PRWeek TV: BBC examines comms staffing for future crises

The BBC is looking at how it staffs comms teams handling major reputational threats as part of the review into the impact of the Jimmy Savile crisis on the corporation, its comms head has revealed on PRWeek TV.

In the interview for PRWeek TV, acting director of comms for the BBC Julian Payne said PR staff would likely be switched around and rested to prevent exhaustion in any future crisis.

His words come after a PRWeek reputation survey revealed significant damage to public trust in the corporation following a scrapped Jimmy Savile investigation and the subsequent revelations that followed.

The crisis led to the replacement of director general George Entwistle – who resigned 54 days after starting the job – with Tony Hall, who brought in former Labour minister James Purnell to oversee comms.

Payne said that following a reputational low in October and November, internal polling had shown the brand regaining trust. He praised the PR teams that dealt with the scandal.

However, he acknowledged that during the scandal ‘resource’ and ‘tiredness’ were ‘definitely factors’ in the PR handling of the situation.

‘I think [in terms of] where we could make immediate improvements, it would certainly be about keeping the flow of people moving,’ he said.

The BBC's former comms head Paul Mylrea had previously revealed to the Pollard Inquiry that his team had been ‘running exhausted'.

The overall PR set-up will be looked at over the next six months as Hall and the BBC develop the corporation's ‘vision’ for the coming decade, Payne said.

In his new role as director, strategy and digital, Purnell will help bring together the ‘audience-facing parts’ of the BBC to help create more ‘uniform’ messages, he added.

Payne also pointed to ‘blockages’ in getting information from other parts of the BBC over the course of the Savile scrutiny.

A lack of engagement with the media by senior management was also identified as an issue.

‘It’s certainly true that we as a division would like to have seen more of our executives out on the airwaves,’ he said.

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