David Thomas, head of communications at industry body The World Federation of Exchanges, on the fun he had as a journalist in the mid-’90s, how editorial experience is indispensable in PR and his dream to work for expat radio in the South of France.
What media outlet can’t you start your day without?
CNBC Squawk Box is a relatively sane way to start the morning and provides the main market headlines. Myriad journalists cover my sector in market structure – FT Trading Room, Bloomberg, Reuters, FOW (Futures and Options World), The TRADE, Risk magazine. They are all excellent in their own niches and one has to keep an eye on all of them. Patrick Young [of Exchange Invest] is a seasoned guru of the exchange space and his daily blog is always entertaining and provocative.
What one lesson from your role as a journalist has best contributed to your work as a PR?
Knowing what’s a story and how and who to pitch it to. Also how to set a story in a newsy context which hopefully captures the journalistic imagination.What three qualities do you ask from your colleagues?Colleagues should just try and live up to that fine word. The best have a balance of ego and id – we all have to try to live that ideal.
What is your favourite thing about working in comms?
Creating a media buzz around a topic, company, policy or product. True, this Champagne can turn out flat but it’s fun to die trying.
What is your favourite scoop from your years as a journalist?
I was in Brussels for nearly ten years. The big European stories may not start or end in Brussels but they always have to pass through. As a result it is a great listening post and a great place to pick up documents, which was always a thrill when it happened.
I recall one incident which never fails to tickle me to this day. I was waiting for the press conference to start at the end of an EU finance ministers’ meeting in Verona in the mid-’90s when I was approached by an official of the European Monetary Institute whom I knew. “I have a document I want to leak – who is here from the Financial Times?” he asked. It was a less-sophisticated time then, media relations-wise, but a lot more fun for journalists. I persuaded him to opt for a solution that assured more widespread coverage.
What industry practice would you like to see less of?
The tendency to make PR a pseudo profession is not a good one. Some even study PR at university as if it is an academic discipline. Journalism experience is indispensable. PR is about putting stories in newspapers or news wires or TV when it gets down to basics – the rest is just process. So you need to know how journalists work, what makes them tick and empathise with them.
What do you do to take off your business head?
I have taken up Boris biking and have persevered despite a collision with a wall a couple of months back which put me in the Royal London for a night. I love it but London roads are lethal as are many fellow cyclists who seem to be in the Tour de France in their heads. As a result, one often resorts to the pavements where the sanctimony of a certain kind of pedestrian is boundless. But the mayhem can be wickedly enjoyable.
Which three people, living or dead, would make up your ideal dinner party?
Boris Johnson – he’s made the transition from hack to politician and is spitting distance from Number 10 and I hear his copy is immaculate when it arrives at the Telegraph copy desk. The man is clearly a thorough pro and a political phenomenon once you get past the mad hair. Frederick Forsyth is my second guest. He just finished his autobiography – and what a life; RAF jet pilot, Reuters’ man in East Berlin, a freelance in the Biafra civil war and then he wrote Day of the Jackal – not only a bestseller but the prototype for political thrillers ever since.Unlike the Come Dine With Me format I would include my wife as third – she is a seasoned media pro herself and would provide the much-needed conversational mediation and is adept at dropping the guillotine on monologues. She would give these particular guests as good as they gave. In any case, best thing about a dinner party is dissecting everyone’s – hopefully bad – behaviour once they’ve left.
If you weren’t in PR, what would you be doing?
Taxi driving in the South of France. We have a holiday flat in Villefranche-sur-Mer and it’s clear those guys have a hell of a protected lifestyle – now having seen off the Uber threat. Not sure if I would succeed in breaking into what seems a heavily self-regulated Mafia scene though. If not, would sell my children to work for Radio Riviera – a broadcast service for Anglo expats on the Cote d’Azur. That would be a return to journalism in style.
Are there qualities that you think all PRs should have? Share you thoughts in a ’60 seconds with’ piece by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org