Broadcast PR: Stakes rise in the PR battle to win viewers - Broadcast companies are switching on to the need to co-ordinate their various strands of communication co-ordinated to ensure consistency in an increasingly competitive market

A game of musical chairs has begun among the top PR posts in the broadcast world.

A game of musical chairs has begun among the top PR posts in the

broadcast world.

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

Michael Leapman.

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,’

he says.

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.

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