CAMPAIGN INTERACTIVE: PROFILE/RUPERT MILES - Beeb’s smooth operator steers the web outfit through troubled waters. Rupert Miles has skilfully avoided difficulties. But is this winning streak set to falter? John Owen reports

It’s not hard to work out why Rupert Miles has earned himself the title, ’Teflon King’. For one thing, he’s smoother than the least sticky, non-stick pan you’ve ever seen. For another, he’s rarely stuck at one job for more than about three years.

It’s not hard to work out why Rupert Miles has earned himself the

title, ’Teflon King’. For one thing, he’s smoother than the least

sticky, non-stick pan you’ve ever seen. For another, he’s rarely stuck

at one job for more than about three years.



Which, according to his critics, is why nothing nasty ever sticks to

him. He leaves, as it were, before the stick hits the pan.



But Miles has his fans too. While his laid-back, self-avowedly

’hands-off’ management style leaves some of his charges with the

impression that he’s downright lazy, others say it makes him a joy to

work for. And, as for his tendency to avoid those sticky situations,

they point to his current job as the head of the BBC’s commercial online

service, Beeb, as one of the stickiest and trickiest you could wish upon

anyone.



What is undeniable is that, for a pioneer of non-traditional media,

Miles is remarkably old school. A veteran of magazine publishing, you

could see him being far more at home in the pin-striped world of Conde

Nast than leading Beeb’s open-plan, open-necked revolution at BBC TV

Centre.



With the zeal of a true revolutionary, Miles has restructured the Beeb

operation four times in two-and-a-half years. But in truth, the

attributes which have enabled him to succeed at Beeb are not those of an

uncompromising radical, but the ultimate diplomat. He has skilfully

walked a tightrope between a number of potentially warring factions.



The most obvious antagonists are the commercial arm for which he works,

BBC Worldwide, and the directorate which produces the programmes and

therefore the brands with which he works, BBC Broadcast. But his

position is further complicated by the fact that Beeb is a joint venture

between Worldwide and the computer company, ICL.



In essence, the deal between the two is that ICL provides the funding

while the BBC supplies the content and the kudos. According to insiders,

however, both the nature of the content and the extent of the kudos have

not quite turned out to be what ICL had hoped for.



Thus far, Beeb has been an entertainment site aimed exclusively at a UK

audience, rather than a global news and entertainment site. News resides

on the other BBC site - which carries the prestigious BBC name and is

run by BBC Broadcast.



The deal with ICL runs out at the end of 1999 and, although he will not

say it, Miles appears resigned to the end of the relationship. One

possible way of saving it would be for the BBC to stump up some of its

own cash alongside that of ICL. The only other two options would seem to

be going it alone or finding another partner.



In the meantime, Miles awaits the outcome of the BBC’s strategy review

into the way it divides its different activities. Should the commercial

arm be responsible for developing websites based on licence fee-funded

programmes?



There are those inside the BBC who think not and it’s a testament to the

pressure he’s under that Miles has come up with an ingenious defence of

his activities: namely, that sites for brands such as Top of the Pops

and Top Gear are at least as much based on the magazines (produced by

Worldwide) as they are on the TV shows.



Will this argument hold water? One former BBC Worldwide employee is

doubtful.



’There is an axe hanging over Beeb,’ he says, ’at least in its current

format. If the BBC wants its digital function to be strong, it has to

accept it. But its role may change.’



But Miles is far from pessimistic. He’s excited to be involved in trials

of Microsoft’s WebTV service, is looking forward to the introduction of

more transactional facilities and is currently promoting the launch of

two Beeb sites: the Good Food Show and Good Homes. This move into more

mature, female-orientated content is, he says, a crucial step which

shows how the online audience is growing and diversifying.



So what will Beeb be like in two years’ time? ’We’ll have a mixed

economy at the BBC, with commercial and public service content on the

web,’ Miles predicts. ’I don’t know how we’ll be funded, but we’ll still

be in our ’investment phase’. We should be making profits in three to

four years’ time.’



Then, as now, the key measure of success will not be page impressions

but ad impressions and share of ad revenue. In this respect, Beeb has

performed well so far - remaining in the late 20s in terms of traffic

but taking the ninth-highest share of the ad market. The only problem,

as Miles points out, is the size of that market - but it’s growing and

will, he says, be ’buoyant’ at the turn of the year.



Indeed, there is much to look forward to. But whatever happens, it will

be a miracle if Miles emerges from the battles ahead with his teflon

coating unsullied.



THE MILES FILE



1996: BBC Online, director



1994: Radio Times, publishing director



1992: IPC Weeklies, group ad director



1991: Elle, publisher



1989: Sunday Correspondent, ad director



1980: The Guardian, ad sales executive, then ad manager



1977: Cambridge Evening News, ad sales executive.



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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).