Sue Farr’s role is evidence of a change in marketing attitudes. By
Richard Cook says investigates.
Corporations do things a little differently. Differently from their
smaller brethren, differently even from themselves. There is, however,
one way in which they do resemble one another, and that is in the
stolid, reassuringly inane job titles they produce.
Ask Sue Farr, who was last week promoted from her position as controller
of marketing, BBC Broadcast, to the newly created post of director of
marketing and communications, BBC Broadcast (Campaign, 21 February). And
in the obfuscated details of that change lies one of the most important
stories in the BBC’s future.
In person, however, Farr has clearly taken this obfuscation to
She is keenest, first of all, to explain what her job does not entail -
it isn’t, for example, about marketing BBC Worldwide, the Beeb’s
commercial arm: not therefore about promoting the digital pay television
stations the corporation is developing together with Flextech.
It’s not about BBC News, nor about the planned 24-hour news service.
Her job description does not cover the corporate centre, which handles
the TV licensing campaign, nor does it cover Radio 5, the station Farr
helped to launch, and it emphatically does not involve her taking on
overall responsibility for the BBC brand.
As she talks, you can almost see her gently soothing the bruised egos of
each of those department heads, unhappy that her appointment has been
greeted in the press as that of a marketing supremo across the entire
corporation. It’s easy to forget the bits she is left in charge of -
BBC1, BBC2, Radios 1,2,3 and 4, regional broadcasting, educational
broadcasting and any new non-commercially funded digital services -
together command a budget of pounds 1.4 billion. We’re not talking about
the margins of public broadcasting here. Farr, the woman who launched UK
Gold with some alarmingly obscure canine advertising (remember the UK
Gold dog?), is in charge of mining the BBC’s mother lode in the
It’s a huge job by any standards - defining the future marketing
positions of the Beeb’s biggest brands in an era of increasing
fragmentation and competition.
’My job is really to develop a co-ordinated marketing strategy across
BBC Broadcast, to take the big picture and develop ways of connecting
with the various audiences,’ Farr says.
Much the same sort of job, looked at that way, as Farr has already been
doing for network radio. There her solution to the declining listener
share was to invest in above-the-line advertising and improve external
communications out of all recognition.
Evidence for the first of these claims came with the appointment of the
then Pattison Horswell Durden in a consultancy and buying role, and in
the fact that, the BBC’s five national radio stations now spend around
four times as much as the BBC’s TV stations put together (ACN MEAL).
As for improved communications - now when BBC Radio explains its Rajar
results, at least there is a better-than-even chance that the
presentations will be handled efficiently and the requisite message put
across. A modest achievement that couldn’t always be taken for granted
in those pre-Farr days when the fact that the overhead projector worked
was cause for celebration.
Farr’s new job would seem to require rather more than that. Her
presentation and people skills are obvious strengths and she is popular
in the industry. Even her friends concede, however, that she would not
be the most obvious choice to write a marketing plan to guide the whole
of UK non-commercial television towards the millennium.
But then that’s part of the ambivalent nature of the BBC towards its own
marketing, especially its core businesses. While BBC Worldwide is
encouraged to behave as a commercial company, on the home front the BBC
sometimes seems to have to walk a perilously fine line. On the one hand,
successful marketing will help increase viewer and listener numbers and
stave off criticism that the licence fee is being used to subsidise
On the other hand, there is a perception widely held - at least outside
the marketing community - that the BBC is wasting licence payers’ money
’I think you could argue that the BBC has a duty to inform its viewers
and listeners how it is spending their money,’ Andrew Cracknell, the
chairman of Ammirati Puris Lintas, which handles Radio 4 and 5, says
’Viewers will look for quality programme makers like the BBC to cut
through the increasing choices - that’s where marketing comes into its
And Farr might well get help - the BBC is still holding conversations
about at least one other senior management position that will apparently
work alongside Farr’s new role. For the meantime, it is left to the
former UK Gold marketing director to ensure that the BBC prospers as the
launches of channels like that one start to dull by their very