Archive for the BBC Category

PD and the DG of the BBC

Posted in BBC, PR on January 5, 2010 by Tom Leatherbarrow

I suspect the Director General (DG) of the BBC was expecting a cosy post-Christmas chat when he agreed to appear on the Today programme guest edited by the crime writer PD James on 31st December.

I didn’t listen to it myself (being laid up in hospital with a broken ankle I only had access to Radio Warrington General which was only marginally more bearable than the quality of food on offer) but I have since read an account kindly provided by the Daily Mail.

Instead of a cosy chat PD launched into a forensic examination of the current state of the BBC. A mere blog is not enough space to cover all her areas of probing (needless to say she was unimpressed with the quality of programming on BBC3, in particular ‘Help me Anthea, I’m Infested’) but there was one area of interrogation which will be of interest to all those in PR.

PD questioned the number of senior communications people the BBC has on its staff and their seemingly overlapping spheres of influence. The current count is that the BBC has four senior executives with responsibly for communications, audience interaction or brand. In fact there is currently a ‘Director of Marketing and Communications and Audiences’ and a ‘Director of Communications’ both in post.

Even more staggering is the size of salaries being paid. The Director of Marketing Communications and Audiences is currently paid £310,000 a year. The Director of Communications nearly £250,000.

The usual excuses were rolled out by the DG, ‘market forces’, fear of losing high quality people to commercial rivals, in line with the private sector etc.

I suspect most PR people reading this, even those in the heady echelons of financial PR in London, will be delighted to hear that they can expect to earn up to £310k at some point in their career. This by the way is exactly the same amount earned last year by the UK Managing Director of Northgate PLC, a FTSE 250, including bonus. Of course the difference is that Phil Moorhouse of Northgate is answerable to his shareholders, has forecasts and budgets to hit. The Director of Marketing Communications and Audiences at the BBC is answerable to er … well good question!

The DG is of course talking complete tosh and gives the impression he is completely out of touch with reality, which is not good as the Beeb is under pressure as never before.

I have documented recent BBC failings in a previous blog, but you can be sure that David Cameron has not let this one slip past him. Dave is a former Head of Communications for BskyB (you can bet Murdoch didn’t pay him £310k a year) and will be under pressure from his former employer to break up what News Corporation regards as a state-sponsored monopolist. The Beeb cannot afford this sort of public relations disaster, particularly at a time when scrutiny of public sector spending has never been more stark.

However, even in this debacle, you can see still why the BBC is a national treasure which needs preserving, but reforming urgently. PD conducted her examination of the Director General on the BBC Today Programme without fear of censorship or the heavy hand of interference from either shareholders or senior management. In the world of News Corporation this was akin to the The Times conducting an investigation into The Sun. How likely is that?

Right idea, wrong show

Posted in BBC on October 26, 2009 by Tom Leatherbarrow

I watched Question Time on BBCi over the weekend to see what all the fuss was about (when you have a 12 week old baby the scheduled 10.30 start to watch it live is asking a bit too much).

All my instincts in the lead up to the programme were that the BNP’s participation protected important elements in our basic rights – namely freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Now, I’ve changed my mind.

There was little freedom on show here. Instead we were treated to an hour’s bear baiting which did little to forensically analyse, dissect and reveal BNP policies. Those with enough grey in their hair will remember a debate on the future of the monarchy held by ITV about 15 years ago in front of a live studio audience which descended into farce with invited guests being shouted down and barracked mercilessly. Last week’s Question Time was almost a re-run.

There is another point here. The BBC keeps getting it badly wrong. If it isn’t Question Time it’s a shoddy piece of Ryanair reporting on Panorama which managed to do the almost impossible by getting public opinion behind Michael O’Leary. Or the deliberate scheduling of Strictly Come Dancing against X-Factor. Now I don’t watch either (I’m a Radio 5 Live 6-0-6 man) but I find it difficult to believe that it is the role of a subsidised state broadcaster to deliberately try and reduce the audience figures (and, crucially, advertising revenue) for a commercial broadcaster.

There has been underground debate, mainly confined to the pages of The Guardian, about the future and role of the BBC. If it carries on the way it is, that debate won’t stay underground much longer.