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
Curtis compares the current interest in specialist broadcast PR skills
with the debate in the media world when she first became a
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
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
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
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
’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
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.