MHP’s Adam Batstone on ‘moving to the darkside’
BBC veteran Adam Batstone on the best aspects of his new role as director of digital at MHP, what leads to a successful digital strategy and journalists behaving badly.
You spent 20 years as a journalist for the BBC, what has the jump to PR been like?
An interesting and occasionally traumatic experience – The BBC gets into your bones and it’s hard to de-compress and get used to a completely new way of working.
What’s the biggest shock?
The candour with which clients describe their business still feels odd. Having spent more than 20 years on the receiving end of corporate messages, it feels strange to be engaged in helping to devise them. It has also been a shock to see that some journalists behave quite badly – I like to think I was courteous and polite even if a PR person was being annoying.
Is ‘moving to the darkside’ as dramatic as it sounds?
I’m not sure whether the “darkside” epithet comes from journalists as a “put down”, or from PRs seeking to foster an esprit de corps. The boring reality is I have not experienced any peculiar initiation ceremonies, even the mysterious “tissue session” turned out to be considerably less racy than its name might suggest.
What do you most enjoy about your current role as director of digital at MHP?
There are two aspects I thoroughly enjoy: Working closely with clients to come up with ideas and strategies which will make a really positive impact to their business without costing them a fortune – and working with colleagues to de-mystify the rather off-putting jargon that some “digital natives” insist on using. Digital isn’t really a thing at all – it just gives new opportunities to communicate with people. The most important thing is what you are saying. The message is still far more important than the medium.
Are there any aspects of journalism that you miss?
Whenever there is a big breaking news story I feel pangs – I keep half an eye on who’s sitting at my old desk, visible somewhere behind Huw Edwards’ right shoulder during the 10 O’Clock News. I don’t miss the BBC’s byzantine internal politics or having to organise a 24/7 rota – that was hellish!
What media do you most commonly consume?
Twitter is a fantastic source of breaking news, scurrilous gossip and really great content. I am of the generation for whom life without newspapers and magazines seems unthinkable – I am particularly fond of local weekly papers, the world would be poorer without them.
As one of the people who helped raise the BBC website to one of the most popular news sources in the world, what’s next for news?
In a rapidly changing world – paradoxically – I believe news remains constant. People the world over are still interested in great stories, writing, pictures and video. The challenge is how best to distribute that material in a way which is economically viable and fits with people’s changing habits. Facebook will have a massive influence because of its scale – but any algorithm-based editorial process is ultimately doomed, there is a reason why the best news providers employ a lot of people.
What’s the key to digital success?
Probably trying to ignore the word digital and focus your efforts on making content which is as interesting as possible. Think about your own habits and preferences – we all pretty much want the same thing.
What’s your fondest memory of your journalism career?
Working at the time of Princess Diana’s death and the 9/11 attacks was memorable – two massive stories which millions of people genuinely remember what they were doing when they heard the news. That is the true test of a big story.