The Broadcasting Policy Group was commissioned by the Conservative Party in early 2003 to write a report into the future of the BBC. The group, chaired by former TV executive David Elstein, asked Luther Pendragon to help it develop a one-off campaign to ensure the Beyond the Charter report gained impact with media, political and regulatory audiences.
To ensure decision-makers and opinion-formers involved in the debate about the review of the BBC's charter felt the report contained a coherent argument. To demonstrate that the group was independent, despite the report being commissioned by the Conservatives.
Strategy and Plan
Luther Pendragon was aware that given the interest in the BBC following Hutton, the radical findings in the group's report would be newsworthy. The proposals included abolishing the Board of Governors, splitting the BBC into separate units and abolishing the licence fee. The campaign focused on broadcast and opinion pieces penned by members of the group. The team blended media relations and public affairs, talking to key stakeholders and reinforcing the messages via the media.
Elstein was the main spokesperson of the campaign for most of the target media, including the daily national newspapers and the broadcast and media trade journals. On the day of publication, the story was sold to the media sections of the Financial Times and The Independent. Sunday papers were avoided to protect the impact of other media.
The broadcast media were also targeted, with an emphasis on key bulletins and agenda-setting programmes, including Today and Newsnight. A press conference was held, to which journalists rather than politicos were invited, to ensure that the report did not become a party political story.
Measurement and Evaluation
The campaign hit all the main media targets. Elstein appeared on Today, BBC Breakfast, News 24, Sky News, CNN, Radio 5, the Radio 2 Jeremy Vine Show, and others. The only problem occurred when a live slot on ITV's lunchtime news was pulled due to a satellite failure.
Opinion pieces appeared under Elstein's name in The Daily Telegraph and The Sun, providing an opportunity for the group to rebut criticisms. The broad thrust of the group's findings was also covered in the other broadsheets.
David Cox, another member of the group, was interviewed on BBC Radio Scotland and Wales. The report was also covered in trade journals such as Broadcast, MediaWeek and Campaign.
The group has not formally evaluated the campaign but the findings reached its target audience and the story didn't drift into party political dog-fighting.
Although many disagreed with the report's findings, the logic of the argument was recognised among the media.
The campaign could arguably only be described as a full success if elements of the report are ever implemented. Media Guardian writer Maggie Brown said the story was extremely important for the publication: 'I knew the report would be radical and controversial, and it was a big issue for us. The report was being published on a Tuesday so I had to write a story for the Monday media section without seeing the report.
'The PR agency offered me a conversation with Elstein on the Friday before publication, and although he couldn't go into detail, I was able to work out what would be in the report. One of the difficulties from a PR point of view was that the report was pure theory and the language didn't translate into the public domain very well.'