Branding the BBC

Senior executives from the Marketing Week Engage Awards 2012 Brand of the Year talk to Ruth Mortimer about how the BBC overcame huge budget cuts by restructuring its entire marketing operation and focusing on the masterbrand and cross-promotion.


The big story about marketing at the BBC has been how we have focused; we don’t stand for absolutely everything,” says BBC director-general Mark Thompson. “The need to make savings really concentrates your mind. It has helped us concentrate on what matters most and then marketing that to the public.”

While Thompson uses an upbeat tone to tell the tale of the BBC’s marketing strategy, it is a story of success that could so easily have had a different ending. Back in 2010, it was decided that the corporation’s sole source of funding – the licence fee – would be frozen until 2017, resulting in 20% spending cuts across the organisation, with the marketing department asked to save 25%.

While many brands would have struggled to deal with such financial restrictions, the BBC has restructured its entire marketing operations over the last 18 months to be more efficient with less cost. Rather than simply promoting individual TV and radio programmes, channels and websites, it has pulled together its marketing output into packages with overarching messages about the core principles that drive the BBC.

This strategy will be put to the test by its coverage of the London 2012 Olympics, but it has so far been a winning one, with the BBC scooping the Marketing Week Engage Awards 2012 Brand of the Year title in association with YouGov. The awards judges felt the BBC encapsulated a common experience across all private and public sector brands in the current climate – the challenge of successfully maintaining quality while cutting costs.

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Departing director of marketing and audiences Helen Normoyle, who has overseen the BBC’s marketing over the last 18 months, explains the thinking behind the new strategy. She says: “A lot of our marketing will always be promoting individual programmes, so we can ensure people know about all the services they can get from the BBC and where to find them. But with all this content, how do we tell a bigger story?

One answer lay in the BBC’s overall editorial priorities (see box, page 16) as defined by the organisation’s Delivering Quality First (DQF) strategy. The marketing team saw there was scope to create campaigns that focused on the BBC masterbrand and how it fulfilled its brief in areas such as drama or large-scale national events.

Jane Clancey, co-head of brand strategy at the BBC, expands: “There are moments, such as the Olympics or Jubilee, where we can aggregate content together to get across most powerfully what the BBC does.”

With its TV channels being carried on satellite and digital services, Jennifer Callahan Packer, co-head of brand strategy at the BBC, adds that it is particularly important to create “a core and central BBC story that can be told wherever the audiences encounter the BBC, through our own services or someone else’s”.

The BBC marketing team followed up its first masterbrand campaign, Bring Me Sunshine, which coincided with the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011, with two other masterbrand pieces of marketing – Wonderful World and Original British Drama.

While its first campaign showcased moments from the BBC archive, linking them to upcoming shows, Original British Drama brought together trailers for some of the BBC’s most high-profile pieces of drama including Sherlock, Call The Midwife and Birdsong.

The theme of cross-promotion is also prevalent in the BBC’s upcoming Olympics coverage. Because the event will also encompass a cultural element too, it offers obvious ways to highlight BBC content such as The Proms or the Shakespeare Unlocked series.

“The Olympics is also about the cultural aspect, the torch and the legacy it leaves,” says Louisa Fyans, head of marketing and communications for BBC London 2012.

With the whole organisation working on how it can make the most of the Olympics, London 2012 also gives the BBC the chance to trial new technology. It will use the event to show off an online video player that can show 24 live streams of footage simultaneously.

There are moments, such as the Olympics or Jubilee, where we can aggregate content together to get across most powerfully what the BBC does

“We’re piloting it for the Olympics but you can see how effective it would be for other events like Glastonbury or Wimbledon, where many things are happening at once,” says Fyans. “It has all this incredible data overlaid on it where you can find out about the athletes too.”

The idea of large numbers of the population tuning into TV on their computers to see 24 pieces of content simultaneously was the stuff of fantasy only a few years ago, but the BBC sees this as simply part of what is expected of a public service broadcaster today.

Justin Bairamian, director of creative marketing at the BBC, says: “Audiences are consuming us in a more fragmented way than in previous generations. We have to help them join the dots and show them the full breadth of what we have on offer.”

This fragmentation of consumption has been a driving force behind how the BBC has structured its content promotion and the marketing teams themselves. With access to the BBC available through television, radio, websites or online catch-up service iPlayer, Bairamian says the BBC’s creative marketing teams now work across the organisation rather than by channel or division.

He explains: “We’ve structured [creative marketing] to pull brands together with the audience in mind. One team markets our youth brands; BBC One and Radio 2 marketing is run by the same person. We’re trying to join things up.”

Although this process sounds logical, it was profoundly different from the structure in place before Thompson and Normoyle applied the DQF philosophy to marketing. Normoyle admits that restructuring the organisation was a tricky people management issue (see senior BBC marketing team structure, above) because she had to keep emphasising that the new way of marketing meant being involved at a more senior level, where the corporation’s overall strategy was formulated.

