MEDIA RELATIONS giant John Stonborough MD of Stonborough Media Group spoke about how the skills gained as an investigative journalist have made him one of the most notorious names in PR at Coventry Conversations on Thursday.
Stonborough spoke about his transition to PR from journalism, explaining that his final film about Shell as an investigative reporter was “a little bit like shooting fish in a barrel” as they fell into every trap he set and made it easy for him to “shaft” them. He then set up a consultancy in 1988 to ensure “it does it within the rules and that we are fairly treated” for big names like Kellogg’s, Asda Wal-Mart and his first client Shell.
The talk entitled ‘Blocking investigation or ensuring truth for clients?’ was constantly considering the unpopularity of PR men and the argument that regulation has a stranglehold on investigation: “There is a presumption that you guys are right and the obviously the sorts of people I represent are wrong and that isn’t always the case, sometimes and I hate to say this but sometimes your wrong and you do not act ethically”
When asked about the challenge posed by PR men to programme makers because of their quoting of excessive guidelines he added: “We’re not going to give you an easy ride”
Stonborough was the media adviser to the Speaker Michael Martin until 2004 following his resignation over MP’s expenses. Stonborough spoke about how these early assertions over expenses turned into one of the biggest political scandal of the decade and saw the speaker resign: “We all knew it was going to be a nightmare but no one ever realised quite the degree that it would explode”
He added: “I certainly didn’t gain any great pleasure out of being able to say I told yourself afterwards… the truth of it, he just wasn’t up to the job”
Originally a policeman turned investigative journalist he worked for the Daily Mail, BBC Radio 4, Thames Television and Channel 4 TV. Stonborough also spent three years as a researcher for Roger Cook, he considered the demise of programs like world in action, this week, panorama which excited him as a budding journalist: “There isn’t any hostile media one of the big issues in this country is where are the investigators now”
“All I’m doing is fishing on the other side of the same pond” was the term used by Stonborough to explain the move from Journalism to PR and expressed his fondness for the other side of the press fence: “I’m still dealing with the same people, I’m still dealing with the same issues, I understand the problems of program makers”
For the students in the audience Stonborough stressed persistence and hard work as the necessary skills: “Be a complete pain in the arse and the first person to be a pain in the arse to is your prospective editor”