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.