Tuesday, 5 January 2010

PD and the DG of the BBC

I suspect the Director General (DG) of the BBC was expecting a cosy post-Christmas chat when he agreed to appear on the Today programme guest edited by the crime writer PD James on 31st December.

I didn’t listen to it myself (being laid up in hospital with a broken ankle I only had access to Radio Warrington General which was only marginally more bearable than the quality of food on offer) but I have since read an account kindly provided by the Daily Mail.

Instead of a cosy chat PD launched into a forensic examination of the current state of the BBC. A mere blog is not enough space to cover all her areas of probing (needless to say she was unimpressed with the quality of programming on BBC3, in particular ‘Help me Anthea, I’m Infested’) but there was one area of interrogation which will be of interest to all those in PR.

PD questioned the number of senior communications people the BBC has on its staff and their seemingly overlapping spheres of influence. The current count is that the BBC has four senior executives with responsibly for communications, audience interaction or brand. In fact there is currently a ‘Director of Marketing and Communications and Audiences’ and a ‘Director of Communications’ both in post.

Even more staggering is the size of salaries being paid. The Director of Marketing Communications and Audiences is currently paid £310,000 a year. The Director of Communications nearly £250,000.

The usual excuses were rolled out by the DG, ‘market forces’, fear of losing high quality people to commercial rivals, in line with the private sector etc.

I suspect most PR people reading this, even those in the heady echelons of financial PR in London, will be delighted to hear that they can expect to earn up to £310k at some point in their career. This by the way is exactly the same amount earned last year by the UK Managing Director of Northgate PLC, a FTSE 250, including bonus. Of course the difference is that Phil Moorhouse of Northgate is answerable to his shareholders, has forecasts and budgets to hit. The Director of Marketing Communications and Audiences at the BBC is answerable to er ... well good question!

The DG is of course talking complete tosh and gives the impression he is completely out of touch with reality, which is not good as the Beeb is under pressure as never before.

I have documented recent BBC failings in a previous blog, but you can be sure that David Cameron has not let this one slip past him. Dave is a former Head of Communications for BskyB (you can bet Murdoch didn’t pay him £310k a year) and will be under pressure from his former employer to break up what News Corporation regards as a state-sponsored monopolist. The Beeb cannot afford this sort of public relations disaster, particularly at a time when scrutiny of public sector spending has never been more stark.

However, even in this debacle, you can see still why the BBC is a national treasure which needs preserving, but reforming urgently. PD conducted her examination of the Director General on the BBC Today Programme without fear of censorship or the heavy hand of interference from either shareholders or senior management. In the world of News Corporation this was akin to the The Times conducting an investigation into The Sun. How likely is that?


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