Experienced and media savvy, but a risky hire: three hacks turned flacks on the Telegraph hiring Andy Coulson

Jailed former tabloid editor and Number 10 comms chief Andy Coulson will offer a "useful perspective" and is likely to be effective in his new role leading PR for Telegraph Media Group, say three former national newspaper writers now in the world of comms.

Coulson arrives at the Old Bailey for sentencing in 2014 (Credit: CYRIL VILLEMAIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Coulson arrives at the Old Bailey for sentencing in 2014 (Credit: CYRIL VILLEMAIN/AFP/Getty Images)

At the start of last year, Coulson set up shop with Pitch founder Henry Chappell. Coulson Chappell billed itself as offering "discreet, strategic communication and corporate advice, from a unique perspective, to leaders, companies and organisations in sport and other industries".

That news provoked considerable interest in the media world considering Coulson's background - he left his role editing the News of the World (NOTW) to work become director of comms to then opposition leader David Cameron in 2007, helping him into Downing Street before being jailed in 2014 for phone hacking when he was NOTW editor. Cameron later said he was "extremely sorry" for having appointed him.

Yesterday, it was revealed by Roy Greenslade in the Guardian that Coulson Chappell had been appointed by the publisher of the Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph to "promote the papers as truthful and authoritative". Coulson Chappell directed PRWeek to TMG comms director Parveen Johal, who declined to comment.

Coulson Chappell replaces Good Relations, which had been handling the TMG press office since the start of last year. Good Relations will stop work with its client in June, PRWeek understands.

PRWeek contacted three former senior national newspaper journalists now working for agencies for their take on the eye-catching appointment:

Andrew Clark, director in public affairs practice, Burson-Marsteller UK - and former deputy business editor at The Times

"As a former editor, Andy Coulson understands newspapers - he will know about the unique mixture of commercial and editorial pressure that senior executives face, and the unending challenge of trying to juggle digital and print priorities. If you couple that with his experience, albeit brief, in Downing Street, I can see why the Telegraph would feel that he might offer a useful perspective in strategic communications.

"That said, one of the first rules of PR is that you should avoid being the story yourself - which Coulson clearly is. And his relationship with journalists in the Telegraph's newsroom could be an issue, particularly those who've written about him over the years. It's a risky appointment for the Telegraph. On the upside for us all, it seems to indicate that reincarnation is possible in the PR industry."

Duncan Larcombe, director of PR at Zest the Agency and former Sun royal correspondent

"If you look at Andy Coulson’s career, he’s been editor of the highest-selling newspaper in the UK, and done a very successful PR job for David Cameron, which saw him come through to be Prime Minister. His CV speaks for itself in terms of having knowledge of the media world and having executed one of the most-high profile PR jobs in the industry.

"It’s really a case of whether anyone deserves a second chance - but he served his sentence and just because he’s been jailed, dones't mean he’s lost those skills and that expertise."

Adam Leigh, strategy director at W and former deputy editor of The Independent

"There's an undeniable piquancy in Andy Coulson's appointment to promote truthfulness at the Telegraph Group. After all, this is a man who not only presided over the most shameful episode in British newspaper history, but was jailed for it. Cue chorus of opprobrium.

"Yet, while one might question the company's wisdom in making the appointment from a short-term PR point of view, it's probably a smarter decision than it seems. Coulson is a man who knows where all the bodies are buried, so to speak, and who understands every trick in the editor's book. And when you've literally defended the indefensible, logic suggests you'll probably be pretty effective when it comes to selling a more positive message.

"Coulson's firm offers strategy and counsel to clients 'from a unique perspective". Unique would certainly be one way to describe it."

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