Matthew Bannister looked at the napkin and saw ’a huge mass of
squiggles on a sheet of paper, like a plate of spaghetti’. It was an
irreverent organisational chart depicting the management of Radio 1,
sketched out by a colleague for the benefit of the newly-appointed
controller. This was 1993.
Last week he may have experienced one of those situations the phrase
’deja vu’ was coined for. Except he reckons this is worse. New
director-general Greg Dyke’s restructure of the oldest broadcaster in
the world has left Bannister as the BBC’s director of marketing and
’It’s bewildering,’ the former CEO of BBC Production said. ’I’m trying
to bring together public service marketing, corporate affairs, customer
service, audience research, news, press and PR, and marketing. It’s a
much more complex task than any one person in the BBC has had
The one certainty in all this is that there will be redundancies among
the 450 staff who now report to him. ’I don’t know how many,’ Bannister
said. ’It is a period of necessary uncertainty and clearly people are
worried for their jobs.
I promise to communicate openly and honestly.’ Not surprisingly, he is
working closely with Gareth Jones, director of human resources and
The goal of the reorganisation is to get rid of the ’overlap and
rivalries’ which existed in communications before. And the logic does
The BBC has always been unclear in its definitions of ’publicity’ and
’PR’. This is about to change.
Marketing and communications will be a professional service available
centrally to BBC employees, rather than a disparate group spread across
divisions and programmes. Sally Osman, controller of press and
publicity, BBC Broadcast - ’which doesn’t exist anymore,’ she laughs -
reckoned that the historical complaint in PR terms has been ’I don’t
know who to phone at the BBC’. Osman herself has been appointed to the
team charged with implementing the changes which the individual sector
heads come up with.
This will be an interesting role since one of the many remarkable things
about the BBC is that no one appears to make errors. For example, Dyke
simply says he wants the corporation ’to become more agile and less
bureaucratic, to take decisions quickly and avoid duplication’. It makes
one wonder what the BBC was doing under predecessor Lord Birt.
And in the pre-Birt days before 1992, marketing and communications sat
together anyway. Then they were decentralised and now they are back in
one happy family again. Does anyone really know what is going on? ’The
concentration of marketing and communications is to be welcomed,’ said
Colin Browne, the outgoing corporate affairs director who is leaving to
join The Maitland Consultancy. So does that mean that the BBC got it
wrong by separating them for the last eight years? No. ’Communications
follows the structure of an organisation. And this is not so much
centralisation as the avoidance of duplication.’
Putting semantics aside, the fact that Bannister will have a seat on the
BBC’s main management board - the first time that communications has
been elevated in this way - is seen as significant; as is the fact that
Bannister himself comes from a programming role.
This is an extension of the good work the BBC has deemed itself to have
carried out in improving its marketing output over the last decade.
Perhaps belatedly, the BBC realised that marketing has become a critical
element of protecting a broadcast brand - and linking it to
communications should focus efforts on external promotion at a time when
competition has never been stiffer. At the very least it should prevent
the BBC’s sub-brands, such as news and the channels, from competing
against one another.
And branding certainly appears more consistent, with quality and value
for money seen as key messages: communication is being taken
Bannister, of course, is in no doubt about that. He said he was
confident of imposing a new discipline on the structure he inherited
last week: ’I’m sure I can make it look clear.’
He will be walking the floors to see people in smaller groups over the
next few weeks. Staff have been encouraged to send e-mails with their
thoughts and suggestions and this is beginning to happen, Bannister
He will present his proposals to Dyke in June and they are expected to
be in place from 1 October.
Bannister is credited by former employees as possessing the ability to
admit when he makes mistakes. He has also never shied away from
unpopular and complex reorganisations.
As chief assistant to the director of corporate affairs, Bannister
helped produce the document Extending Choice, about the BBC’s future
role as it approached the renewal of its Charter. Seven years ago he
weathered tabloid wrath after axing much-loved DJs and schmaltzy human
interest spots. PROs should be under no illusions: when you’ve got rid
of ’Our Tune’, you are pretty much capable of anything. Whatever he
says, fundamentally reorganising a large corporation’s communications
structure is not even in the same league.