Last week the BBC awarded the contract for licence fee collection
to a consortium, Envision, led by media services company WPP. What
distinguished Envision from the other bidders was the emphasis it placed
on the role of communications in collecting the fee. Direct marketing
agency Ogilvy One is leading the WPP companies, and will work closely
with Ogilvy PR Worldwide, which will liaise with local and regional
media and handle consumer PR.
Collecting the fee will not become any easier as digital TV establishes
itself. There are likely to be more complaints about the cost of
watching TV. The fee is pounds 97.50 per year. And those who want
Ondigital channels will have to pay a minimum of pounds 95.88 a year
extra and for digital satellite from Sky Digital, there will be a
minimum cost of pounds 83.88 a year.
Ogilvy PR president for Europe, Paul Philpotts, says: ’Our appointment
is important because it recognises that the BBC sees itself as being
responsible for a customer relationship in a way that it never has
before. Licence fee collection is not something the BBC is entitled to,
it is something it has to prove it deserves.’
The Corporation has also had to rethink how it uses PR to sell its
In the last few months the BBC has lost key broadcasting rights, such as
home Test match cricket to Channel 4, Radio 4 listening figures have
plummeted and its much trumpeted review of news programming received a
Media commentators say that the BBC seems more concerned with overseas
expansion and the digital adventure than providing a good Saturday
Admittedly this criticism could be levelled at many digital-obsessed
broadcasters at the moment but many believe that the BBC must update its
image if it is to compete successfully for viewers and broadcasting
Sue Farr, who as marketing and communications director of BBC Broadcast
is responsible for promoting all the BBC’s publicly-funded channels and
services, except news, believes it would be unrealistic for the BBC to
expect to retain a monopoly in the competitive environment. ’We have to
be clear about those areas of broadcasting that are important to us,’
Farr oversees a team of around 220 - half of whom work in press and PR,
half in marketing - which she is in the process of restructuring.
Broadcast is the BBC’s commissioning arm, and is responsible for
marketing radio and TV, on-line services, digital TV, and educational
products. PR for news is handled by the BBC News, and corporate PR is
handled by its corporate press office.
When Farr took up her post in 1996 she inherited a department where
radio and TV teams worked separately. She has since been appointing
people to work across both areas. In March she hired Andrew Whyte,
previously external affairs adviser at Shell International, to oversee
PR across the department.
He is not responsible for press and publicity, but works with regulatory
bodies, industry groups, the public and the creative community.
In the next few weeks Farr expects to announce the appointment of a
press and publicity controller, who again will oversee both TV and
radio. She has also created seven multimedia publicity teams, each one
focusing on a separate genre such as drama or sport, and working across
TV and radio, and eventually digital television and internet services
such as BBC Online.
Farr says the restructure will allow her teams to present consistent
messages and branding across all media. But as news is handled by a
separate department, there could be difficulties in ensuring that
messages are consistent with those being put out by people promoting
what is arguably the BBC’s most important genre.
In addition, Farr aims to create an operation which can market
programmes actively. When Howell James, a founding partner of PR
consultancy Brown Lloyd James and former BBC corporate affairs director,
was brought in to advise on the restructure, he found staff were
overwhelmed by incoming traffic. ’We wanted to ensure that people who
are great publicists are set free to go out and market programmes,’ he
Farr is hiring seven publicity commissioners - for drama, entertainment,
sport, education, general factual, specialist and daytime, children’s
and acquired programmes. They will work almost exclusively on TV, but
under them will be the multimedia publicity teams. They will champion
key programmes to deliver audiences for their opening episodes.
’Every paper and radio station is devoting more space to what is
happening in the media, and we have to make sure we remain a dominant
player in that coverage,’ says Farr.
If programme promotion is successful, the BBC may be able to update its
image by putting its products, rather than its brand as a corporation,
to the fore. And focusing on programmes may help to dispel the
impression that the BBC is more concerned with its empire than