Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Tough love

We saw two new things from Rona Fairhead last night. First, that the BBC Chairman has a black two-piece in her wardrobe, as well as all those cream numbers. Second, that she has a business nose. 

The speech itself, her first in the job to the Royal Television Society, was 5/10.  Licence-fee payer "involvement" in Charter Renewal lacks any real sense of how that might be conducted, other than the usual rather tired surveys (one of which which accompanied the speech) and vague references to social media.

On the positive side, she now sees no issue in pointing out publicly what Tone and Executive are doing wrong. "I hope I’m no one’s idea of a cheerleader. I spent a lot of my working life competing hard against the BBC. I’m not someone to gloss over the BBC’s faults, problems or challenges – I see it as part of my job to identify and pursue them."

In the questions, we moved to 8/10. She revealed that only four million people are registered  "in any meaningful way" with the BBC, compared with 13m for Channel 4 and 8 million for ITV. It's a big issue - the BBC values say that "Audiences are at the heart of everything we do". Yes, except when when it comes to real interaction with individuals.

The BBC has all sorts of rolling surveys, panels, and spends heavily on polling and research on specific audience questions; there are individual departmental records of who, say enters Brain of Britain, who requests jazz records, who complains about The One Show, who buys the Countryfile Calendar; you can get a regular email from Radio2, and former staff get the chance of a newsletter; there's a Capita call centre which prides itself on answering the phone quick, and telling you who recorded various tv themes; but there's no holistic "Customer Relation Management" system, and nothing that links back to the 25m licence-fee payers. A proper system might be expensive, but you'd save squillions on other research - and you'd have endless engagement opportunities.

Interestingly, last month BBC Worldwide advertised for a CRM Manager. CEO Tim Davie would still have felt his ears burning the during the evening. Rona pointed out that Worldwide has revenues of £1bn but only returns £170m to the organisation - 'not a significant part of funding". No wonder she endorses Tony Hall's "revisiting the commercial strategy to get the best long-term results for the public".

Rona's irritated some BBC types by visiting competitors as well as BBC departments over recent months - not just newspapers, as she said, but rival broadcasters. They relish the opportunity to say how bloated Auntie is, still strangled by heritage work practices, and pompous as ever. Thus we get this bit in the speech.  "There remains a persistent refrain that the BBC is a difficult organisation to deal with: we’ve all heard the saying that partnership is something the BBC does to you rather than with you. It needs to become more agile – simpler to work in and to work with".

Might be time to dust down that McKinsey stuff again, and have a real go at re-structuring.

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