A game of musical chairs has begun among the top PR posts in the
Channel 5’s former PR chief Sally Osman has established herself at the
BBC’s commissioning arm, heading up a team of 70 people promoting radio,
television, on-line and digital services. And while Channel 5 actively
hunts for her replacement, Granada is looking to fill corporate affairs
director Chris Hopson’s shoes as he prepares to move on to a general
management position within the group. ITV is in the market for a
corporate and programme PR head, and the network’s UK public affairs
head, Mark Gallagher, announced last week that he was moving to a newly
created top PR post at broadcast news company ITN.
Many of the broadcasters are using the personnel change as an
opportunity to re-evaluate the way they promote their programmes and
communicate their corporate stance.
The need for better PR has been brought home by increased competition
from the explosion of new digital and cable channels. And since the
beginning of the year, more urgent pressures have forced broadcasters to
Firstly, there was the media outcry following the revelations of faked
documentaries and participants in shows such as the Connection and the
Vanessa Show. Crisis management has become an important factor. ’When
the stories were coming out, you needed someone there who could give a
proper response and you didn’t always get them,’ says media writer
Secondly, ITV’s scrapping of News at Ten has sparked a major ratings
war. The network has used its popular show Who Wants To Be A
in its prime-time slot to ensure healthy viewing figures, aggressively
scheduling it against Casualty, East Enders and even Comic Relief.
While there are now, because of the explosion of channels, more
programmes competing for attention, newspapers are devoting more space
than ever before to television.
However, the number of programmes made by independent producers is also
increasing and publicity for these is often handled by the producers
Broadcast communications directors complain that while these producers
are keen to trumpet their shows, they put less effort into advertising
where and when their work will be shown.
Osman, who has had plenty of experience dealing with independent
producers at Channel 5, says broadcasters are realising that tight
co-ordination not only with producers but across on-air promotions,
billboard advertising and media relations, is key.
’Publicity used to drive communications, but now it has to be part of a
wider mix,’ she says. ’All the elements of communication need to speak
with one voice. We pioneered that at Channel 5.’
Channel 5 has created a strong brand and made effective use of it, both
on air and through poster campaigns. Its current billboard posters,
advertising that its evening news is now half an hour before ITV’s, are
a case in point.
The new post which ITV is hoping to fill will oversee media relations
for both the programmes and the network as a corporate entity.
Richard Eyre’s appointment as chief executive of the ITV companies in
1997 marked the creation of a stronger corporate centre to the
Before Eyre’s appointment, programme publicity came under overall
control of Network Centre, while public affairs was the responsibility
of Barry Cox, formerly director of the ITV Association. Leslie Hill,
chairman of the ITV council, was the only person with a remit covering
both arms of the network. Now Eyre also oversees both.
ITV’s marketing and commercial director John Hardie says there is a
rationale behind the new PR post. ’Over the last 18 months, the network
has taken over more and more aspects of ITV marketing and there is now a
need to manage a whole range of issues as well as programme publicity,’
Granada’s Hopson argues that a strong public affairs team is
increasingly necessary to deal with Government rulings as regulatory
change has been accelerated by the gathering pace of technological
advances. He estimates that 50 or 60 media organisations lobbied to
influence the shape of the last Broadcasting Act, in 1996. ’In that kind
of environment there is a real premium on getting the highest quality
corporate affairs team you can to argue your case,’ he says.
According to some commentators, Carlton’s acquisition of Planet 24, run
by newly ennobled Labour peer Waheed Alli, was in part driven by
Carlton’s need to get closer to the current Government. Media writer
Maggie Brown says: ’Carlton’s acquisition of Planet 24 was all about
needing to be in the charmed circle.’
As ITV’s experience with News at Ten shows, programming and public
affairs are often inter-dependent. Recruiting for roles which combine
responsibility for corporate and programme PR and for public affairs is
becoming increasingly necessary.
ITV and ITN, where Gallagher’s job covers both public affairs and media
relations, have recognised this. Leapman believes the realisation has
not come too soon. ’If ITV had had better PR they could have got News at
Ten out of the way sooner than they did,’ he says.