FOCUS: BROADCAST PR - Working with the Beeb’s new look. The BBC is undergoing some profound changes, particularly in the news arena. Lexie Goddard reports on the implications for broadcast PR

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 Dyke.

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

stay healthy.

’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.


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.’


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.’

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