Media Analysis: Randall: 'pizzazz' courts business

BBC business editor Jeff Randall talks to Joe Lepper about Radio Five Live's latest financial venture, and why Barclays chief Matt Barrett should give him a call

Radio Five Live's launch of a business show in a slot after football phone-in 606 may seem a bizarre piece of scheduling.

However, to BBC business editor Jeff Randall, who co-hosts the show, Weekend Business, with BBC News economics correspondent Jenny Scott, it could be one of the shrewdest moves yet by the station.

'The controller Bob Shennan is the person whose vision this is. He wanted something to follow 606 on a Sunday and keep the huge audience it has.

He believes a business programme can do that,' he says.

Business and sport link

To Randall, Shennan has spotted a link between business and sport he believes others in radio broadcasting have failed to tap into. 'The biggest story in football recently has been Leeds going bust,' he says.

The first show, at the end of March, certainly hammered home the link, with a feature on the financial value of sport, linking the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race's move from BBC to ITV. There was also an interview with Leeds United chief executive Trevor Birch about the club's situation.

But the link between sport and business is not the only reason Randall believes the show will succeed.

He says there is no pressure from Shennan to have a sports story every week. Sports business stories must wait in the queue with all the other sectors with Randall pledging that he will only pick the most interesting issues of the moment, sport or otherwise.

For Randall the aim is to 'show the sense of soap opera (in business), which I don't think anybody else does'.

The pilot show, he says, proves this, as it covered the chaos at Shell and the disastrous launch and withdrawal of Coca-Cola's bottled water Dasani.

So far, Randall says he has had dozens of emails and calls from PROs expressing an interest in the show and attempting to get coverage for clients.

However, when asked if any of the contact from PROs has impressed him, he says: 'It's quite the reverse. There have been one or two that have been really unimpressive. One annoying one goes like this: "I'm x calling from y on behalf of z, whose CEO would like to be a guest on your show".

'That's just going to get nowhere. Why do we want to interview that person?

Are they in the news that week?' he adds.

He suggests there are a number of opportunities for PROs, but only for those who understand the magazine nature of the show and that 'we are covering a week's worth of business news in one hour, only the really good stuff is going to get on'.

As an example he says an interview with the CEO of Coca-Cola at the height of the Dasani crisis wouldn't have been turned down. He adds: '(Barclays chief exec) Matt Barrett ringing up and saying he's sick to death of all the coverage and can he come on the show would be irresistible.'

But it's not just crises that appeal to Randall. Big names in business who rarely give interviews such as Rupert Murdoch would also be welcomed.

Weekend Business's success will be determined by its initial seven-week run, before the station gives over the slot to a particularly hectic summer of sports coverage that includes Euro 2004 and the Athens Olympics.

If successful, it is set to return later in the year. However, Randall has already ruled himself out of remaining as a presenter: 'I've already got such a busy schedule and I have always said from the outset that I'll do the initial run but no more.'

Shennan is confident Weekend Business will return. He says: 'This is an entirely new venture for Five Live but the subject matter is very much part of the mainstream, part of the current affairs we already offer and something I believe our listeners are knowledgeable about and want to hear more about. I know it's early days but I'm sure it will return - but I'm not sure when.'

Shennan believes Randall best sums up his vision for the show when he refers to the soap opera of business.

He continues: 'The show is about the personalities. Maybe people haven't heard of some of these figures but people such as (retail tycoon) Philip Green, for example, have got so much to say and so much that is of direct relevance to our listeners.'

When asked though if the show is just following in the footsteps of others, such as Radio Four's In Business, Shennan and Randall are both adamant that Weekend Business is unique.

Shennan says: 'You can't compare it. No one else does this kind of live programme in that slot, interviewing the major figures in business.' Randall even adds that he wants the show to have 'pizzazz'.

Gilt-edged opportunities

As far as PROs are concerned, Shennan believes that due to the show's personality-driven nature, it could give gilt-edged opportunities to promote their clients.

Citigate Dewe Rogerson executive director Simon Rigby believes that for a station like Radio Five Live to make such a move is good for business coverage in general. He says: 'Business can be like a soap opera. There are great stories out there so something like this is to be welcomed.'

And Randall says that PROs may even find themselves being interviewed.

In the pilot show for example one of the segments was on reputation management and included an interview with Reputation Inc partner Nigel Whittaker.

'During that crisis with Coca-Cola the whole issue of corporate reputation came out and (this) is something people are interested in,' Randall concludes.

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