Profile: Andrew Whyte, BBC Broadcast - Back in the news again/Andrew Whyte puts his Shell days behind him for a frontline job at the BBC

When it comes to the course of his career, Andrew Whyte is used to hearing the words ’frying pan’ and ’fire’ mentioned in quick succession.

When it comes to the course of his career, Andrew Whyte is used to

hearing the words ’frying pan’ and ’fire’ mentioned in quick

succession.



Here’s the man whose day job was deputy director of corporate affairs at

News International while he spent whatever free time he had being a

Labour councillor in Redbridge, Surrey. He left that tricky balancing

act to be external affairs adviser to Shell, shortly after the execution

of Ken Saro Wiwa and during a major European upheaval at the

company.



And now comes the news that he’s quitting Shell, two years into a

three-year contract, to be BBC Broadcast’s new head of PR.



’I’m absolutely delighted, thrilled,’ he says. Thrilled to be leaving

Shell? He gives a tiny smile. ’I don’t feel as if I’m letting anybody

down. I’ve learnt a lot here, travelled all over the world and done, I

think, a good job. But I’ve missed the excitement, the pace, the

hands-on work that I had at News International. I love it and miss it

and the BBC is pre-eminent in its field. They approached me ...’ he

shrugs.



Whyte will report to Sue Farr, director of marketing and communications,

and the woman responsible for restructuring the 250-strong PR, marketing

and publicity team. He will have up to four people reporting to him, a

budget of unknown proportions and an office, he says, ’somewhere in

London’.



His brief sounds almost as vague: ’I’ll be helping position BBC

Broadcast with its key audience, opinion-formers and the talent.’



But his aims are far more precise. ’The two big challenges are making

sure the BBC is appropriately positioned and fighting allegations that

it’s lowering its intellectual content.’



A roster of up to four PR consultancies will support the new department,

something Whyte says he’s used to. ’It’s a challenge to manage a team

that comes with ideas from outside the organisation.’



BBC Broadcast is one of six divisions of the rejigged BBC and is

responsible for commissioning and scheduling on network and regional TV

and radio.



The job of heading up its PR is therefore a new one. ’It’s a new post,

but I’ve always had new posts, it really doesn’t phase me,’ says Whyte,

displaying the sort of easy confidence which has helped propel him into

leadership roles throughout his early life - from being head boy at

Merchant Taylors’ School in Merseyside and later general secretary of

Manchester University Union.



His time at Shell has given him experience of change communication on

about as big a scale as you can get - 20,000 employees in 20 European

countries undergoing massive internal and external upheaval. During an

ongoing restructuring of the company, 2,300 jobs were affected. People

were either made redundant or agreed to major changes, such as

relocating to a different country. Andy Laurence, managing director of

Hill and Knowlton corporate has worked with Whyte on parts of the Shell

project and is full of admiration. ’He’s got a lot of energy and doesn’t

mind challenging the status quo, but he combines it with diplomacy,’ he

says.



The adrenalin rush of that sort of responsibility is no doubt exciting,

but Whyte seems nostalgic for his five years at NI. They were great

times, he says - rebuilding political relations with Labour and

community relations in the wake of Hillsborough, when the Sun (a News

International title) implied that fans were to blame for the disaster.

The fact that Blair was able to address the News Corp Conference in

Australia last year, something unthinkable when Whyte first worked for

NI, proves that his team did a good job. Jane Reed, director of

corporate affairs at NI praises her former deputy. ’He cuts to the core

of a problem quickly, he enjoys management theory, he’s articulate,

intuitive and inspires confidence.’



At 38, with two children aged nine and five, Whyte will appreciate being

UK-based. It also means he won’t have to miss so many episodes of the

Archers or his daily fix of Radio 4’s Today and sports coverage (BBC,

naturally). He’s a Liverpool supporter too so, adds a friend who isn’t,

Whyte’s obviously an optimist too.



HIGHLIGHTS

1986

Development officer, British Youth Council

1988

Parliamentary liaison officer, Barnardo’s Media

1991

Deputy director of corporate affairs, News International

1996

External affairs adviser, Shell International

1998

Head of PR BBC Broadcast



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