Opinion

PR fakes, doorstep interviews, smoking gun emails and current affairs shows

Wednesday night saw an interesting PR story appear on both Nine’s A Current Affair and Seven’s Today Tonight.

PR man Jothy Hughes was caught hiring actresses to pretend to be angry divorcees  selling their jewellery, for an item about a cash-for-gold company.  

But, thanks to smoking gun emails, he was busted before his hoax on A Current Affair could be pulled off.

However, I’m not sure we’ve got the full story just yet.

I first became aware of the story when Today Tonight rang to get a comment. I appeared towards the end of their report talking about PR ethics.


What unfolded was a tale of dodgy PR shenanigans to promote so-called gold parties, where people flog their unwanted jewellery.

Odd though is his high level of cooperation with Seven in particular. Not only does he come into the studio, but he even helpfully reads out his incriminating emails.And they’re astonishing stuff. Handily, you can read them on A Current Affair’s website, where you can also watch their (non-embeddable) report.

Email 1

SHOOT: A Current Affair

CLIENT: Gold Parties Australia (GPA)

HISTORY: GPA is a brand where women host parties for their friends. Women come along and have champagne and canapes and then sell their old gold jewellery. With gold currently worth over $1000 an ounce, women are making a lot of money.

DRESS: Smart casual. Clothes they would normally wear to a lunch

STORY: A Current Affair need 10 people who are a divorced to attend one of these parties and sell their old gold jewellery from their ex husband.

I need your actors to pretend they have all been married (or maybe some have been) and some need to be bitter about their experience and really happy to sell off their old gold!

I will supply gold for all the women, however if some of them would genuinely like to bring their own gold to get assessed and then sell, that is fine too.

I’ll have lunch and champagne for all people too and they will need to be comfortable appearing in front of audiences all over Australia.

Here is a link to their website. I did a story with ACA last year, so have a look at this to further understand how these parties workwww.goldpartiesaustralia.com

Email 2

Hi Lisa,

I just wanted to run one more thing by you before tomorrow.

It’s absolutely paramount that when each person has their gold assessed they show genuine surprise at how much their gold jewellery is worth! This is the main thing i want to get across to the viewers!

I want people at home to realise how much money they can make from such small amounts of gold.

Not everyone will be filmed having their gold weighed and assessed but i’m sure everyone will feature in the piece.

Please ensure no-one lets on that they are actors, otherwise my career in PR will be over and i’ll never get another story on A Current Affair.

If your actors would mind even keeping it as low key as possible about this job, even after it’s been aired, that would be much appreciated.

If the reporter asks you how you heard of this concept, please get them to either say through word of mouth or through the internet.

If your actors have their own divorce stories, that is fine too.

As I said, Mark Gibbins will be there tomorrow and will be your best port of call.

If all your actors could look at the link I sent you also, that’d be great, just so they know how the actual afternoon will probably go.

As I also mentioned, let your actors know they are more than welcome to bring any gold they want assessed for real also!

Please call me in the morning to let me know everything is ok as this is a really important shoot and I need to make sure it comes off.

I really appreciate all your help with this Lisa-you’ve been amazingly professional and so prompt with everything.

I look forward to chatting in the morning.

Cheers,

Jothy

The quote that leaps out in the email above is the line: “Please ensure no-one lets on that they are actors, otherwise my career in PR will be over and i’ll never get another story on A Current Affair.” Damning stuff.

Yet for such a PR blunderer, in the Nine footage he suddenly becomes very professional when confronted. He admits his behaviour and is immediately apologetic, both in the Today Tonight studio interview and in the A Current Affair car park confrontation.

He used to work for publicist Max Markson’s agency Markson Sparks. I did wonder whether he indeed still does, as his LinkedIn profile states. My first theory was that both TV shows were given cooperation in exchange for keeping Markson’s name out of it. Particularly as Today Tonight refers to the infamous “Spider Man” stunt when Alain Robert scaled a Sydney tower block. That was very much a Max Markson production, although Today Tonight kept his name out of it in its report this week.

When I rang Gold Parties Australia they told me they no longer had a PR agency, but had until recently used a consultant. The CEO of the company, they said, was on a flight, but the name Markson Sparks was unfamiliar.

And Markson tells me that it has been months since he spoken to Hughes, which I do tend to believe.Hughes isn’t answering his phone, although he did send me a brief text on Wednesday night. One tipster told me that the car park scene was shot at the back of the Markson Sparks offices. Markson tells me that’s not the case.

Our offices are nearby so one of my colleageus has popped around, and it does look like a red herring – it wasn’t shot there.

Another wild theory is that the PR hoax story is itself a hoax. After all, as a result of the incriminating emails, the story has been covered on both A Current Affair and Today Tonight. The Gold Parties Australia concept has been exposed to far more people than otherwise could be the case.

I’m not sure that theory necessarily stands up either, but what I am certain of is that we don’t yet know the whole story.

Tim Burrowes

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