Terrestrials switch on branding strategy to fight off new rivals

Not that long ago ITV and BBC believed programme quality was enough to win audiences. But competition has forced a rethink.

Whatever else Channel 5 achieves when it finally starts broadcasting this week, it has shown the importance of marketing in the multichannel age of TV. Its colourful five-bar symbol, emblazoned across posters, stadium perimeter boards and listings titles, is instantly – almost subliminally – recognisable. It has created a brand identity before the viewer has seen a single programme.

In doing so, it has helped convince the sceptics in terrestrial TV that even the best-established and highest-rating channels can benefit from an integrated marketing strategy.

C5 isn’t the first channel to have understood the value of marketing: Channel 4, Sky and some cable and satellite channels have all been pioneers in this area. But in its creative execution, in putting an integrated marketing department at the centre of its operation, and in ensuring its programme departments understand its brand strategy, C5 has forced all TV organisations – notably ITV and the BBC – to reassess the way they market their channels.

The appointment of Sue Farr as marketing director of BBC Broadcast, which includes all the domestic TV and radio networks, shows the way the BBC is moving. In her previous job at BBC Radio, faced with hundreds of competitors, Farr pulled together advertising, press and publicity, on-air promotion and research and developed clear strategies for each network. Similar policies, including a strategy for each channel and co-ordination of on-air and off-air promotion, can be expected in TV.

But less well-documented is the way ITV, after years of prevarication and false starts, is also moving towards a single-minded and integrated marketing strategy. Recently, for a BBC project, I interviewed senior marketing people from all the main commercial channels. Astonishingly, all – including ITV – seemed convinced of the importance of marketing. That wasn’t always so, as Robin Wight, chairman of WCRS, reminded me.

“Five years ago, I was working for the BBC on an on-air promotion, and at that time, ‘brand’ was a dirty word. Marketing was rather a nasty thing that lesser mortals, in less lucky occupations, became engaged with,” he said.

This wasn’t just a BBC view. Broadcasters generally disdained marketing. They insisted good programmes would find their own audiences, aided occasionally by on-air promotions and press publicity. But recently, Wight says, he met some people in BBC Radio: “I found a total cultural shift from five years ago.”

That shift is occurring elsewhere and the reason is clear: the sharp increase in competition, not just from C5 but from cable, satellite and digital channels. Jim Hytner, marketing director for BSkyB, says: “With 40 or more channels, it’s important for a channel to stand out and have a clear proposition for viewers.”

One problem for all broadcasters in the past has been the internal power struggles between those responsible for on-air presentation and promotion, off-air advertising, and press and public relations. Suddenly, it seems, almost everyone embraces the gospel of integration.

“On-air and off-air integration is vital,” says Hytner. “When we market Sky to non-subscribers, our own subscribers are seeing those messages. If they then switch on Sky and see a different creative campaign, that’s inefficient.”

C5, which has gone further than most in integrating its marketing effort, also cites greater efficiency as a benefit. David Brook, its marketing and communications director, is on the board, overseeing the on-air creative work, the PR and corporate affairs department, the marketing department, advertising, and every other element of communication.

Sally Osman, its head of corporate affairs, says: “The great strength of having integrated marketing is that the different areas within marketing can complement each other. Some parts of our programming are difficult to advertise – such as the soap – but are far easier to push through publicity. Movies are more difficult to promote through publicity but lend themselves to great advertising.

She adds: “The controllers are aware of our strategy and our branding, and that filters down into the kind of programming we commission.”

Once, such an approach would have been unthinkable in ITV. Clive Jones, chief executive of Carlton and chairman of ITV’s marketing committee, recalls how reluctant the ITV companies have been to relinquish power to a central marketing organisation. Now, he says, things are changing: “We couldn’t continue trying to run things with 15 different companies attempting to market the product. We decided we had to go through an integrated route, initially through a committee process.

“Very soon, like the BBC, we’ll have a fully-fledged marketing department, a marketing director with real power within the Network Centre, and fully backed up through all aspects of marketing, sales, research, press and PR.”

Listening to Jones it is clear just how far things have changed. “Broadcasters know about broadcasting, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they know about marketing,” he says. “The most important thing you have to learn is to reach for professional marketers, and listen to their experience and how they want to do things.

“Anyone who goes to the cinema and sees the superb ads that BSkyB produces, particularly for the Premier League, sees wonderfully thought-through, enormously expensive and polished ads that any of the big advertisers would be proud to produce. You have to fight fire with fire, because if you don’t, you lose market share.”

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