The face of the BBC is changing. The evidence is everywhere, most
visibly in the news studio makeover from ’austere’ blue to ’warm’ yellow
and orange, and in the figure of its director general, from the serious
and bespectacled Sir John Birt to the cheery grin of DG-designate Greg
The corporation has also spread its wings, and instead of reaching
licence-payers solely through BBCs 1 and 2, it now has a raft of digital
channels: the rolling news stations News 24 and BBC World, and BBC
Online, the UK’s second most visited web site.
The news revamp in May was the most obvious sign that there was a shift
in the way the BBC was relating to its viewers. After a two-year
audience research project, the Beeb concluded that viewers felt their
relationship with BBC news was ’child and parent’ rather than ’adult to
Out went the formal BBC crest on virtual blue walls and the blaring
fanfare and in came image consultants, soft sunset hues and a curvy
The content has also been altered slightly, resulting in more distinct
identities for the different news bulletins. The Six O’Clock News now
has more of a ’domestic’ feel, with an emphasis on consumer, lifestyle
and personal finance stories. This leaves the Nine O’Clock News to focus
on global stories. Overall, the one, six and nine o’clock programmes all
contain more live links and regional reports.
The BBC has also appointed a dedicated family of correspondents for the
Six O’Clock News, with individual reporters responsible for the areas of
consumer affairs, family and work, or health and science, instead of the
previous practice of filing stories for any slot at the BBC, from the
Six O’Clock News to Radio 4.
’They are the trusted face of the show,’ says BBC News and Current
Affairs spokesman John Steel. ’The BBC has so many correspondents;
viewers like to see a familiar face.’
The major impact of this new, ’friendlier’ BBC on broadcast PR
consultancies has been to give them a clearer idea about the kinds of
stories the BBC will air at what time and who to target.
But the corporation’s traditionally tough line against using one tool of
the broadcast PR companies, the video news release, hasn’t changed.
Steel says there isn’t a ban on VNRs, and adds: ’Occasionally we’ll use
them if we can’t get the pictures ourselves, or if we are reporting on a
company we may use its publicity footage, but we don’t use VNRs very
often and always label them as such.’
Broadcast PR companies also say the news shake-up has not had any impact
on the use made of VNRs.
’The BBC’s official attitude is that they don’t use VNRs,’ says Neil
Ormsby, business development manager of APTN, the commercial arm of
Associated Press TV News. ’It has been for many years and still is. The
actual attitude of newsrooms is if it’s a good story and they can’t get
the footage from any other source then they’ll look at it, as long as
it’s not overtly branded.’
But that’s not to say broadcast PR companies necessarily have a
difficult relationship with the BBC. Anna Christoforou, head of media
relations at Bulletin International says the role of consultancies in
news bulletins is becoming more positive.
’We are working much more as facilitators rather than just sending
broadcasters a VNR,’ she explains. ’The BBC and ITN want to use their
own material, so instead we offer filming opportunities and creative
story angles which link into the news agenda, and organise shoots if
their resources are down, or provide a spokesperson.’
The BBC’s terrestrial news programmes, however, are just one part of the
picture, and this is good news for broadcast PR companies. During the
past year they have also had digital channels and rolling news channels
to target, not forgetting BBC News Online - the news arm of BBC Online,
which averages 50 to 60 million page impressions each month.
Medialink senior vice-president Stuart Maister says: ’Once you get a
story into the BBC system others can spot it. It might appear on News
24, but get picked up by local radio. There are a greater number of
gatekeepers now and they all have different needs and audiences. Your
story is not just looked at through the eyes of a Nine O’Clock News
editor, but by the on-line editor who has many more pages to fill. There
is an increasing hunger for news content at the BBC, so for providers of
content like us the future is rosy.’
The biggest change in the BBC’s relationship with the PR industry could
be still to come, however. The arrival of Pearson Television’s chief
executive Greg Dyke as director general in October has generated a great
deal of speculation about how he might operate.
Some in the PR industry predict he will slim down the BBC’s army of
political lobbyists, management consultants and PR men and women. It has
also been mooted that Dyke wants to revive the BBC’s shrinking sports
The corporation has lost the rights to the Ryder Cup, the Formula 1
World Motor Racing Championships and the FA Cup, among others.
Unfortunately, beyond a certain amount of informed guesswork, nothing is
actually known about Dyke’s intentions, as he has so far given very few
interviews about the BBC job, and barely a dozen quotations from him
have appeared in the acres of coverage which followed his
Dyke’s right-hand PR man, Roy Addison, director of external
communications at Pearson TV, says: ’It’s the same answer to questions
about what he’ll do with BBC 1 or Radio 4. He doesn’t know yet - and
won’t know until he joins the BBC in October as director general
designate, or even when he takes over the position when Birt leaves next
April. He doesn’t know the BBC structure or the people, and you can’t
make policy decisions without that.’
