Sharon Baylay of the BBC speaks

Sharon Baylay, Director of BBC Marketing, Communications and Audiences responds to the article in Marketing Week by Stuart Smith titled “Contradictions sure to undermine BBC brand”.

Sharon Baylay
Sharon Baylay

I was very interested to read Stuart Smith’s thoughts last week on the challenges for the BBC in maintaining the strength of its brand. The BBC is an iconic brand, more talked about than virtually any other national institution, and present in the homes of millions of people every day. Stuart’s comments come hard on the heels of the BBC taking the number five slot in Marketing Week’s Superbrands survey, and the number seven slot in PR Week’s Reputation Index, with 81% positive mindshare – the highest in the whole of the top 50 brands featured.

Having joined the BBC a couple of months ago, I thought I’d share the reality I’ve experienced behind an organisation about which people have so many different opinions.

What has struck me most in my first weeks is how much the organisation is changing. If you believed some of the stories written about the BBC you could be forgiven for thinking it was bloated, out of touch and drunk on public money. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The last year has been a turbulent one for the media industry, driven by the combination of changing consumption habits and the most severe economic downturn in a generation. The BBC is not impervious from these forces and we are delivering huge savings across the business of £1.9 billion by 2013 and becoming much more open and collaborative in the process.

We have committed to publishing a wide range of information including executive pay, expenses and spend on top talent, which will make us one of the most transparent and open public service organisations in Britain. Transparency is an essential part of building and maintaining trust in our brand, and as one of the country’s most trusted public institutions we take this matter very seriously.

In addition, we are playing our part in growing and re-energising “UK Plc”, committed to forming new partnerships and recognising a special responsibility to maintain public service broadcasting beyond the BBC. This includes creative partnerships with organisations like the Arts Council, a joint venture between BBC Worldwide and Channel 4, as well as supporting choice in regional news.

Whatever the political cut and thrust, audiences will always remain at the forefront of our minds. This last year has been creatively strong for the BBC. We continue to reach 93% of the population, a remarkable achievement in a fragmenting media landscape, and encouragingly, 85% of people said they would miss the BBC if it wasn’t there – up from 70% two years ago.

Stuart’s article suggested that there is a conflict between producing programmes that are high quality and those that are popular. I don’t believe that is the case – I’m proud that in the past year the vast majority of our output has delivered on both.

We’ve had some amazing highlights: Wallace and Gromit at Christmas, Criminal Justice, Radio 1’s Big Weekend, and the Poetry Season, to name but a few.

Two-thirds of our audience cite that the BBC is high quality, while the proportion who agreed that BBC television is “original and different” rose from 32% to 36% in the last year alone.

Stuart also reported that his conversations with BBC staff found that they were overwhelmingly supportive of the BBC Trust’s stance against top slicing. This has been my experience too. Many hundreds of people across the organisation have been involved in the Digital Britain debate – talking to audiences and helping to develop our partnership proposals.

This has clearly been a challenging year for the BBC but we are painfully aware that we can never take audiences’ trust for granted and must constantly adapt to keep the BBC brand strong.

There have certainly been bumps in the road – change is often painful – but always brings opportunity and we are building on this to continue to transform the BBC, to ensure it remains at the heart of public service broadcasting in the UK, remains relevant to licence fee payers and is respected around the world.

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