ANALYSIS: Broadcast PR - The other side of the broadcast PR fence The steady trickle of senior television journalists into broadcast PR has turned into a flood as companies recognise the need to understand and shape the news agenda.

Journalists have traditionally moved into PR when they get fed up with being underpaid or fancy a change. It can seem like a logical and, if they are honest, easy option.

Journalists have traditionally moved into PR when they get fed up

with being underpaid or fancy a change. It can seem like a logical and,

if they are honest, easy option.



However, recent months have seen a large number of established

television journalists move into key positions in the PR world. Last

week BBC political correspondent Lance Price became a special adviser in

the Prime Minister’s press office. In May Laurie Mayer left his

anchorman role at Sky News to join Harrods as head of public affairs,

and he expects the long term trend to ’get as many broadcasters on board

as possible’ to continue.



The demand for experienced broadcasters seems to be growing, but what

makes them such hot property?



’There is no substitute for first-hand experience,’ says Tessa Curtis,

managing director of Shandwick’s broadcast division and a former BBC

business journalist. ’Client companies and organisations recognise and

understand the need to plug into the editorial mindset of TV,’ Curtis

says.



Curtis compares the current interest in specialist broadcast PR skills

with the debate in the media world when she first became a

journalist.



Fifteen years ago the issue was whether or not specialist financial PR

was needed. ’Now everyone accepts that there is a specialist interest

and focus,’ she says. ’Broadcasters have specialist needs and there is a

role for a better understanding of them in particular.’



Mark Madsen, managing director of headhunters MacNeil, says more

companies are looking for broadcast experience. ’With the increase in

communications mediums and world of mass messages, you need to develop a

strength in broadcasting,’ he says.



The pace and timing of broadcasting, the technical complexities, the

need for pictures and sound, make catering for broadcasting a different

challenge to dealing with print journalists with a pen and notepad.

Plus, broadcasters hopefully know how to turn dull and dreary issues

into interesting, sexy television.



’It’s commonsense,’ says Joy Johnson, former news editor for the BBC’s

Westminster studios, who worked for the Labour Party as director of

campaigns, elections and media until 1996, and has since joined PR

agency Tamesis as a consultant.



It is also true that television, in particular, is the medium that most

people get their information from. As the number of channels explodes

and the number of newspapers being read declines it is inevitable that

the influence of television is increasing.



But how do these broadcasters fare once they’ve crossed over to the

other side?



The adjustment from a theoretically impartial and objective role to a

more partisan one can be difficult for some.



’I see this pressure on me to change,’ says Mayer. ’I’m resisting it

because I think you lose credibility as soon as you become obviously

partisan and I think good PR is about being credible.’



And obviously the different mindset broadcasters are hired for in the

first place can also be a potential cause for conflict. Some clients and

agencies hire broadcasters in the hope that they will be able to ’sell’

stories to their former colleagues.



’It’s not ’selling stories in’, but providing a resource for the media,’

says Curtis. ’The attitude within the PR industry itself to broadcasting

and how to get the best out of broadcasters, has been slow to

change.’



One of the other factors that broadcast journalists moving across to PR

may underestimate is the new skills they need to acquire.



Many journalists fail to appreciate how commercial PR is before they get

into it . ’As a journalist your focus is on the product and its quality’

says Curtis. ’PR requires business skills and acumen unfamiliar to many

broadcast journalists. And if you don’t make money you won’t last

long.’



John Underwood is a former home affairs correspondent for ITN and

ex-director of communications for the Labour Party. He is now a senior

partner and founder of Clear Communication. He points out that another

factor in the success of broadcast journalists going into PR is their

original motivation.



’I certainly think that some journalists regard it as being a good way

to vast riches, even if they don’t like the idea of PR,’ he says, adding

that a negative approach will not get you far. ’If campaigns and issues

are important to you the chances of you succeeding are more

substantial.’ Underwood concludes that some journalists are attracted by

the opportunity to shape the world rather than comment on it.



So, the current demand for broadcasting insight and the increasing

desire by broadcasters’ to get on the other side of the camera should

ensure a continuing flow of broadcast journalists into PR roles.



BROADCASTERS WHO HAVE SWITCHED TO PR



September 1997 BBC business correspondent Tessa Curtis joins Shandwick

as MD of broadcast division



January 1998 BBC Moscow correspondent Martin Sixsmith becomes director

of information at the Department of Social Security



February 1998 BBC Northern Ireland chief producer of factual programmes

Tom Kelly joins Northern Ireland Office as director of

communications



February 1998 BBC journalist David Walter joins Liberal Democrats as

director of media communications



April 1998 producer of Scotland Today Paul McKinney becomes director of

communications for Scottish Labour Party May 1998 Laurie Mayer joins

Harrods from Sky News June 1998 BBC political correspondent Lance Price

joins Prime Minister’s office.



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