“The restructure was about creating an organisation where marketing could work far more upstream than before. That doesn’t just mean working with more senior people but showing everyone how marketing has a positive impact on the business. The earlier you get involved, the more impact you can have.”

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While Normoyle acknowledges that creating material such as trailers or posters for its content is a marketer’s “bread and butter”, she is keen to move away from BBC marketers being seen as the ad people towards a more business-focused approach.

As well as working across multiple parts of the BBC, the marketing teams are also using a wider range of media to promote it than ever before. In addition to the BBC’s own TV channels, radio stations and websites, it now regularly uses social media to draw in audiences.

Jess Finning, brand marketing manager for BBC One and drama, explains: “It’s important to get audiences to continue the conversation in their own forums.”

For the BBC One detective show Luther, the marketing team used social media to promote the lead character, who happened to be black, to ethnic minority audiences as well as the overall British population.

The marketers worked with the programme makers to create some extra show content that they could put out on Facebook, while Idris Alba – the actor who played Luther and who had previously starred in hit US show The Wire – promoted the show himself through Twitter.

Normoyle believes that the social media activity was responsible for encouraging a “way above average” ethnic minority audience to watch the show.

As well as using social media to push its output, the new structure has given marketers at the BBC more opportunities to better use its content. One example is how digital radio channel Radio 7 has increased its audience figures from about 1 million a week to 1.6 million following a rebrand to Radio 4 Extra.

Christine Woodman, head of marketing for Radio 4 and Radio 4 Extra, explains that although Radio 7 used old Radio 4 content, only a third of Radio 4 listeners had even heard of the digital station.

When Radio 7 rebranded as Radio 4 Extra, the team decided to focus on drama, comedy and factual programmes, which make up some of Radio 4’s output, but not all of it. “We curated it more too,” says Woodman. “We chose archive material thematically, rather than switching from a very old comedy programme to a newer drama.”

The Radio 4 Extra team also decided to commission new content to sit alongside the archived programmes, including spin-offs from famous Radio 4 shows The Archers and Desert Island Discs.

Its whole schedule was rebuilt around moments when people might switch off the original Radio 4, to bring them over to Radio 4 Extra and keep them listening. Woodman says the programmers and marketers have been very careful not to cannibalise the original Radio 4 audience, using the digital station as a way to keep audiences who love comedy or drama listening for longer, even when Radio 4 moves onto other topics.

The BBC’s task for the next few years will be to balance traditional and new broadcasting methods and promote them effectively to audiences who want to access its content on a variety of devices, at any time of the day or night.

Thompson, who is set to step down later this year, says that the corporation is not complacent about how much there still is to do. His architect of the new marketing structure, Normoyle, is now leaving the organisation to be replaced by Diageo veteran Philip Almond, who said he was “looking forward to joining the team that recently won the Brand of the Year award.”

“As the digital revolution unfolds, this need for ever-greater focus and clarity about what you stand for is going to go on growing,” Thompson predicts. “But we measure the impact of marketing by the overall life signs of the BBC and many of those are currently at an all-time high.”

BBC: The Brand of the Year

The BBC won the 2012 Marketing Week Engage Awards Brand of The Year in association with YouGov. This followed extensive analysis by YouGov using its BrandIndex data tracking tool – a daily measure of brand perception, tracking 850 brands across 34 different sectors.

BrandIndex looked at a variety of BBC products, from BBC One to the iPlayer, tracking quality, value, customer satisfaction, corporate reputation, general impression, recommendation and buzz – a measure of whether people have heard anything positive or negative about it – throughout 2011.

The BBC’s scores were overwhelmingly positive, with the iPlayer, its website and BBC One scoring particularly highly. The awards judges then created a shortlist of YouGov’s top-scoring brands, ultimately choosing the BBC as the one that had best performed against its aims throughout 2011.

Case Study: How the BBC markets the news

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Breaking news: Marketers are an integral part of the BBC news team

It is a challenge to market the news. By its nature, news cannot be planned. It is constantly changing and evolving. As Sanjay Nazerali, brand director of journalism UK and International, puts it: “We can plan for big set pieces like a General Election but sometimes you are woken at 2am to be told that Osama Bin Laden has just been killed.”

Like all of the BBC, the journalism marketing team has been asked to make significant cost cuts over the last 18 months. The challenge for Nazerali has been to make savings while marketing BBC news to the public as distinctive and high quality at a time when news services are proliferating and, he admits, “can start to feel like a commodity”.

Nazerali decided on a bold tactic within an organisation where editorial independence must always be preserved. “We’ve embedded a marketer within the newsroom,” he explains. “As the news is being cut live for the 10 O’clock News at night, a trail for it is being cut live at the same time.

It’s being cut by news people but there’s a marketer in the gallery so the script, the positioning and the proposition is all done by marketing.”

