The Met’s Ed Stearns on life on the inside of the police
Ed Stearns, head of media, directorate of media and communication at the Metropolitan Police Service, started his career in media at an early age: “At school I always had an interest in the media. Aged around 13 I got my first job, as a village correspondent for the Kent Messenger. Paying 25p a paragraph it meant that stories about the local Cub’s and Flower Show Society were my pathway to fame and fortune ...”.
Being interested in everything around him and having a social conscience meant that local journalism was a natural fit: “From a young age I was always fascinated as to why a police car was parked outside a pub or an ambulance was charging down the road - I wanted to know what was going on (others may call that nosey). Importantly you have a lot of responsibility as soon as you start on regional newspapers. What you report on can actually bring real change - anything from road-safety measures to how the council is spending its budgets.”
Being a local village correspondent was a great first step, but Stearns real first break was at the Midland News Association which owns two evening newspapers - the Wolverhampton Express and Star and the Shropshire Star - as well as a host of weekly newspapers. Describing his time there, Stearns says: “I was trained in-house for five months before being given a reporting job on the Shropshire Star. It gave a great grounding with the opportunity to get involved in a range of different stories. Being accountable to a local audience teaches you lessons like nothing else.”
As much as Stearns loved his work on regional titles, he decided to take a leap of faith and move into the nationals: “That led to seven years working for the Daily Mail, which like my regional newspaper, put editorial first and demanded professionalism.”
Describing why he then made the move into public relations, Stearns says: “I was keen to see the story from the other side and get a different perspective on how business and society operates. I also wanted to understand wider communications - internal, marketing and in the last few years, digital. I knew I wanted a job in communications which was fast-paced and newsy so the police absolutely fitted that.”
“The material we have to work with is fascinating - that is why there are so many programmes about the police. We really can make a difference. For example, in the last hour we have been told an appeal with CCTV we put out this morning has resulted in two arrests. Last week, we came up with a Facebook campaign that gave a murder team new leads. We tell human stories in an organisation that never sleeps and is the backbone of the world's greatest city. As well as the work around crime, Scotland Yard is one of most recognised institutions in the word. From a comms point of view that brings challenge, opportunity and excitement. We are lucky to live in a society where the big institutions can be challenged by the media - that can be frustrating, but it also makes the job more worthwhile.
Stearns made the move into a communications role at an interesting time in PR. He says: “It has been fascinating working in communications as social and digital has grown so quickly. I can't believe there will ever be a period like it again. It has presented new opportunities and challenges and it still feels like we are only scratching the surface.”
In terms of advice he can offer others in the communications industry, Stearns says: “Don't over complicate or over promise. Take time to understand the business or sector you are working in and never stop learning and challenging. Be on the end of a phone - a communications person who can't be communicated with is not a lot of use to the person paying your wages.”
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