OPINION: News Analysis - The knife is sharpened to trim the BBC’s PR fat/The new director of marketing and communications at the BBC makes no attempt to hide the fact that a leaner, meaner BBC will result in job losses

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.

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

communications.



’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

before.’



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

internal communications.



The goal of the reorganisation is to get rid of the ’overlap and

rivalries’ which existed in communications before. And the logic does

seem inescapable.



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

seriously.



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

said.



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.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in