News Feature

By The Drum, Administrator

September 11, 2003 | 5 min read

The room where the painting was pilferred.

A big booboo in security has resulted in the theft of a priceless da vinci masterpiece and a new account for The media house. Alan johnstone looks at how pr is aiming to bring madge back home in one piece?

If your name's Madonna, there seems to be two ways you can get your picture slapped onto the face of the global media beast these days. Number one: you can stick your tongue right down Britney Spears’ throat or number two: you can be manhandled into a white mark two VW Golf by a couple of burly tinker sorts. But there was one Madonna this month that didn’t really have a choice in the matter. For poor old Madonna and the Yarnwinder there was no option of the silky delights of Ms Spears’ tonsils, as she was ripped from her home of Drumlanrig Castle and given a rough ride on the back seat of a clapped-out VW.

The Leonardo Da Vinci masterpiece, valued at anywhere between £30m and 80m, was nicked from the Duke Of Buccleuch's stately pile on 27 August by two casually attired chaps whose only care in the world seemed to be stumping up the six quid entry fee.

Now the 77-year-old Duke of Buccleuch has taken the enlightened step of asking The Media House International to handle PR for the incident. A canny move that should help to maintain the profile of the painting, making it difficult to offload down the thieves’ local, whilst also potentially boosting visitors wishing to see the rest of Drumlanrig's sublime £403m art collection. Let’s just hope the Duke increases security – it’s going to take quite a few six-quid-ticket sales to replace another lost masterpiece.

The Media House director Ramsay Smith is the man charged with shepherding the flocking press (at least, I think he said flocking) through the doors of the castle to ensure that the demure Madonna and her Yarwinder stays in the public eye and, hopefully, heads home very soon.

“There has obviously been intense media interest in the incident,” commented Ramsay. (I wonder who'll play him in the sure-to-be-imminent STV adaptation.) The police are working hard to deal with the criminal investigation side of the story and we've had to deal with the issue of ensuring proper media access. That's meant arranging press conferences, public statements and interviews, and also working with the estate to devise a comprehensive media strategy. It's been a clear case of crisis PR,” he added.

To date, it appears to be one crisis that Smith and his colleagues haven't turned into a drama by facilitating access to the estate and, more importantly, the Duke himself. The Media House refrained from advising his lordship to shut up shop and keep schtumm, and this has undoubtedly maximised coverage of the incident and made a household name of a painting that was once only familiar to art lovers who revelled in the recondite.

From now on, most of the public should be able to recognise more than one cultural icon called Madonna. As you'd expect, this hasn't been an accident.

“That is certainly one aspect of it, yes,” concurred Smith when quizzed on maintaining, and boosting, the profile of the painting. He added: “There's an intense media fascination with art theft at this level and the resulting coverage has illustrated that very clearly. We're certainly not going to try to dampen that interest in the case, not at all. We want to keep reminding the public of the piece and what has happened to it – and the more that we can do to achieve that, the better.”

The Duke himself probably doesn't need reminding of the loss of a family heirloom that is one of only 12 oils in existence where the masterful hand of Leonardo da Vinci can be recognised. Nevertheless, despite the theft, Buccleuch is reported to have been stoic and was keen to get the estate open for business as soon as possible.

“The estate was open again on Sunday, 31st,” confirmed Smith. “That weekend is traditionally the last big weekend of the season and the staff were determined to send out the right messages. More than 500 people turned up that weekend, which was slightly higher than normal for that time of the year.”

A case of “car crash curiosity” perhaps? Not according to Smith, who also represents the Scottish Estates Business Group and, as such, is a passionate supporter of the role such stately homes play in the tourist tractor beam that is modern Scotland. “I don't think so. It's difficult to gauge how many people visited out of that curiosity factor, but with other attractions to see (including a long-scheduled re-enactment of a battle that weekend) I doubt visitors would turn up to see where a painting was hanging.”

With The Media House International on the case, not to mention the police and renowned art loss adjuster Mark Dalrymple, hopefully that bare wall will once again be adorned by Madonna's serene expression some time very soon. The Duke remains optimistic, revealed Smith, “but realistic enough to know that it's not going to happen overnight.” A bit like getting his full no-claims bonus back on his insurance policy, methinks. In both cases, we wish him luck.


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