BSkyB used to be the whipping boy of the national press. This was,
after all, the channel that, according to the playwright Alan Bennett,
was going to fill the nation’s heads with ’pap and crap’. Ten years on
and Sky is on better terms with the Fourth Estate and has fixed its
place in mainstream UK culture.
Its most recent financial results were a PR triumph. The halving of
profits was consigned to a footnote as the media applauded the
astonishing rate at which Sky has signed up customers to its new digital
service; 350,000 subscribers since its October launch.
The City, too, responded favourably. Having bought into Sky’s philosophy
that to gain in the long term the company must endure a little pain in
the short term, Sky’s shares rose by 95 pence to settle at 509
Mark Booth, the new CEO, was integral in wooing the City and the
Ten years after its launch and BSkyB appears to be winning the PR
Or is it? There are still quarters within the media who refuse to buy
Sky’s line and who remain antagonistic to the broadcaster; the Guardian
is perhaps the most zealous in its campaign to rubbish Sky. In an
exercise of post-ironic self mockery, the Guardian even used Rupert
Murdoch in its latest poster campaign.
But the obvious link between Sky and Murdoch, and the discomfort that
such a connection with one of the world’s most aggressive businessmen
brings, is not limited just to the 400,000 people who read the
Murdoch’s spectre looms large in the minds of the public. So much so
that in a recent survey among Consumers Association members, Sky came
out as one of the least-trusted brands.
Sky’s identity is inextricably linked with that of its ultimate
Research by Burson-Marsteller last year among company stakeholders
showed that they believed a chief executive’s reputation accounts for 40
per cent of a company’s reputation.
As Sky moves into the next phase of its development from an analogue
service to a digital one, and as it seeks to assure the regulatory
authorities that its bid for Manchester United is in the interests of
football, it wants to know it has the backing of the wider public. Up
until now Sky has relied upon increasing revenue per household, but now
it is going for volume of households once again. Its target is no longer
the lower end of the market that it sought in the 1980s - typified by
visions of tower blocks peppered with dishes - but a more middle
Sky’s repositioning exercise is underway. The focus will be on
communicating Sky as a dynamic, innovative company that allows you, the
viewer, to choose.
And so a pounds 7 million marketing campaign for its digital service
making this point kicks off this week. To ensure that it plays a part in
the future of television, Sky needs to convince not only those who made
up its traditional constituency - the C2s, Ds and Es - but also the
opinion formers and those in the corridors of power.
Matthew Horsman, media analyst at City brokers Henderson Crosthwaite and
author of the book Sky High, says: ’The old brand was just about lots of
telly. They are now trying to sell Sky as this hi-tech, high-quality,
cutting-edge brand that’ll appeal to a younger market who can shop
through their TV, catch those US shows like ER and even watch films made
It is working. Over a third of subscribers to the new digital service
are newcomers to Sky, not drifters from the analogue service. ’These are
people who for the last ten years have resisted taking up Sky. To
achieve that figure in such a short space of time is bloody amazing,’
But still the Murdoch connection weighs heavily around the broadcaster’s
neck. ’I think that any media company struggles to get fair coverage
from another media organisation,’ observes a Sky spokesman. ’We are
trying to remain as fair and as open as possible. We don’t give stories
to News International papers any more than any other paper. But who is
going to give you a fair crack of the whip?’
He has a point. Murdoch and Booth were depicted as devils in the Mirror
when Sky announced its bid for Man Utd. But Sky is not alone; look at
the treatment meted out to David Montgomery’s Mirror Group, not to
mention the pillorying the group received after Robert Maxwell’s
But in order to break this deadlock, Sky is going to have to do more
than just rely on the positive coverage it receives in the press about
its new service. One media PR professional, who asked not be named, said
Sky, and in particular Murdoch, needs to don the cloak of the
’Where’s the Getty in him? Where’s the Branson? At the moment Sky is
just some media monolith taking over things left right and centre. It’s
just filling up its coffers. It would be nice to see Sky giving
something back to the community for once rather than just taking. It
should get involved in some social marketing,’ he says.
Indeed, next month Sky kicks off a campaign which aims to bring a little
warmth to this hitherto cold corporate brand. It is getting involved in
youth outreach projects. If McDonald’s and the BBC can do it then so,
too, can Sky. Being a broadcaster and having a medium at its fingertips
puts it in an enviable position.
Sky knows that it needs to be loved by the public and not just be seen
as a service to it. Only then can it truly convince those in power that
Sky is, to borrow a New Labourism, an agent of the people.