Profile: Joy Johnson, GPC: Narrowing the news odds in GPC’s favour - Media veteran Joy Johnson doesn’t believe in relying on chance

Joy Johnson’s newspaper habits are revealing. On Saturdays, when most of us relax with feature stories, travel pieces or in-depth analysis, Johnson attends to her thirst for the latest in the soap operas. Reading the ’what happens next week’ column ruins the fun for most of us. Not Johnson. The new strategic communications director at GPC, and avid EastEnders and Corrie fan, doesn’t like surprises.

Joy Johnson’s newspaper habits are revealing. On Saturdays, when

most of us relax with feature stories, travel pieces or in-depth

analysis, Johnson attends to her thirst for the latest in the soap

operas. Reading the ’what happens next week’ column ruins the fun for

most of us. Not Johnson. The new strategic communications director at

GPC, and avid EastEnders and Corrie fan, doesn’t like surprises.



The BBC and ITN veteran, a former PR chief at the Labour Party and

university lecturer in communications, last week joined the board at

GPC’s plush, new Millbank offices. Lifelong Labour party member Johnson

blanches at suggestions she may be a control freak. She does, however,

ascribe her success in television news - she was the BBC’s political

news editor for two party conference seasons - to an obsessive attention

to planning.



Retaining control is something for which her new clients - including

Marks and Spencer, PowerGen and Glaxo Wellcome - may come to thank

her.



The main method she seems to employ for this is what she calls (while

cringing at the hackneyed phrase) ’news-driven story-led campaigns’. At

first sight, this approach seems tactical, rather than strategic, but

Johnson rejects this analysis. ’News campaigns look short-term and

tactical but the journalist has to forward plan and anticipate how the

story can be carried on the next day, the next week or the next year,’

she says.



Johnson is held in high regard among journalists. Nick Jones, the dogged

BBC political correspondent with whom she worked on the party conference

season in 1994, pays tribute to her ability to spot the important line

in a mass of information - to ’think like a journalist’. There is little

doubt this will benefit GPC.



There is a slight tone of regret in Jones’ voice, that Johnson ’jumped

the fence’ to PR. ’I do not judge anyone who crosses the line, but they

take with them a responsibility to communicate accurately,’ Jones

says.



It might be pointed out, of course, that PROs who don’t come from

journalism also share this responsibility and there is no reason to

doubt Johnson is equal to it. ’Creating news for clients has to be done

truthfully; it is short-termist to tell false stories, and anyway

journalists would spot it,’ she says.



Johnson would surely have spotted it. Her former boss at ITN where she

spent the first 11 years of her career, Sue Tinson, vouches for her as

someone able to spot the telling detail and fit it into a plan, to adapt

to and make the most of rapidly changing circumstances.



The move to PR came six years ago, when Johnson left the BBC for the

Labour Party, becoming media and campaigns director. While working for

the party, she implemented a daily and weekly briefing system to

mobilise activists and widen Labour’s objectives. Johnson reshaped

campaign HQ to reflect a national and regional media relations scheme.

She went on to work briefly for GPC rival APCO, to lecture on PR at

Westminster University and to examine PR students at the University of

Stirling. She has written columns for the New Statesman and trained a

raft of public sector bodies in effective communications.



Johnson has yet to work in senior management for a large profit and

loss-driven corporation. ’When I have done this I will have covered all

the bases in communications,’ she says, revealing what apparently led

her to accept GPC’s advances. For the blue-chip public affairs operation

she joins it is vital her appointment is seen as the next step in its

conversion to an integrated PR and public affairs agency.



For Johnson, the memories of covering the Zeebrugge ferry disaster, the

Lockerbie bombing, and Westminster over many years seem to have had an

effect. The unpredictable reporter’s life has left her requiring

certainty.



While she talks about using her news experience to provide clients with

some certainty of what’s likely to happen, one suspects she is rather

enjoying not being called out on a job in the middle of the night.



For now, she must get to know Omnicom subsidiary GPC inside out. Beyond

that, she must put her knack of being ahead of events to good use for

clients. A former Scottish TV colleague, Douglas MacDougal, says ’she

always seems to know what’s around the next corner’. Johnson now hopes

to build strategic communications into every client’s programme, to

usefully predict media trends.



Out of hours, Johnson, with her partner and son, enjoys hill-walking in

Cumbria and going to the cinema. Her cinematic habits are also

revealing. In an apt touch, the last film she saw, The Talented Mr

Ripley, was based on a book she’d read: ’I knew what was going to happen

throughout,’ she says, ’no surprises that way.’



HIGHLIGHTS

1979

ITN field producer

1992

BBC political news organiser

1995

Media and campaigns director, Labour Party

2000

Director of strategic communication, GPC



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