Journalists are supposed to be cynical types, who instinctively
distrust PR people. But the death of Chris Griffin-Beale, Channel 4’s
long-serving chief press officer has unleashed an extraordinary
reaction, one of real loss and of deep affection. I can’t remember
anything quite like it.
Scores of reporters and TV writers who dealt with him regularly have
rushed to pay tribute to the man who, while deeply loyal to Channel 4,
understood their needs all too well. I was touched to be asked to write
his obituary for the Guardian: ’he had more influence than he, and
Channel 4, probably ever realised’, I wrote - against the clock.
Correction. He had much more influence than any of us suspected. It’s
been a humbling experience, which has made me think more deeply about
the wider lessons for the PR industry as a whole, and for all those who,
like Chris Griffin-Beale, place themselves, in the no-man’s-land,
tending their employers interests and image, while also dealing in a
credible and honest way with the media.
In many ways Chris Griffin-Beale was an old-fashioned sort of press
officer, more ’let’s have a drink’ than, ’why don’t you consult our web
site?’ He believed in the simple virtues of talking to people, and
returning phone calls, as soon as possible. You knew he monitored his
voice-mail regularly. He liked journalists. He was an enthusiastic
luncher, but he used them to brief you about Channel 4 developments and
plant story ideas.
He made sure he greeted people individually at press conferences. In a
16-year career his policy of never overlooking newcomers stood in him in
great stead, as they rose up their respective career ladders. Nor did he
hold grudges against hostile papers: he expected controversy. Once
inaccuracies had been pointed out, he’d resume professional contact.
It’s become a commonplace to assume that career paths have to be ever
upwards, or you are professionally lost. In essence he stayed where he
was - though the press office expanded beneath him. But as with the best
political reporters, good PR people actually grow more influential with
age. This is why he survived three very different Channel 4 chief
executives, and why so many journalists held him in high regard. In the
absence of a properly researched history of Channel 4 his memory filled
The continuity he provided is in sharp contrast to the ITV companies,
whose PR functions have been shot to pieces. Some of our greatest media
groups (Pearson TV is an honourable exception) lack PR people to brief
top flight journalists. Channel 4 without Chris Griffin-Beale is
Michael Jackson, marking his first anniversary as chief executive, faces
a challenging time, weaning C4 off too many US imports. It’s a whole new
chapter and Chris Griffin-Beale won’t be there to spin it into context.