In My Opinion: Craig McGill: Should hacks get the top PR posts?

IF you spend all your life in a profession, it’s a sensible assumption that, as you get better, you will rise up the ranks. That is unless you work in the PR sector in Scotland.

It’s been a year that must have left PR graduates wondering what the point of going into the industry is. Recently, the Sunday Herald’s deputy editor, Stephen Penman, was made head of communications at North Lanarkshire Council and, just a couple of weeks ago, it was announced that The Herald’s chief football writer, Darryl Broadfoot, had been appointed into a similar role for the Scottish Football Association.

Just as you would expect outrage from hacks if a PR operator was made a newspaper editor, the PR circles have been buzzing since Broadfoot’s appointment was announced, as it’s re-opened a ‘can of worms’.

While I congratulate Darryl on his appointment – and one that is fairly recession-proof in these times – it is a bit of a slap in the face to the PR professionals who did the college PR courses (or one of the many courses run by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations) and have worked through the ranks for a decade or more, doing the long hours, the crisis communications, the spreadsheets, the planning, the pitches, the reports and everything else that goes with PR positions.

And while the CIPR is saying nothing publicly on this issue, members and PR professionals are seething behind the scenes.

“What’s he ever done in a PR capacity?” asked one in a private email to me. “No harm to him, he’ll know all the sports reporters but that’s a rapidly diminishing pool and there’s a lot more to a position like that than just talking to your ex-colleagues.

“Or perhaps that’s all the role is and other people will have to pick up everything else – the spreadsheets, the reports and so on.”

The issue isn’t that of journalists moving into PR (that would be hypocritical of me) but should journalists – even senior ones – walk straight into the very top PR jobs without a wider background than journalism and writing skills? Or is it okay to come in to the job and just get other people under you to do the bits you don’t know?

Now I can understand the likes of the CIPR staying quiet on the issue – after all, it’s more members for them anyway -but it is an issue that members are talking about. Every time it happens, a little row kicks off and everyone feels a little bit more disillusioned. Similarly, how worried will PRs be for jobs as they see more and more reporters chasing the PR positions?

And what happens when the PRs say ‘enough is enough’ and abandon the industry?

Anyway, I’m off to apply for the Scotland football team manager’s job….

Craig McGill is the ‘Scottish digital media guy’ who gets things done over at the soon-to-be relaunched www.contently-managed.com. He is also the author of The Redundant Journalist Guide to PR.