PR Office staff left in tears after company liquidated with no warning

Director Shimon Cohen said ‘when you make a significant change not everybody is affected positively’


PR Office director Shimon Cohen said he had to make a change for his benefit (Photo: Omaggio)

Employees of one of the best-known PR firms in the Jewish community were left crying in their office when director Shimon Cohen liquidated the company after it racked up over £300,000 of debt.

Around a dozen staff at PR Office say they were left in “disbelief” after Cohen emailed them on April 3, to tell them they had lost their jobs and the company was closing down immediately.

The company has worked with clients including the Conference of European Rabbis, the United Synagogue, the Holocaust Educational Trust and Aish UK, while Cohen previously served as the executive director of the office of the then Chief Rabbi Lord Jakobovits.

Cohen’s laid-off employees, including a mother on maternity leave, are now attempting to claim money covering their notice period from the firm managing the liquidation.

Announcing the creation of a new company this week on LinkedIn, Cohen insisted that he "did not want to be bothered with admin and management protocols" and so was launching a fresh venture that would give him, “some pleasant space and a more calming setting to do what I love.”

His "beloved PR Office" had grown too large and faced financial issues so had to be shut down, he continued, but his thoughts were with his "dedicated employees" who he had learned much from.

Speaking to the JC, a former senior employee said: “Everyone is so angry with him because he’s shown no contrition for what he’s done.

“To do it by email, to not be a mensch and come in and tell the employees face to face is terrible. It was really heartbreaking for all the people involved. They were all in disbelief, they liked him, they thought he had their interests at heart.

“They believed when he said he cared about his staff. People understand you can have hard times, but to do it by email is stunning.”

Staff working in the company’s office were reduced to tears, while others are said to have paced around the room amid a stunned silence.

In his email to staff, Cohen wrote: “[The news will] no doubt come as a huge shock to you and I so wish it could have been avoided…

“I have tried everything to avoid this, and I ensured that you all got paid at the end of March. But from now a winding-up process begins.

“You will hear directly from the proposed liquidator, and you may have a claim for unpaid wages, notice, holiday pay and redundancy. All of these claims are processed through the RPO (Redundancy Payments Office).

“I am very sorry that it has come to this. You are all wonderful people and I am sorry that you have been let down.”

The PR Office had to close, he claimed, because it was no longer billing enough.

One laid-off employee speaking on behalf of their PR Office colleagues said they were totally unaware the business was in trouble, though.

According to industry publication PRWeek, in 2022 the PR Office’s UK revenue stood at £2.7 million.

The company, which Cohen founded in 2004 after leaving industry giant Bell Pottinger, has been hired by a number of clients across the Jewish community.

When he announced the PR Office was closing, a former employee told the JC, "we were all completely shocked by the news.”

They said: “There was no hint or internal discussion about the severity of the situation. None of the employees knew this was coming. Looking at the report by the insolvency practitioner, you don't find yourself in that sort of financial mess overnight. It's telling how this happened at the end of the tax year.

“It's bewildering how a firm like ours could face such difficulties. 

“We have to question what led a seemingly successful firm to become insolvent. Surely, Shimon and the accountant could have foreseen the financial black hole the company was heading into.

“One minute we were all busy working with and servicing our clients and even carrying out our normal new business activities, the next Shimon announces the company is bust, and we all lost our jobs.

“Seeing his comment about how he had to cut loose to look after himself is shocking, particularly considering one of our colleagues gave birth the day after the announcement. Does he have no shame?”

Cohen told the JC he was not present when employees received the email as he did not go into the office on a regular basis.

“When you make a significant change not everybody is affected positively,” he said.

“I’m sorry people feel that way. I’m not sure I had much support when I went through personal issues, when my mother had a stroke, when my father died.

“I’m not blaming anybody. People can say what they want to say, but at some point one has to put oneself first. That’s life, that’s business.”

According to one former senior employee: “It’s always been hand to mouth. Lose a client, gain a client. He used to call it ‘filling the bucket’.

“It’s his business, that’s how he ran it. This time something didn’t show up.” 

Cohen pushed back saying he had several clients for more than two decades

Accounts seen by the JC, reveal that the business was liquidated with total debts of £371,626.

This includes over £300,000 owed to HMRC, over £70,000 owed to employees, and over £7,000 owed to a landlord.

Around £130,000 of total assets are available for preferential creditors, with Richard Long & Co appointed to oversee the liquidation process.

Writing on social media, Cohen said he was moving on to lead Roath PR, a new firm named after a park near which he grew up in Cardiff.

He wrote: “20 years ago, I set up The PR Office. I did not want to be bothered with the admin and management protocols that had become my entire work life at my previous firm.

“Instead, I dreamed of running a small, nimble, out-of-the-box team, purely dedicated to the clients. 20 years later I’m doing it again.

“Unfortunately, my beloved PRO grew too large and, facing several financial issues in these trying times, is now to be wound down.”

While Cohen told PR Week that he hopes to hire PR Office staff at Roath PR, the JC understands that just one employee has accepted an invitation to continue working for him.

Cohen said he was not looking to start a new company but rather to advise clients and did not want to manage multiple staff members.

“I need to reassess my life, I don’t want to work for 75 clients, some profitable, some not, I don’t want the headache of HR, management and accountancy,” he said.

“I want to spend my time being a client man interacting with my clients. Without all the headache of running and owning and employing, and I am doing it differently.

“When you make a change like this it’s never easy for anybody. Of course I'm sad, but I did it the best way I could. I paid people up to the last moment. I did what I felt was correct and honourable and profitable. I had to make a change for my benefit, for my family’s benefit, and for my clients I want to work with.”

His salary had not increased since he founded the PR Office, Cohen said, and that it was not fair to claim that he was not aware of financial issues.

Positive comments on his LinkedIn announcement demonstrated the affection clients and contacts held for him, he claimed.

Cohen added: “I’m very sorry that some people have felt some pain along the way, I’ve also felt some pain along the way.”

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