MEDIA: Quality not quantity is the watchword for PR at the BBC

The BBC’s new publicity team have a huge task before them this summer to implement a more focused system of programme plugging.

The BBC’s new publicity team have a huge task before them this

summer to implement a more focused system of programme plugging.

’Fewer, bigger, better’ is the message from TV publicity controller

Sally Osman and Vanda Rumney (head of press) downwards, to replace the

old scatter gun approach and informal rationing.

By recruiting a new team from Channel 5 and ITV, where only an elite

handful of programmes symbolising the brand are selected for trailers,

special launches and posters, the BBC’s overall objective - to catch up

with the rest of the industry - seems clear.

Publicity and marketing are finite, precious resources, especially when

public money is being used. The time of press officers, reduced in

number, has to be planned carefully.

Introducing a rational publicity regime to the BBC will be a tough nut

to crack. It doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be attempted or can’t be


But from the outset, it’s best to recognise it’s unlikely to be


Plans like this have been under discussion for several years, certainly

under out-going controller, Keith Samuel. The stumbling block is the

special nature of the corporation. If the broadcast wing attempts

anything too Stalinist, by creating a too-exclusive set of priorities,

the creatives will explode.

There are many varieties of programmes contained within the phrase

’public service broadcasting’. Some of the key educative campaigns -

Computers don’t Bite, the Fighting Fat Season and the current Webwise

partnership - delve deep into social action.

And the BBC, while acutely aware of audience share, has other agendas:

it exists in a permanent state of lobbying, due to its dependence on the

licence fee. It must cast itself as UK TV’s creative leader, a standard

setter, as well as the purveyor of EastEnders.

Meanwhile, the creatives, stars, producers and so on all have their

claims, which certainly clash with the more strategic vision of channel

controllers at key points. Many stars and independent producers already

hire their own publicists. If anything, the new regime is likely to

encourage more DIY efforts. That’s not a bad thing, provided there’s a

degree of co-ordination, and doesn’t end in chaos through clashing

events. It also begs the question of whether you can have too much

publicity. Surely not. And the traditional BBC publicity machine has

already generated huge amounts of coverage.

Finally, there are the demands of the press: those key stories which cut

across the best marketing campaigns and can play havoc with


And then there are the unexpected hits and the publicity failures. The

BBC would do well to note how the campaign Channel 4 threw behind behind

Shanghai Vice this spring failed to ignite the audience.

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