Why a funding cut can be an opportunity

In her first interview since becoming director of marketing and audiences at the BBC last year, Helen Normoyle tells Lara O’Reilly how the broadcaster’s marketing teams can continue to deliver at a fraction of the cost


Marketing Week (MW): The BBC is looking to make radical savings as a result of the six-year licence fee freeze. Where do you plan to cut marketing costs?

Helen Normoyle (HN): I have savings of 25% to deliver. Our money goes on people, making programme trailers and investing in research, so those are the pots of cash we need to look at. A key driver as we look to make these savings is how we improve our efficiency and effectiveness. So, to use a well-worn phrase, it’s about how we can do more with less.

That thinking was partly the impetus behind our restructure. We want to have more flexible people and streamlined processes to reduce the amount of time it takes to do something. That way, a 25% cut in budget doesn’t have to equate to 25% less work.

I’m a big admirer of Angela Ahrendts, chief executive of Burberry, who said about three years ago that you should “never waste the opportunity of a good recession”. If you look at Burberry’s recent financial results, clearly it hasn’t.

We’ve got to take this positive approach and use the situation as an opportunity to rethink how we do things to deliver ever greater value for money.

MW: You restructured the marketing teams in April so that your creative marketers can work across a range of brands. Was there a sense of working in a more siloed way before?

HN: To be honest, yes. It was a function of history – and I don’t think the BBC is alone in that. Matrixed working and flexible teams are the way forward.

I like to simplify things. The way you do that here is to bring everything back to the audience and this cuts through all the things that can make the way you are working seem complicated.

We set up the new ‘creative marketing’ team because we felt, given the imperative to deliver even greater value for money, it was important to have more flexibility. When you have fixed teams in each area, it’s harder to get that. By pulling everyone together it gives people the ability to move around the organisation. And there’s a definite upside to that in terms of career development: it gives people the opportunity to spend 10-15% of their time on ‘Brand B’ as well as concentrating on ‘Brand A’.

MW: How seriously is marketing taken at board level at the BBC?

HN: In my experience, marketing is treated very seriously. The BBC produces more than 22,000 hours of programming every year and it is really important that people know where to find it.

Marketing in terms of audience planning, working with programme makers to help refine shows and see how viewers are reacting, is absolutely critical, because in this industry you know the next day whether something has worked or not.

There’s a lot of emphasis on marketing at the BBC currently. If you look at the big campaigns we have coming up this year, especially 2012 and the work we are doing around the time of the Cultural Olympiad and the Games, we feel this is being taken very seriously at board level.

MW: How do you meet the need to showcase your content without the public thinking you are wasting licence fee money on self-promotion?

HN: For the most part, people enjoy watching our trailers and they don’t feel like [our marketing] is advertising. It builds excitement for upcoming shows, new things we’ve introduced and it reminds people of the things they love from the BBC.

We put all our trailers on YouTube and the responses from most people are ones of excitement, such as: “I can’t wait to see this”.

MW: What are your marketing plans for what the BBC has billed the “first truly digital Olympics” this year?

HN: For our trailers and other activity we are going to use particular colour palettes for key areas. We did something similar for our Shakespeare season so that we could draw together different programmes. We want to make people aware that all of our London 2012 content – be it music gigs, the torch relay or the Games themselves – is all part of the Olympics. Some of the content can be quite disparate but the subtle branding will bring it all together.

It’s all about creating a branded look and feel for what the BBC does for people in the UK around the Olympics. It will be an interesting way for us to speak to people and hopefully get them feeling good and excited about what’s coming up. We hope viewers will feel that wherever they live and whatever they are interested in, they’ve got their own pass to the Games.

It’s important for us to find the right moments to show the broader thematic events [such as the music gigs] and we are looking at how we can continue to use that approach after the Olympics. What we are doing will be quite special in terms of being reflected across all our platforms – it’s a brilliant opportunity.