Nazerali says that it is the mix of editorial cutting and marketing planning that makes this effective. The BBC had tried to get the editorial news teams to cut trailers without marketing involved, but it had resembled a mini news bulletin. By adding marketing into the process, the trailer is now able to form more of a tease for the upcoming news: “Troops storm Afghanistan but will this be enough to…?”

“The news team like this so much that they are out in the field voicing the final copy line for the marketing trail,” claims Nazerali. “We even had someone reporting from Libya in a tank who wanted to voice a marketing copy line. That’s an extraordinary coup.”

The marketing is also essentially free as it reuses footage already cut for editorial reasons. “We have a trail that can go out every single day and the cost of that marketing is pretty much zero. There is no incremental cost to any party,” says Nazerali.

The collaboration between editorial and marketing also helps the BBC cross-promote its news content, which is essential as news can appear on everything from BBC Two to Radio 1 and online. So marketers have to be embedded across all areas to talk to programme makers and spot common themes.

Despite the close relationships between BBC marketers and journalists, Nazerali says there can be no question of marketing ever affecting the content of the news.

“Our marketing for the 2012 Olympics talks about ‘everyone being invited’,” he says. “But BBC News has to be free to run a Panorama investigation about how scandalously expensive the ticket are on the night before the Olympics start if it chooses.”

He adds: “Working together is not something that will get you a halo or a good appraisal. It is something that will make your business survive. We’ve quintupled the amount of marketing we do for news and effectively reduced the budget to zero. Talking about ‘collaboration’ and ‘partnership’ is not just about using trendy buzzwords; this is the way marketing will have to be in future.”

mark thompson

BBC director-general Mark Thompson’s view on…

…How cutting costs has forced the BBC to focus

We reach virtually every household in the UK every week, but in a digital environment, it’s important you know what to focus on. I’m not saying that in an ideal world we would be making savings, but in marketing terms it’s forced us to make decisions and be clearer about what the BBC stands for than beforehand.

…How marketing is viewed within the BBC

In recent years, we’ve tried to make sure that marketing and audience insights feed into strategy. It’s all about moving marketing upstream. You listen to marketers long before you’ve written the programme, not simply when you want to put a poster up. We’ve been on a journey as an organisation for 10 years towards this.

A few years ago, it was about winning the argument inside the organisation about the importance of marketing, but since it’s been working for us, everyone inside the organisation can see that.

…Measuring the impact of marketing

We do a lot of detailed diagnostic work on individual marketing campaigns. But we also have very well established tracking studies where we ask the public questions about the BBC in terms of approval and trustworthiness, as well as the quality scores for every programme.

We get a vast amount of almost real-time data on what people think about BBC services and the BBC as a whole that we boil down to a single page of data – quality, reach, value are the terms we use. We can get the entire BBC on one simple chart looking at those areas.

…Taking the BBC to an international audience through its commercial arm BBC Worldwide

Historically, the BBC internationally has stood for news, but Doctor Who was the most downloaded TV programme on US iTunes last year. Getting our marketing division to make sure the BBC brand is growing internationally with the same clarity and same sense of breadth that it has in the UK is a big challenge for the future.

The BBC and its audiences

james holden

James Holden
Head of audiences BBC

The BBC’s head of audiences role has existed in some form since 1936. People pay the licence fee and we need to listen to what they want. The whole organisation is based on an understanding of our audience and what we should give them.

My job is to make sure that all the decisions we take at the BBC have an audience context. Because the BBC is so big – we have more than 1 million contacts with the audience every year – there’s everything from a query about what someone wore on The One Show to complaining that a favourite Doctor Who character has been killed off.

Our audience planning team is relatively new and works with the commissioners to help them come up with new ideas.

Then there is the audience research team, which is what you might call market research. We will look at how many people watched every minute of the Jubilee pageant on TV or which smartphones are most prevalent in the population so we should have our iPlayer available on them. We know that 70-80% of people now have broadband at home, more than 5 million have tablets and people are able to access content in a different way than ever before.

Because of these changes in how people view, we determine who has watched a programme through a system called Live +7. That looks at when content is consumed across a week, as the vast majority of people will watch something within that time period, giving a total audience for that content.

We add up the first broadcast, repeat broadcast, any PVR viewing and iPlayer viewing. It can make a massive difference – on Christmas Day, you can add almost 50% to viewing figures by using Live +7.

Measurement in general is a big challenge for us. We need to understand the impact of what we do, its return on investment and how to best comprehend the effect of our marketing.

We have our own research panel of more than 20,000 people and get verbatim feedback from them, as well as what we observe on social media. We know which BBC One programme is most likely to have Twitter followers and which BBC Three programme is least likely to have Facebook fans. But like most other people, we’re still testing what we do with social media. I don’t think anyone’s cracked it.

Ultimately, there are 60 million people out there in the UK who all want a personal version of the BBC. They don’t want someone else’s version anymore. Digital technology really helps you create that for them, but it’s still a very big challenge.



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