Comms back in the BBC boardroom

The BBC's comms division is to grow in influence and become more closely aligned with its policy and strategy divisions following the 'bruising' Savile scandal.

Open door: The BBC's boardroom will be open to the comms team (Credit: Getty Images)
Open door: The BBC's boardroom will be open to the comms team (Credit: Getty Images)

The BBC’s comms division is to grow in influence and become more closely aligned with its policy and strategy divisions following the ‘bruising’ Savile scandal.

Last week, PRWeek revealed current comms head Paul Mylrea is to depart later this year, after former Labour minister James Purnell joins in a wide-ranging role overseeing the division, as well as strategy and digital.

The new role is indicative of a future shake-up, according to Julian Payne, who has been promoted to head of comms as part of the changes.

‘I believe you will see policy teams now working more closely with the comms teams,’ he said. ‘As  we approach Royal Charter renewal [the agreement guaranteeing the BBC’s independence, which expires on 31 December 2016], the two arms of the BBC will become much more closely aligned. What the BBC needs to be in the future is some-thing policy must look at and comms must contribute to.’

There will be no firm decisions on a comms restructure before Purnell arrives next month, PRWeek understands. However, there are likely to be more working groups linking divisions to combat what one BBC source called the wider broadcasting ‘silos’ that ‘helped bring down’ ex-director-general George Entwistle. 

Under Purnell, comms will again be represented on the executive and management boards, with Payne attending and feeding into management board discussions.  Comms has not been represented at this level since Entwistle took over in September. 

At that time, executive board member and COO Caroline Thomson – who had comms within her remit – left and Mylrea was removed from the management board, while his job title changed from director of comms to director of public affairs.  This was an issue that one well-placed insider called ‘very damaging’ to the widely criticised and ‘bruised’ comms team as the Savile scandal broke.

Payne said the ‘past three to four months have had a massive impact’ on the comms team, adding there would be a focus on ‘restoring some balance’ between proactive and reactive work.

Purnell will oversee the strategy, digital, comms, policy, public affairs, marketing and audiences divisions, with Mylrea assisting him on a stakeholder engagement scheme collating information on key contacts in the interim.

Roberts calls for BBC to ‘draw line in sand’ over Savile

A former senior BBC comms figure has called for the broadcaster to treat the publication of internal comms on the Jimmy Savile crisis as an act of ‘closure’.

The transcripts of emails, texts and other documents are due to be published this week following the Pollard Review into the BBC’s hand-ling of a Newsnight investigation into Savile’s child abuse.  They will reveal the opinions of some of the most senior BBC figures involved in the drama, which played out last November.

Peter Roberts, head of issues and crisis management at Bell Pottinger and formerly head of comms for BBC News, advised the broadcaster that it should convey it has ‘learned lessons’ from what has happened. He said: ‘The tone from the BBC should, fundamentally, be one of finality; that the process of releasing the transcripts draws a line in the sand and signals the closure process.’

Recent media coverage has claimed that top-level BBC staff were being given the opportunity to redact the transcripts. However, BBC head of comms Julian Payne said passages would be redacted for legal reasons and ‘not just because they are embarrassing’.

Payne added that the focus would be on letting the transcripts ‘speak for themselves.’

How I see it

Martin Frizell, executive director, GolinHarris

I believe James Purnell’s appointment was a very smart move. Clearly, the BBC is looking at the make-up of the next government and hedging its bets that it could be Labour. As former culture secretary, Purnell has lots of friends in broadcasting and the press.

Iain Bundred, Head of corporate and public affairs, Ogilvy PR

The challenge for the BBC is going to be two-fold. Firstly, it has to continue to demonstrate its value for money under the increasing scrutiny of licence fee payers. Secondly, it has to be seen to stay at the forefront of digital and multi-screen entertainment.

10k Number of documents given to the Pollard Review by the BBC*

£295k James Purnell’s annual salary in his new role at the BBC**

£156k Director of public affairs Paul Mylrea’s current annual salary***

147 Number of people in the BBC’s comms division****

*The Daily Telegraph; **bbc.co.uk; ***Broadcastnow.co.uk; ****The BBC


Read deputy editor Alec Mattinson's opinion column on the BBC's comms shake-up

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