Profile: John Brissenden, BSkyB - Welcome return for the lad who lunches/A move from the centre won’t change the style of a consummate publicist

Even in the world of broadcast PR, where those who publicise programmes are as renowned for their party personalities as the programme makers and the talent, John Brissenden is a legend in his own lunchtime.

Even in the world of broadcast PR, where those who publicise

programmes are as renowned for their party personalities as the

programme makers and the talent, John Brissenden is a legend in his own

lunchtime.



So it came as a surprise to some when, after seven years working for ITV

companies, he decided to leave the hedonistic haven of Soho for

Isleworth.



Brissenden joined BSkyB in December as publicity director and, with the

appointment last week of Julian Eccles to succeed Tim Allan as corporate

communications head, the broadcaster now has a new top PR team.



The television arm of Rupert Murdoch’s media empire is housed just off

the A4, on a stretch of road blighted by gloomy edifices of equally

gargantuan corporations. But Brissenden would not swap his present view

of Gillette and SmithKline Beecham for the Leicester Square offices of

United Broadcasting and Entertainment (UBE), where he was press and

publicity controller until last year.



At UBE he came up against the problem faced by so many other

communicators working for television companies - the difficulty of

giving a single voice to a large, decentralised organisation. ’At Sky

you can progress in a day things that would take a week at ITV,’ he

says.



When Brissenden joined UBE in 1997, he found an organisation riven with

political tension, caused by its rapid growth through acquisition.

Brissenden says that the economies of scale and efficiency predicted

five years ago when the 15 ITV companies began to buy each other up

never quite materialised.



’All the structural problems that they faced remain in place. Instead of

working for a small company that was hamstrung by having to work with 15

other companies, you are working for a bit of a large company that is

hamstrung by having to deal with itself and with the other big

companies. A lot of time was spent dealing with internal PR issues

rather than looking externally.’



Simon Albury was public affairs director at UBE during Brissenden’s

tenure there. The two first worked together when Brissenden was at

Charles Barker PR - the agency had been recruited by Albury to help

Meridien make its 1990 bid for the ITV franchise.



Albury says of his former colleague: ’I’ve seen him angry. He gets

frustrated when decision-making isn’t as fast as he would like.’ But he

praises the persuasiveness with which Brissenden argued for greater

centralisation of UBE’s press function, and his success in refocusing

his department.



After leaving Charles Barker, Brissenden worked for Meridien as a PR

consultant, spent a year at Fleishman-Hillard, then rejoined Meridien as

press and publicity head. In 1995 he went to Granada, and spent two

years promoting some of the most popular and most exciting programmes on

British television, from Cracker to Coronation Street. He becomes most

animated when talking about two things: programmes and his children.



He has twin ten-year old daughters and a son who celebrated his 13th

birthday on new year’s eve. ’Although my wife and I recently separated,

they remain the most important thing in my life,’ he says.



He does not want to be seen as mesmerised by TV glamour. ’Sometimes the

sheer vacuousness of what we are dealing with becomes an embarrassment,’

he admits.



When asked about the work he is most proud of, he points to his

promotion while at Granada of Jimmy McGovern’s film about the

Hillsborough disaster, which helped push the issue to the top of the

public agenda.



Despite enjoying dealing with serious issues, Brissenden is not

attracted by corporate or public affairs. In 1996 he was promoted to

corporate communications head at Granada, but left after year because

his brief was too dry.



At Sky, Brissenden will not be working with the same high-quality

programmes as at Granada. His challenge will be to improve the

perception of Sky’s channels and the network as a whole. Ensconced in

its Isleworth business park, the company has reacted to the constant

criticism that it is in Murdoch’s pocket by becoming wary of the press

and defensive.



Janine Gibson, Guardian media correspondent and a close contact of

Brissenden, says: ’What he will bring to Sky is somebody who has been

around the industry long enough to work through the defensiveness, and

who knows everyone.’



His strategy for overcoming the network’s image problem should, happily,

take him on regular excursions back to his beloved Soho. As he says:

’It’s about showing the press that: we haven’t got two heads; we are not

going to eat their children, and that we are providing a unique range of

premium entertainment.’



HIGHLIGHTS

1988

Account manager, Charles Barker PR

1997

Press and publicity controller, UBE

1999

Publicity director, BSkyB



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