Davie should consult marketing 101 to repair BBC

For the first time in its history, the BBC is being run by a marketer. Tim Davie, the acting director general, is not an old-school journalist who has worked his whole career at White City. He is a career marketer from the school of Procter & Gamble and PepsiCo, who has now been asked to step up to the kind of crisis management situation that most brands dread.

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The BBC is going through one of the worst lapses in confidence that can face a brand. Davie, who until this weekend was the BBC’s director of audio and music, quickly stepped in to fill the shoes left by George Entwistle, who resigned from the DG position after just 54 days in the job. Entwistle stepped down after a terrible few months for the BBC with questions over its handling of the Jimmy Savile abuse allegations and a botched Newsnight report into paedophiles.

According to YouGov’s BrandIndex, the BBC’s ‘buzz’ score – the net balance of positive or negative things people have heard about the brand – fell to -13.4 on Friday (9 November) putting it bottom in a list of 44 TV and radio brands tracked by the pollster. On the 1 October, before the broadcaster pulled a Newsnight investigation into Savile, it had topped the same list with a score of 23.7. Ouch.

So can Davie bring his marketing skills to the organisation? He is certainly following a few of the classic rules in the marketer’s crisis management handbook.

  • Apologise, apologise and apologise again. Davie has said that he will say sorry in person to Lord McAlpine, the man mistakenly named as a paedophile after confusion over his identity. The confusion led to Newsnight claiming that a top Tory had committed acts of abuse (although the TV programme did not publically identify McAlpine himself), which was not true.
  • Get your house in order. Davie has been quick to move Helen Boaden, the head of news, and Stephen Mitchell, deputy head of news, aside while the Newsnight fiasco is investigated. Mr Davie told the BBC itself “my first decision was to get a grip, take action and build trust and a clear line of command.”
  • Be transparent. Davie is certainly trying. He is out there explaining and talking to every news outlet there is, including the BBC itself, with varying degrees of success. A Sky News interview saw the acting DG looking uncomfortable and quickly exiting the questioning. He denied ‘walking out’ however, saying that he had too many other interviews lined up.

Will this tack be enough for the BBC and its long-established and highly respected Newsnight brand? The BBC won our Engage Awards Brand of the Year award in association with YouGov in 2012 because it was seen by our judges as successfully juggling so many priorities against a backdrop of cuts in the licence fee. Let’s hope Davie’s injection of marketing skill and crisis management will help it recover its reputation to reach these heights in 2013.

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