Canadian Interview: Peter Kent

Peter Kent is undergoing something of a career rejuvenation. Since the early 1960s, Kent had been a well-known fixture in broadcast journalism, including at CTV, CBC (where he was the first working journalist to lead The National) and NBC (as senior European correspondent in the mid-80s).

Peter Kent is undergoing something of a career rejuvenation. Since the early 1960s, Kent had been a well-known fixture in broadcast journalism, including at CTV, CBC (where he was the first working journalist to lead The National) and NBC (as senior European correspondent in the mid-80s). Most recently, he was deputy editor of Global TV.

Now he's making a name for himself in politics and PR. He was recently hired by Hill & Knowlton Canada, which also announced two other high-profile additions: Jane Shapiro, former senior vice-president and senior partner at Fleishman-Hillard; and Collin Douma, a social media strategist and blogger.

In his role as VP, Kent will focus on strategic client planning, leadership training, and senior media relations support. He also plans to remain in politics; he's the Conservative Party of Canada candidate in Thornhill for the next federal election. Eight days into the job, he  spoke to PRWeek about “crossing over”, his political learnings, and the changing media landscape.

How did this opportunity come up?
For the last three years, Canwest had been terribly supportive of me when I embarked on a political venture and had to take me out of the editorial stream. It led to some interesting experiences and adventures, working solely on the management side of Canwest—convergent issues, which meant bringing together the newspapers and online properties, including Canada.com, as well as the various specialty channels and the Global TV News operation. But Canwest supported me all on the basis that, after my initial unsuccessful experience in the last federal election, with a minority government, that there would be a defeat somewhere in the first 18 months or so, and I would be out the door. But as the Conservative government has survived for over almost three years now, it was obvious that it was time for a change.

How has the relationship between media and PR firms changed?
When I started out as a journalist back in the 60s, PR was seen as the dark side. I knew a few of my colleagues who did make that transition, and they were more or less ostracized; relationships ended. I think these days, technology and the relationships have changed, and are much more sophisticated in this multimedia world, let alone broadcasting in its new fragmented form. I think there is a real need for sophisticated communications, transfer of communication and support both ways in terms of getting the range of messages out and keeping information and content generation accurate and honest.

How did your political aspirations change how you communicate?

Journalism is the flip side of public policy, from a government and political point of view. With no disrespect to my former journalistic colleagues, I sometimes refer to [their vantage point] as the “cheap seats”. That is not true of all journalists, but there is an ability to come and go and cherry pick issues and policies that one wishes to cover or not. It is a little bit more difficult on the actual formulation and implementation side of public policy.

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