Shrewd move or more of the same?

The appointment of yet another national journalist to a senior communication role in Government has sparked a lot of discussion. For anyone that has missed the news it is that the latest Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has put Head of UK News for ITV, Amber de Botton as his new communication chief. It is a well-worn path from national news outlet to 10 Downing Street but is it a good move?

Amber de Botton was credited as being part of the downfall of Allegra Stratton and Boris Johnson leading the ‘partygate’ reporting. She has received a lot of praise and support for her work and her news pedigree is clear with time at Sky News. The challenge is that effective communication is about much more than just media management.

Part of the frustration that was clear among the PR community was the view that journalists can make a straight leap into the most senior communication roles. It presents an ‘old’ view of the profession as one where news sense is the only important skill. Anyone involved in PR and communication knows the world is much more complicated and effective communication is a difficult balancing act of many things.

I started my working life as a journalist, and it does provide some useful skills for communication and PR work, but I made the move into PR at a junior level which gave me the opportunity to learn on the job about all the other elements. If I had made the move into a senior post, I know it would have left me with some critical gaps in my knowledge and experience.

One of the problems with the outpouring of frustration about the appointments of journalists to senior Government jobs is that it has an impact on those who move from journalism into PR. I know some PRs that don’t want people to know about their background in the media. They believe, rightly or wrongly, that it will hold them back and that they have to fight hard to be seen as an effective PR officer.

Reporters who move into PR and set about learning and developing their skills should not be afraid to talk about their past, to see the skills it has given them and to help others who may need to hone up their news sense.

Time will tell whether this latest Government appointment of a former journalist is a good move and is right for modern communication. My expectation is that we will see more of the same, a huge focus on the national media at the expense of local media and wider communication. But perhaps all that is left to the experts that work in other Government communication roles.

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