News International became "a handicap" for its papers, comms head Guto Harri admits

The News International name had become a "handicap" for its papers, the corporation's comms head Guto Harri has admitted.

News UK: The new brand was launched last summer
News UK: The new brand was launched last summer

Speaking on BBC Radio 4 this week, Harri, who leads comms at what is now called News UK, said the brand "had become famous for all the wrong reasons" amid a "smog" of "smear and innuendo".

His words follow a stormy few years for the Rupert Murdoch-owned company that led to the News of The World being shut down amid allegations of phone hacking. 

Since the scandal, the News International name has been scrapped, with News UK branding adopted last summer as part of a major overhaul of the corporation. 

Harri, who appeared on The Media Show on Wednesday, joined the company in 2012. He said the challenge was to "defuse" associations with the corporation "by either changing the nature of the brand, or actually doing away with it".

He was quizzed by presenter Steve Hewlett the day after News UK launched the News Academy, which aims to find and train teenagers who aspire to be journalists.

The interview also took place to the backdrop of the phone hacking trials, in which former News International executive Rebekah Brooks and former News of the World editor Andy Coulson are accused of allowing phone hacking to take place. Both deny the charges. 

Responding to the presenter’s point that the academy and rebrand might be seen as part of a PR "damage limitation exercise", Harri pointed to a rebrand as "rooted in reality".

Acknowledging that "you can’t clear the pitch of everything; you can’t persuade everyone to like you", he added:

"There have been fundamental changes in leadership: two-thirds of the exec were not there when these things happened. All the papers are under new leadership, every journalist has been trained in new procedures, there are new policies in place. This company has gone through a pretty fundamental transformation."

He went on to say: "But as long as we’re seen for what we really are, I’ll be happy."

Also present during the interview was Borkowski.do founder Mark Borkowski, who called a recent press release by the company about its Christmas carol service "insane" but praised both the Academy and News UK’s openness to the media.  

"You have to in some way embrace the haters," he said, adding: "The haters are an important part of what you are."

However, he warned: "The question is how long Murdoch stays with it; you know, how much money it continues to lose and whether or not it could actually provide a product that’s actually going to do something to stop a sharp decline."

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