PROFILE: Mike Gardner, BBC World Service - Gardner to boost PA at BBC World Service - BBC stalwart Mike Gardner claims the top lobbying post at Bush House

Many PROs go through their entire careers without having to deal

with a national crisis.



The newly appointed head of media and public affairs for the BBC World

Service had to deal with one such event as a PR novice.



Mike Gardner's first PR job was as a press officer with London

Underground in 1986. The following year the Kings Cross fire claimed 31

lives, causing a drastic shift in the focus of his PR career: 'It took

us into a new and very political world,' he says solemnly.



'The pace of life there became unbelievable for a year and I got six to

ten years of PR experience in that time.'



Moving to the BBC in 1989 he initially promoted the Corporation's

children's' religious and sporting output.



While the subject matter was very different to his previous role, it

allowed for one unusual claim to fame while managing press for Blue

Peter.



'I saw that we had made a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cave and said to

the editor (Lewis Bronze) that the big Christmas toy was going to be

Thunderbirds.



As no-one could get their hands on a Tracy Island I suggested we adapt

the design to make an island on the show,' he says.



'We did so and following the broadcast received 100,000 requests for

factsheets in three days. We couldn't cope with the success - all the

tabloids ran a spread on how to make the island. Lewis told me -

jokingly perhaps - that Blue Peter had never had such a high profile,'

he adds.



His media credentials are certainly solid enough. Having graduated from

Central London Polytechnic with a degree in media studies (former

Channel 4 chief executive Michael Jackson was among his classmates), he

started his career as a writer with now defunct music magazine Record

Mirror in 1979.



Bob Dulson, the chief PRO at the BBC who appointed Gardner, says: 'We

brought him in for crisis management, then over the years he became a

seriously good corporate communicator. He's a rare breed in this

industry as he is disarmingly modest and charming.'



Approaching his 13th year with the BBC, he is impressively robust in his

belief in the Bush House-based station for which he now heads publicity:

'There remains a myth that the World Service is an expat service - it's

not: 153 million people hear it, only 42 million of whom listen in

English.'



'People trust the World Service. In Afghanistan we broadcast in Persian

and Pashto. Since the Taliban banned TV and there are no credible

national newspapers, radio is key to communications.'



An un-scientific survey for the Corporation - market research in

Afghanistan being, of course, problematic - reveals that 72 per cent of

Pashto speakers and 62 per cent of Persian speakers listen to the

station. Part of the network's comms strategy is to play up the good

work that it achieves in such territories.



Gardner supports this by citing the World Service's broadcast of

information on the free market in the Soviet Union at the tail-end of

Communist rule, and current output in Afghanistan including educational

material for girls, who are excluded from schools.



Advances in digital radio mean the service is readily available in the

UK: 'It's important for ethnic communities to get news from an

international agenda, and because we broadcast our different language

output on digital satellite in the UK, they can get it.'



While communicating to the British public is important, so too is

communicating to the British press. The BBC has provided digital radio

facilities to news outlets that are unable to receive the station to

ensure that they are aware of what the World Service offers: 'We have to

remind journalists that we get scoops. In a 24-hour period our Pashto

service interrogated Tony Blair, Mullah Omar, and Dick Cheney. We're

trusted as a news platform to spark stories.'



Gardner is also responsible for lobbying on the World Service's behalf,

crucial with the next round of funding negotiations with the Foreign

Office imminent: 'It's important that we keep the Government informed of

what we are doing and we can achieve that by ensuring the service

reaches as many people in Britain as possible.'



Naturally, despite its reliance on government funding, the World Service

strives to avoid being seen as a state mouthpiece: 'The BBC's

independence is its most important value. Once that credibility goes it

is essentially dead.'



When Gardner joined the BBC there were virtually no media

correspondents, compared to the proliferation today: 'These days the

World Service receives 2,000 press calls a week, rising to as many as

200 per hour in times of crisis.



But he remains undaunted by the task facing him: 'It's a doddle, really

- you just have to tell the truth.'



HIGHLIGHTS

1979: Writer, Record Mirror

1986: Press officer, London Underground

1997: Media relations manager (corporate), BBC

2001: Head of press and PR, BBC World Service



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