PROFILE: Sally Osman, BBC - PR restructuring puts Osman top of BBC list. Why life is sweet for the BBC's new head of communications Sally Osman

Bright and immensely personable, Sally Osman has spent a long day in meetings discussing the restructure of the BBC's PR, before being interviewed. But despite pleading tiredness, Osman's energy and passion still shine through.

Bright and immensely personable, Sally Osman has spent a long day in meetings discussing the restructure of the BBC's PR, before being interviewed. But despite pleading tiredness, Osman's energy and passion still shine through.

She has just been appointed BBC head of communications. Mirror editor Piers Morgan says that she will bring 'panache and style' to the role.

'She's just what the BBC needs to run its PR.'

It is hard to imagine the glamorous Osman starting life as an intern on a daily morning newspaper, but after leaving Exeter University, where she studied law, she joined the Western Mail. Like so many of her jobs, it provided invaluable experience and included covering tough stories like the return of survivors of the Sir Galahad bombing.

Osman then approached the Daily Mail, and was taken on as a reporter.

'I learned more in six months there than I would have in five years somewhere else,' she says.

She followed the Daily Mail with a job on the short-lived, Maxwell-owned London Daily News. She describes the moment she exited Blackfriars station and saw an Evening Standard billboard proclaiming its closure as 'one of the saddest moments of my life'.

Osman headed back to Cardiff and soon fell into working at Specialist Publications, a contract publisher. After a stint working on big customer magazines, she wanted to move back to London and was offered a job as director of press and publicity at BSkyB, working for Sam Chisholm - 'an experience in itself', she says. It was during this period her path first crossed that of Greg Dyke, who was then heading the ITC and having run-ins with Sky over breaches of code. She describes it as a 'heart-stopping rollercoaster ride'. 'It was around the time Rupert Murdoch made his 'digital superhighway' speech,' says Osman, drawing parallels between this and her current role.

In 1996, she took on the head of corporate PR role at Channel 5. The role provided her with another run-in with Dyke, who termed Channel 5's retuning project 'a burglar's charter'.

Of this time, Osman says: 'When people ring up offering crisis management advice, it makes me laugh.' With Channel 5's rivals forming a 'strangle at birth' committee and widespread doubt that anyone would actually be able to tune in, it was a tough time. In fact, there was so much emphasis on the retuning that planning the launch was almost an afterthought. But Osman remembers her time there as fun.

Channel 5 chief executive Dawn Airey says Osman is a ruthless operator with a heart of steel, but 'I don't know anybody who doesn't like her. She's fun to be around, and she got me out of trouble on many occasions.'

In 1998, a call from Sue Farr, then marketing director at BBC Broadcast, led to another job change. In a familiar-sounding claim, the division was trying to reinvigorate its press operation.

Which brings us neatly back to the present day, with Osman deep in the process of reinvigorating the BBC's press operation. Much has been written about the restructure - essentially bringing the communications into one department. But the rationale does sound sensible - channel money away from duplication and into programming. Make it easy for journalists to know who to call. Avoid different BBC programmes competing for coverage.

'There was a time when it was competing with itself,' she admits. But now the operation aims to be more effective, or 'nimbler' as Osman puts it.

'It's not about cutting back, it's about bringing areas together that had been apart,' she says - and indeed some 50 different departments have been brought together, under marketing and communications director Matthew Bannister.

Change, she admits, doesn't happen quickly at the BBC. But if any proof is needed that the corporation is becoming more agile, look at the rapid announcement and execution of moving Nine O'clock News to ten o'clock.

It's only been one month since the switch was made. 'It's worked - that's why people aren't still talking about it,' says Osman.

Dyke and Osman are now working on the same team, and she is full of enthusiasm for his regime. But in three weeks Bannister leaves. On the subject who will be his successor, she says she already has her hands full in her current role.

With some 200 staff reporting to her, this certainly seems true. And it is hard to imagine when Osman gets time to indulge her passions for theatre, opera and especially contemporary dance.

When asked if she's a workaholic, Osman pulls a face. 'I've got friends who say they would like to talk to me sometimes,' she laughs. But 'if there's something big happening, it just pulls you along.'

What career could possibly be left for this high flyer? 'Let's just get through tomorrow. I've never planned my career. Maybe that's why I've had a lot of fun.'



HIGHLIGHTS

1996: Head of corporate and and public relations, Channel 5

1999: Controller press and publicity, BBC Broadcast

2000: Head of communications, BBC.



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