Corporate PR: Why Murdoch needs the love of the public - Sky’s digital service has been successful in signing up new subscribers. But Murdoch’s controversial image means that the corporate brand has yet to be embraced by the masses

BSkyB used to be the whipping boy of the national press. This was, after all, the channel that, according to the playwright Alan Bennett, was going to fill the nation’s heads with ’pap and crap’. Ten years on and Sky is on better terms with the Fourth Estate and has fixed its place in mainstream UK culture.

BSkyB used to be the whipping boy of the national press. This was,

after all, the channel that, according to the playwright Alan Bennett,

was going to fill the nation’s heads with ’pap and crap’. Ten years on

and Sky is on better terms with the Fourth Estate and has fixed its

place in mainstream UK culture.



Its most recent financial results were a PR triumph. The halving of

profits was consigned to a footnote as the media applauded the

astonishing rate at which Sky has signed up customers to its new digital

service; 350,000 subscribers since its October launch.



The City, too, responded favourably. Having bought into Sky’s philosophy

that to gain in the long term the company must endure a little pain in

the short term, Sky’s shares rose by 95 pence to settle at 509

pence.



Mark Booth, the new CEO, was integral in wooing the City and the

press.



Ten years after its launch and BSkyB appears to be winning the PR

battle.



Or is it? There are still quarters within the media who refuse to buy

Sky’s line and who remain antagonistic to the broadcaster; the Guardian

is perhaps the most zealous in its campaign to rubbish Sky. In an

exercise of post-ironic self mockery, the Guardian even used Rupert

Murdoch in its latest poster campaign.



But the obvious link between Sky and Murdoch, and the discomfort that

such a connection with one of the world’s most aggressive businessmen

brings, is not limited just to the 400,000 people who read the

Guardian.



Murdoch’s spectre looms large in the minds of the public. So much so

that in a recent survey among Consumers Association members, Sky came

out as one of the least-trusted brands.



Sky’s identity is inextricably linked with that of its ultimate

chief.



Research by Burson-Marsteller last year among company stakeholders

showed that they believed a chief executive’s reputation accounts for 40

per cent of a company’s reputation.



As Sky moves into the next phase of its development from an analogue

service to a digital one, and as it seeks to assure the regulatory

authorities that its bid for Manchester United is in the interests of

football, it wants to know it has the backing of the wider public. Up

until now Sky has relied upon increasing revenue per household, but now

it is going for volume of households once again. Its target is no longer

the lower end of the market that it sought in the 1980s - typified by

visions of tower blocks peppered with dishes - but a more middle

market.



Sky’s repositioning exercise is underway. The focus will be on

communicating Sky as a dynamic, innovative company that allows you, the

viewer, to choose.



And so a pounds 7 million marketing campaign for its digital service

making this point kicks off this week. To ensure that it plays a part in

the future of television, Sky needs to convince not only those who made

up its traditional constituency - the C2s, Ds and Es - but also the

opinion formers and those in the corridors of power.



Matthew Horsman, media analyst at City brokers Henderson Crosthwaite and

author of the book Sky High, says: ’The old brand was just about lots of

telly. They are now trying to sell Sky as this hi-tech, high-quality,

cutting-edge brand that’ll appeal to a younger market who can shop

through their TV, catch those US shows like ER and even watch films made

by Sky.’



It is working. Over a third of subscribers to the new digital service

are newcomers to Sky, not drifters from the analogue service. ’These are

people who for the last ten years have resisted taking up Sky. To

achieve that figure in such a short space of time is bloody amazing,’

notes Horsman.



But still the Murdoch connection weighs heavily around the broadcaster’s

neck. ’I think that any media company struggles to get fair coverage

from another media organisation,’ observes a Sky spokesman. ’We are

trying to remain as fair and as open as possible. We don’t give stories

to News International papers any more than any other paper. But who is

going to give you a fair crack of the whip?’



He has a point. Murdoch and Booth were depicted as devils in the Mirror

when Sky announced its bid for Man Utd. But Sky is not alone; look at

the treatment meted out to David Montgomery’s Mirror Group, not to

mention the pillorying the group received after Robert Maxwell’s

death.



But in order to break this deadlock, Sky is going to have to do more

than just rely on the positive coverage it receives in the press about

its new service. One media PR professional, who asked not be named, said

Sky, and in particular Murdoch, needs to don the cloak of the

philanthropist.



’Where’s the Getty in him? Where’s the Branson? At the moment Sky is

just some media monolith taking over things left right and centre. It’s

just filling up its coffers. It would be nice to see Sky giving

something back to the community for once rather than just taking. It

should get involved in some social marketing,’ he says.



Indeed, next month Sky kicks off a campaign which aims to bring a little

warmth to this hitherto cold corporate brand. It is getting involved in

youth outreach projects. If McDonald’s and the BBC can do it then so,

too, can Sky. Being a broadcaster and having a medium at its fingertips

puts it in an enviable position.



Sky knows that it needs to be loved by the public and not just be seen

as a service to it. Only then can it truly convince those in power that

Sky is, to borrow a New Labourism, an agent of the people.



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