Broadcast PR: BBC goes back to PR basics for audiences - Licence-fee payers now demand accountability. To this end the BBC is using PR to build a customer relationship and restructuring publicity at BBC Broadcast to focus on programmes

Last week the BBC awarded the contract for licence fee collection to a consortium, Envision, led by media services company WPP. What distinguished Envision from the other bidders was the emphasis it placed on the role of communications in collecting the fee. Direct marketing agency Ogilvy One is leading the WPP companies, and will work closely with Ogilvy PR Worldwide, which will liaise with local and regional media and handle consumer PR.

Last week the BBC awarded the contract for licence fee collection

to a consortium, Envision, led by media services company WPP. What

distinguished Envision from the other bidders was the emphasis it placed

on the role of communications in collecting the fee. Direct marketing

agency Ogilvy One is leading the WPP companies, and will work closely

with Ogilvy PR Worldwide, which will liaise with local and regional

media and handle consumer PR.



Collecting the fee will not become any easier as digital TV establishes

itself. There are likely to be more complaints about the cost of

watching TV. The fee is pounds 97.50 per year. And those who want

Ondigital channels will have to pay a minimum of pounds 95.88 a year

extra and for digital satellite from Sky Digital, there will be a

minimum cost of pounds 83.88 a year.



Ogilvy PR president for Europe, Paul Philpotts, says: ’Our appointment

is important because it recognises that the BBC sees itself as being

responsible for a customer relationship in a way that it never has

before. Licence fee collection is not something the BBC is entitled to,

it is something it has to prove it deserves.’



The Corporation has also had to rethink how it uses PR to sell its

programmes.



In the last few months the BBC has lost key broadcasting rights, such as

home Test match cricket to Channel 4, Radio 4 listening figures have

plummeted and its much trumpeted review of news programming received a

lukewarm reception.



Media commentators say that the BBC seems more concerned with overseas

expansion and the digital adventure than providing a good Saturday

night’s entertainment.



Admittedly this criticism could be levelled at many digital-obsessed

broadcasters at the moment but many believe that the BBC must update its

image if it is to compete successfully for viewers and broadcasting

rights.



Sue Farr, who as marketing and communications director of BBC Broadcast

is responsible for promoting all the BBC’s publicly-funded channels and

services, except news, believes it would be unrealistic for the BBC to

expect to retain a monopoly in the competitive environment. ’We have to

be clear about those areas of broadcasting that are important to us,’

she says.



Farr oversees a team of around 220 - half of whom work in press and PR,

half in marketing - which she is in the process of restructuring.

Broadcast is the BBC’s commissioning arm, and is responsible for

marketing radio and TV, on-line services, digital TV, and educational

products. PR for news is handled by the BBC News, and corporate PR is

handled by its corporate press office.



When Farr took up her post in 1996 she inherited a department where

radio and TV teams worked separately. She has since been appointing

people to work across both areas. In March she hired Andrew Whyte,

previously external affairs adviser at Shell International, to oversee

PR across the department.



He is not responsible for press and publicity, but works with regulatory

bodies, industry groups, the public and the creative community.



In the next few weeks Farr expects to announce the appointment of a

press and publicity controller, who again will oversee both TV and

radio. She has also created seven multimedia publicity teams, each one

focusing on a separate genre such as drama or sport, and working across

TV and radio, and eventually digital television and internet services

such as BBC Online.



Farr says the restructure will allow her teams to present consistent

messages and branding across all media. But as news is handled by a

separate department, there could be difficulties in ensuring that

messages are consistent with those being put out by people promoting

what is arguably the BBC’s most important genre.



In addition, Farr aims to create an operation which can market

programmes actively. When Howell James, a founding partner of PR

consultancy Brown Lloyd James and former BBC corporate affairs director,

was brought in to advise on the restructure, he found staff were

overwhelmed by incoming traffic. ’We wanted to ensure that people who

are great publicists are set free to go out and market programmes,’ he

says.



Farr is hiring seven publicity commissioners - for drama, entertainment,

sport, education, general factual, specialist and daytime, children’s

and acquired programmes. They will work almost exclusively on TV, but

under them will be the multimedia publicity teams. They will champion

key programmes to deliver audiences for their opening episodes.



’Every paper and radio station is devoting more space to what is

happening in the media, and we have to make sure we remain a dominant

player in that coverage,’ says Farr.



If programme promotion is successful, the BBC may be able to update its

image by putting its products, rather than its brand as a corporation,

to the fore. And focusing on programmes may help to dispel the

impression that the BBC is more concerned with its empire than

entertainment.



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