BBC: Chasing Polar Bears

The news that Emily Maitlis and Jon Sopel are leaving the BBC is the latest in a line of senior journalist departures for the Beeb. It comes hot on the heels of business reporter losses precipitated by moving the R4 Today business team from London to Manchester and rumours that Amol Rajan was given the much-maligned interview with Novak Djokovic as a sop to avoid his defection to ITV. All this, of course, at a time when Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries is questioning the BBC funding model and when the Government, not to mention swathes of viewers, are concerned our once-loved national broadcaster has become too woke for its own good.  

So what does all this ‘trouble at mill’ mean for us PRs? 

Well, it merely confirms a trend that has been emerging in recent years. The BBC is no longer necessarily the golden ticket to getting your PR campaign away. It may no longer be the most coveted medium your clients want to cover your story. It may not, in fact, deliver the audience you need to address.  

That is not to say the BBC is no longer important. Don’t go writing the corporation off just yet. On the world stage, the BBC brand still shines brightly.  But with other media outlets and a proliferation of mediums growing loyal listeners and followers, from Global to You Tube to Podcasts, and with many of those outlets devoted to a preferred agenda, the media landscape is now so diverse that targeting content is a far more precise art these days.  Associating your brand and its experts with the agenda of your preferred media outlet by offering appearances/pitching articles increasingly requires consideration of the risk:reward ratio.  If the BBC can no longer hold itself up as the bastion of impartiality, then it becomes just another player in the influence game. 

Ms Dorries described the BBC this week as “a polar bear on a shrinking ice cap”.  That makes life more complicated for us PRs but also arguably more interesting too.  

Louise Beeson, 24/02/2022

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley

Send in the Clowns

Another day, another PR gaffe from Number 10 and its communications machine.

It might only be his first day in the job but the Prime Minister’s new director of communications, Guto Harri, has already made the UK national headlines for saying that Boris Johnson is “not a complete clown”.

Describing a meeting he had with Johnson last week, Harri told Welsh-language news website, Golwg.360, that the Prime Minster initiated a rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive, that there was “a lot of laughing” and “a serious conversation about how we get the government back on track and how we move forward”.

If Harri was trying to change perceptions of his boss from a party-loving clown – whether in the sense of a jester or a fool, or both – to a competent leader capable of serious thought and committed to delivering his agenda for the country, then it was an interesting approach, to say the least.

PR Perspective

One of the most basic rules of PR is, don’t say anything that you wouldn’t want to see in print – and that includes repeating inflammatory or damaging words, even if used in a negative context. As in Harri’s case, those words often become the headline and have the opposite effect to that intended.

Furthermore, if you’re going to cite examples, make sure they’re consistent with your overall message. The image of the Prime Minister singing a seventies disco classic with his new communications chief simply reinforces those perceptions of buffoonery. (Similarly, was eulogising Peppa Pig World in a speech to the Confederation of British Industry – as Johnson did last year – really going to burnish his credentials as someone serious about business?)

In another departure from PR best practice, Harri was repeating a private conversation he had with the Prime Minister, which he must have realised would be picked up by the mainstream UK media. Johnson’s official spokesperson declined to comment, saying he “would not get into private conversations”.    

And in telling the story, Harri has become the story – something which PR professionals usually go to great lengths to avoid. Their job should be to develop communications strategy, shape the messages and advise on their delivery from behind the scenes, rather than taking centre stage.  

Reactions from the Prime Minister’s opponents

Not surprisingly, the Prime Minister’s opponents have leapt on the comments, with Labour calling out the “clown show nonsense” and Nicola Sturgeon branding them “offensive” in the current circumstances.

Time will tell whether Harri and the rest of the new Number 10 team of “grown-ups” can help to reset the balance, restore trust in the government and ensure that the Prime Minister does indeed survive. There is no doubt that the task is immense – but it is certainly providing plenty of fodder for PR case studies.

Sarah Peters, 08/02/2022

We are recognised leaders in our field. We are proud to uphold the ethical and educational standards for the PR industry as members of the CIPR and PRCA.

Bell Yard Melanie Riley Bell Yard Melanie Riley