The consensus emerging among broadcast PR firms is that Dyke will leave
the BBC news programming and agenda as they are, as long as the ratings
’Changes in editorial content and branding have already happened, so
there won’t be any radical change in terms of news format,’ predicts
Bulletin International’s Christoforou. ’Dyke is well known as being
commercial in his approach, and for him the audience is key, but he
doesn’t have to worry about the viewing figures at the moment.’
Ormsby says he believes the impact of Dyke’s appointment on broadcast PR
will be subtle: ’I think Dyke will make the BBC more dynamic, but how
that will be translated into editorial decisions remains to be
Changing the face of the BBC is a gradual process, and it will probably
be another year before the full impact of the new channels, the news
makeover, and the new boss will be felt by broadcast PR agencies.
It’s clear that the BBC is determined to maintain its news standards,
while developing more ways to serve its audience and broaden its
The challenge for broadcast PR firms is to recognise that their
relationship with the BBC is changing as the corporation reinvents
If they are willing to work in a different way across the burgeoning
channels which come under the BBC umbrella, they won’t get swept away by
the new broom.
BROADCAST NEWS - ITV GIVES ITS BULLETINS A MAKEOVER
The BBC was not the first terrestrial television company in the UK to
shake up its news programming.
ITV axed News at Ten in favour of a new late-night slot at 11pm and
moved its 5.40pm bulletin to 6.30pm in March, two months before the BBC
unveiled its new look. The changes allow ITV to screen high-rating
dramas such as Kavanagh QC or James Bond films from 9pm without
The move was designed to capture a younger, more upmarket audience. Like
its publicly-funded rival, ITV opted for warmer blue and peach graphics
and a jazzy new set. As with the BBC, ITV has used the changes as an
opportunity to give the news programmes clearer, separate identities,
which helps the work of broadcast PR agencies.
According to Nigel Dacre, editor of ITN’s news programmes for ITV, the
bulletins still have the same broad agenda, as well as the same team of
correspondents. However, the tone of the programmes has changed to suit
new broadcasting times. Viewers at 6.30pm, for instance, are likely to
be distracted by family mealtimes, so the ITV Evening News has fewer
special reports and more short, breaking news stories targeted at an
older, female audience.
In contrast, the ITV Nightly News consists of a brisk round-up of the
day’s important stories, but also looks ahead at the following day’s
The audience is more likely to be younger and male. ’People want a quick
update before they go to bed, not an hour-long programme,’ says
ITN’s view on VNRs hasn’t changed since the news makeover. Dacre says:
’When stories break we want our own independent correspondents to cover
them. There are some examples of where we would use them, for instance
footage of a car production line, but we have a strict labelling
Dacre is also unhappy about the widespread use of embargoes by broadcast
PR companies - particularly the midnight embargo.
’They are old-fashioned,’ says Dacre. ’In most areas we are now breaking
them for the 11pm news.’
SPONSORSHIP - HOW TO LET THE NEWS TEAMS TELL THEIR STORY
In a recent campaign to highlight IBM UK’s sponsorship of Wimbledon,
Shandwick Broadcast offered TV news teams the chance to pre-shoot,or
’tell their own story’, using the agency’s filming facilities, rather
than producing an expensive VNR or B-Roll (loosely edited footage) and
serving it up to broadcasters.
IBM technology is used at the tennis tournament to generate instant
analysis of players’ performance and update match scores.
Knowing the media’s reluctance to feature sponsors, Shandwick decided to
generate storylines based around the benefits of the technology.
The team created two ’tennis days’. The first, at Sutton tennis club,
had a ’young stars’ theme to show how technology was helping young
Wimbledon hopefuls train. Shandwick invited crews to pre-shoot at the
club and set up the young players with IBM’s tennis adviser Keith
The second day, which was held just before the start of the tournament,
showed how IBM technology would operate during Wimbledon fortnight. It
also showed broadcasters the IBM cyber-court, a web site where fans
could send messages to their tennis idols.
As a result, 17 items aired on ITN’s Lunchtime News and Early Evening
News, Sky News, BBC Breakfast News, BBC News 24 and BBC 2’s Weekend
Shandwick Broadcast managing director Tessa Curtis claims ’broadcast
media liaison’ is now favoured over tools such as the VNR, which is
unpopular with both clients and broadcast journalists.
’Most clients don’t have an unlimited budget to be soaked up by a VNR
with no guarantee,’ explains Curtis. ’Over 90 per cent of what we do
involves no footage at all.’ She adds: ’Just like press journalists,
every broadcast journalist wants to think their ideas are their own, so
we suggest the idea and help turn it into TV. We wouldn’t expect a press
reporter to reproduce a press release verbatim, so why would we think
broadcaster journalists will run a VNR?’
According to Curtis there was little difference in the willingness of
any of the broadcaster to run the IBM piece. ’A good story,’ she adds,
’is a good story.’