MW: Given that the BBC is a public service broadcaster, are there ever any opportunities for brands to get involved with the organisation?

HN: There are sometimes partnership opportunities. The BBC is contributing to a pop-up digital channel called The Space, funded by Arts Council England, due to launch in April or May. Our role there is providing technological expertise and mentoring.

The BBC can’t provide the traditional brand tie-ups but partnership is a really important dimension to what we have to offer to the UK, particularly around culture and media literacy with activities like [Martha Lane-Fox’s digital initiative] Race 2012. The BBC brand adds a lot of value and that’s the kind of area where we have a public purpose in terms of delivering.

MW: How do you balance the needs of the BBC with your commercial arm BBC Worldwide? Do you work closely together, and is there ever any tension?

HN: Name me an organisation where there isn’t tension! There’s a healthy tension: if there wasn’t we would be dead. There’s always room for debate and we are lucky to have a good relationship and discuss things productively because, all considered, we have the same objective: to deliver great experiences for our audiences.

Historically it was easy to keep activity from the different companies separate, but digital is a global platform. You don’t need a passport to see our international content.

From a branding perspective, it’s all about clarity and consistency. If you go to the Doctor Who exhibition in Olympia [London], it can’t feel completely different from the branding of the Doctor Who TV show. A key part of the brand team’s job is developing brand guidelines and propositions to be implemented globally.

MW: What do you want to have achieved by the end of this year?

HN: This is a momentous year; there’s a lot of events going on and lots of things to discover. It will be particularly challenging, especially with what we plan to do digitally around the Olympics.

The environment will be tough, especially with the cuts we have to make in the next financial year, but I hope by this time next year we can look back and be proud of what we’ve done with the BBC and the role we’ve had to play in it.

Stick that in your pipe: Faced with funding cuts, the BBC has rejigged marketing to ‘do more with less’

BBC – the real story

The British public broadcaster faces a major financial challenge after the government announced it was to freeze the licence fee until 2017 – equating to an estimated 16% cut in funding. The BBC has pledged to save another £670m a year – equating to 11% – by the end of that period by increasing productivity; reducing some content, services and staff costs; and generating additional income from commercial activity. All these savings must be made while protecting the BBC’s five editorial priorities/ journalism; knowledge; culture and music; UK drama and comedy; children’s programming and “events that bring communities and nations together”.

The marketing department must cut costs by 25% over the next financial year.

Streamlining has already taken place, with the departure of the BBC’s former marketing head Sharon Baylay and a restructure of the unit last April. The division now comprises a brand team, responsible for specific channels and genres, and a creative team that works across brands to a more central unit. Around 70 marketing team members have also relocated to the BBC’s new base in Salford.

Marketing will be in the spotlight in the coming months as the BBC points viewers to its coverage of the Olympic Games, which is set to include a personalised, social, multiplatform digital hub of content.

BBC real-time reader responses


Is the BBC investigating more connections with live social media interactions, such as drama plotlines guided by Twitter?

This does get discussed internally but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all usage of social media. Take drama/ people come to BBC dramas to sit back and be drawn into the story; they want the author to make the choices for them. Is there a role for social media-led plotlines in drama? I’m not sure that’s what the audience would want.

However, if you look at things like the Question Time hashtag and the use of Twitter when Top Gear is on, there are opportunities there to build even deeper relationships with our audience. We must balance being fleet of foot and embracing change with not overreacting and trying to splash things everywhere.


How is the BBC shifting its marketing activity to support the proliferation of tablets and smartphones?

I’m less hung up on technology and more concerned with the audience benefit and how it delivers our proposition. The approach marketing people should take is to be solution-oriented and leave the tech experts to implement it.

We did a huge amount of work on our website redevelopment to ensure the positioning and strapline [‘Come for the things you need, come back for things you discover’] was well-received, and it’s now been nominated for a design award. That shows how much the BBC listens to its audience and puts their interests first.



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