The BBC's surprise hit The Apprentice - starring Sir Alan Sugar - returned for a third series this week. Following the success of last season's finale between Michelle Dewbury and Ruth Badger - watched by 5.7 million viewers - it takes top billing, moving from BBC2 to BBC1.
The show - which has spawned the catchphrase ‘You're fired!' - comes hot on the heels of the return of BBC2's Dragons' Den. For Auntie, business is definitely good TV at the moment.
But Adam Shaw, presenter of BBC2's award-winning daytime business show Working Lunch, disputes the notion that either of these ratings winners are business programmes. ‘Don't get me wrong, they are huge shows, but they are light entertainment,' Shaw says. ‘The Apprentice is not a business show. It does not reveal the inner workings of corporations. Does it encourage people to take up apprenticeships?'
These may sound like jibes, but Shaw does not do ‘sniffy'. His point is that Working Lunch remains the only daily, standalone business show on TV. Launched in 1994, it targets private investors and everyday consumers alike, and is broadcast for half an hour Monday to Thursday and an hour on Fridays - though many PROs do not seem to notice. ‘It astounds me that we are not the focus of more PR attention,' Shaw says incredulously. ‘If you want to be on the Six or Ten O'Clock News you are effectively saying you are one of the five most important stories in the world that day - which won't normally be the case.'
Tongue in cheek
A news hook does not have to be so obvious for Working Lunch. It is useful to note that, on the day of PRWeek's interview with Shaw, two of the big business stories that day - BAA's announcement on its new Stansted runway and Manchester's recommendation to host the UK's first super-casino - got scant coverage on the programme. Shaw explains: ‘We tried to get in an Elvis impersonator, but it fell through. We have to ask "how can we cover this differently?".'
But Shaw is certainly doing his bit to facilitate closer working relationships between journalists and PR professionals.
Earlier this year he set up Presschoice.com with his film producer sister, Tracy. Agencies pay to list their clients' spokespeople, flagging them up to speak on specific issues, while journalists can search for contacts for free. As with portals such as Gorkanapr.com, the potential benefits for agency and in-house PROs alike are clear.
BT head of corporate comms Peter Morgan says Working Lunch is routinely overlooked by PROs. ‘A lot of companies are [only] interested in the media they watch and read,' he says. ‘If you're a head of comms at a big corporation, you are unlikely to spend 12.30 to 1pm watching Working Lunch. However, it's a good channel through which to communicate to customers and investors.'
Shaw cites BT chief executive Ben Verwaayen's recent appearance on Working Lunch as ‘one of the best pieces of PR ever. BT was not mentioned once but his appearance embodied a lot of the "fuzzy" values that BT would probably spend millions on [to market]'.
PR practitioners might be surprised to learn that Working Lunch is watched by an average daily audience of up to a million viewers. Anecdotally, City people are not huge watchers of the programme, perhaps for the reason cited by Morgan above. But Shaw insists: ‘Companies often hear about us through customers who have watched us. The second group is students. And a lot of small firms seem to take their lunch around the programme. We're saying to viewers: "give us half an hour of your time and we can make you richer". They tune in because we treat business in a light-hearted way.'
And entertaining it certainly is. Working Lunch's brassy theme tune, gobbling shark graphics and bright orange and blue set - hey, business is fun! - might smack of an economics teacher trying hard to be trendy, but the programme is accessible, jargon-free and certainly not pompous. Why go to Lloyd's of London to cover the rise in interest rates when you could go to Wall's ice-cream factory in Gloucester?
‘There's no need to be po-faced,' says Shaw, who was once tasked with finding penis-shaped vegetables as a researcher for now-defunct BBC consumer affairs show That's Life.
Shaw's list of gripes against PROs - press releases selling spurious surveys, a cavalier attitude to broadcast deadlines - is familiar. ‘Likewise, five clicks on a website to find the press office number and then getting someone who is "just answering the phone" is frustrating. But my bugbear is PROs who phone up and say: "You're a TV programme?" That's not unusual and it does enormous harm to their brand.'
He adds: ‘I feel more sympathy with PROs than most of the people in our office. Recently, one was really keen to get a client on Working Lunch. I said "fine, let's have them on". Then I had an email saying: "Sorry, the client is proving difficult." PR people seem almost worried by the ease of getting onto the programme.'
Business's low profile
Shaw says that although the BBC's business news coverage has increased and improved in recent years, public recognition of business leaders is poor: ‘People on the high street can reel off the names of football managers but, apart from Branson, Stelios and maybe Stuart Rose, they can't name the people who determine the wealth of their lives. That's a crazy situation for business to have got itself into.'
And it is not just the business community that needs to raise its profile. After more than a decade as the face of Working Lunch (alongside Adrian Chiles, who left last month to focus on Match of the Day 2 and other BBC projects), it is surprising that Shaw is not better-known. Despite all the jingoes and quirky interview stunts, Shaw is a quiet shares guru - he is the author of books such as Money And How To Make More Of It.
Justin Urquhart Stewart, co-founder of Seven Investment Management and a regular guest commentator on the programme, says: ‘Don't underestimate Adam, he'll often play the comedian on the markets but he has a broad knowledge.'
Shaw adds: ‘People either like you or they don't, and there's bugger all you can do about it. One of the hardest things about doing this job is keeping it.'
Like his former co-presenter, Shaw has the potential to move into new roles. At 16 he was a spear-carrier with the Royal Shakespeare Company, before choosing TV as a career. And, although it would be hard to imagine this genial, self-deprecating man growling ‘You're fired!' at people, one cannot help thinking he would benefit from wider exposure.
Perhaps Shaw needs to promote himself, not just the CEOs on his TV show.
CV - ADAM SHAW2007
Presenter, Working Lunch
Presenter, BBC Business Breakfast
Reporter, BBC Business Breakfast
Reporter/presenter, European Business Today
Researcher, BBC That's Life
Researcher, BBC Watchdog
Researcher, BBC2 The Late Show
Graduated from University of Kent at Canterbury, economics BA Hons
Actor, Royal Shakespeare Company
|Click HERE to listen to Adam Shaw talk more about Working Lunch and Presschoice.com in this week's PRWeek/CTN podcast|