probably not,but if other W2W companies pick up pieces it will remain a colossal waste of taxpayers money and still do little if anything to help the unemployed,but Emma will still get paid.


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