Danny Rogers: Why former hacks make ideal planners

In last week's PRWeek alone there were four tales of newspaper journalists moving into PR: there was Guardian business writer Richard Wray joining Vodafone; Nick Hasell, editor of The Times' Tempus column, moving to FD; Daily Mail columnist Alice Dogruyol becoming comms head at Occo; and a profile of John Waples, former business chief at The Sunday Times, now UK managing director at FD.

Danny Rogers
Danny Rogers

Earlier this year Edelman signed up, in senior roles, the BBC's former head of news Richard Sambrook and FT writer Stefan Stern.

So what was a steady trickle last year, has become a river of talent flowing from journalism into PR. Agency heads tell me they are seeing an unprecedented number of CVs from Fleet Street crossing their desks. As a result senior comms professionals - who may once have seen a top hack hire as a high profile scalp - can pick their recruits more carefully and think harder about the value they add.

There is still a concern that the majority of journalists who go into PR ultimately fail. Or simply hate it. Sky's business supremo Jeff Randall famously spent a few unhappy months at FD in the mid-90s. One agency boss told me last week that out of 14 journalists he had hired, only five had worked out.

The received wisdom is journalists bring two main skills to the PR armoury: pure knowledge of, and senior contacts in, the media; and the ability to identify stories within organisations and advise clients on how any media narrative will play out.

While both these abilities remain invaluable, there is a third, more interesting, argument emerging for hiring hacks. Could senior journalists actually represent the ideal campaign planners, for which the PR profession is increasingly desperate?

For a long time PR teams have sought to emulate advertising's ability to understand comms channels and underpin campaigns with metrics on consumer insight, but until now many have relied on poaching planners from other types of marcoms agency. Edelman now argues that executives such as Sambrook have a unique understanding of the new types of media conversations taking place, so underpin the new types of stakeholder campaigns that can be created.

It is a compelling argument because news and opinion now develops in very different ways to a decade ago, and the right kind of journalist may represent a unique type of campaign adviser.

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