Danny Rogers on PR: Oliver fits bill to boost PM's TV reception

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The Independent Online

The PR industry's initial reaction to the Prime Minister's appointment of Craig Oliver as his director of communications was "Who?"

An experienced BBC broadcast journalist, Oliver is a different prospect to his predecessor.

Andy Coulson was notorious before he worked for David Cameron.

To most comms professionals Oliver's obscurity was the point; after the Coulson scandal Cameron required someone who was less of a target for the opposition.

Compared with tribal operators such as Coulson and Alastair Campbell, Oliver is an apolitical appointment. A senior broadcaster who worked with him at ITN said: "I wouldn't have been surprised to find out he voted Tory, but he wasn't obviously right wing." This could bring valuable objectivity as the Government faces a minor policy crisis. PRs agree the proposed reform of the NHS and privatisation of forests have been badly communicated.

Oliver will be charged with improving televisual communication. The general election campaign proved TV is increasingly powerful in moulding public views of politicians. Coulson's lack of broadcast nous was regularly identified as an Achilles heel by PR experts. One big agency boss told me: "Cameron perfectly understands the value of comms, but seems to lack the common touch with the public." It also helps that Oliver has worked closely with most major political correspondents.

But while Oliver fits the bill in all these areas, there are concerns. He has never worked in newspapers. Moreover can this career broadcaster become a good PR man?

As one experienced consultancy chief tells me: "Despite a flood of hacks becoming flacks, only a small minority are any good at it."

Danny Rogers is editor of PRWeek