PROFILE: Michael Prescott, Weber Shandwick Worldwide - Media relations task is in Prescott's grasp. Former Sunday Times political editor Michael Prescott heads for WSW

To say that Michael Prescott has connections in Westminster is an

understatement. As he sits in vast splendour of central lobby - Commons

chamber to his right, Lords to his left - it's as if he is sitting in

his own little office. Passers-by wave and smile, stopping for a chat or

to exchange a joke.



In a sense, Westminster has been his office for the past 14 years, first

as political correspondent for the Press Association, now as political

editor for The Sunday Times, and with various other posts along the

way.



But in the next two months, he plans to leave his second home and strike

out as Weber Shandwick Worldwide vice-chairman. He has been granted a

broad role across lobbying, PR and corporate strategy. He will offer

media relations and political advice to WSW clients in the UK and

Europe. Poacher turning gamekeeper is not that surprising a move in the

history of journalism and PR, but this one has raised eyebrows on Fleet

Street.



'It seems strange Michael should go and work for a lobbying company,'

said one former colleague, 'when he's been so outspoken about other

journalists going into the spin system - especially his old boss

Alastair Campbell.'



In the TV documentary The News From Downing Street by Michael Cockerell,

Prescott appeared to hammer Downing Street comms director Alastair

Campbell for excessive spin and control freakery.



Prescott laughs at the recollection: 'I like Alastair Campbell,' he

says.



'When The Sunday Correspondent closed underneath me, he was on the phone

offering me work right away. The programme-makers told me Alastair had

said journalists were as much a part of spin as he was, putting their

interpretations on stories. I said that we were about translating the

story for the public, giving them behind-the-scene angles to make sense

of the language. That was taken to be an attack when it wasn't intended

as such.'



It is this desire to get behind the scenes that first excited Prescott

about journalism. As a teenager, he would watch TV news reports about

government policy and then read the broadsheet papers the next day,

realising how much the TV hadn't told him. Given his low boredom

threshold, he figured this was the job for him.



He excelled, working his way up through PA, The Sunday Correspondent and

the (then) Daily Mirror before coming to rest at The Sunday Times, where

he proved he had a nose for a story. Prescott broke news of John Major

calling the 1997 election before most of his cabinet knew. He made

public Tory battleaxe Ann Widdecombe's desire to destroy Michael

'Something Of The Night' Howard in the same year.



'The problem for a Sunday paper is that most political news happens on

Monday to Friday,' says Joe Murphy, Prescott's opposite number at The

Sunday Telegraph. 'You have to come in with new angles or generate your

own stories if you are to survive. Michael always had a good nose for

the path of a story, how it was created and controlled, and I think

that'll stand him in good stead in PR.'



That nose scared some people off. 'I first met Michael at Number 10 six

years ago when I was private secretary to Major,' says Mark Adams who

tried to hire Prescott for his start-up PA firm, Foresight

Communications.



'He had quite a reputation. For one thing, all the Labour politicians

thought he was Labour and all the Tories thought he was a Tory. I mean

this as a compliment when I say he was one of the journalists I decided

it would be wise never to be alone with. I avoided all his invitations

to drinks and dinner.'



Adams' overtures failed, as he lost out to WSW UK public affairs chief

executive Colin Byrne. He harbours no ill-will, though: 'Michael has an

entrepreneurial spirit but, in this case, he went for the lower risk and

lower return route. I see him setting himself up on his own at some

point, whatever happens.'



Prescott himself credits the entrepreneurial spirit with landing him the

stories Murphy admires. 'You have to learn how to think like a

politician,' he explains. 'Let's say there's a scandal involving the

Chairman of the Conservative Party on Friday. It's all over the papers

on Saturday. You have to think "what would I do?" You have to think

ahead.'



Prescott thinks this skill will prove useful at WSW. 'Quite often, after

you get to know a politician well, you'll be chatting to them and you'll

say - "why did you launch that policy on Tuesday? Think about the cycle

of papers and news. Launch it on Wednesday next time." That's going to

work for corporate news as well as political news,' he says. 'I realise

it's a bit of a gamble leaving a well-paid, comfortable job I've been

good at for 14 years and crossing over just before my 40th birthday. I

do have my own fears about that, but I think I'll do OK.' Such

confidence can only serve him well.



HIGHLIGHTS

1984: Trainee reporter, Coventry Evening Telegraph

1986: Political correspondent, PressAssociation

1997: Political editor, The Sunday Times

2001: Vice-chairman, WSW



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