AUNTIE’S MARKETING MASTERPLAN: Once marketing was a dirty word at the BBC, now it is top of the agenda. John Owen looks at the two women who effected this sea-change and examines the strategies that will guide the corporation through competitive t

In the cosy days of monopoly, and later duopoly with ITV, the idea that the BBC might market itself was as unlikely as the Queen turning up at Ascot on a bike, wearing jeans. It simply wasn’t done.

In the cosy days of monopoly, and later duopoly with ITV, the idea

that the BBC might market itself was as unlikely as the Queen turning up

at Ascot on a bike, wearing jeans. It simply wasn’t done.

Now, however, the BBC has to fight for everything it once took for


Having staved off the threat to its licence fee just two years ago, it

will be forced to fight the same battle next year as the Government

begins yet another review of the corporation’s charter. At the same

time, its audience share is being eroded by a host of young competitors,

both on TV and radio - and their number is set to swell into hundreds as

the digital revolution begins later this year. As its audience

disappears, so too does the legitimacy of charging everyone for its

services. What’s Auntie to do?

The answer, of course, is to market herself and this is something the

BBC has been doing with increasing success over the past four or five

years. But it’s been far from easy.

For a start, its competitors don’t like it. Neither do its own

programme-makers, who see marketing techniques as anathema to their

instinctive creativity. And then there are the politicians, who wonder

why public money should fund an increasingly commercial company.

The corporation has tried to answer this last charge by separating its

commercial activities into a new company, BBC Worldwide. But for those

charged with marketing the licence fee-funded stuff, there are still

choppy waters ahead.

It’s a job that falls to two women who could not be more different. Sue

Farr, director of marketing and communications at BBC Broadcast, is the

glamorous face of the BBC. According to one insider, she ’knows her

limits, is good at delegating and makes marketing charismatic’. Jane

Frost, the head of corporate marketing, is ’more of a strategist’. Less

image conscious, she’s nevertheless responsible for buying some of the

BBC’s most acclaimed promotional work of the past year, including

’Perfect Day’ and, before that, Reeves and Mortimer’s ’Poldark on

mopeds’, both created by Leagas Delaney.

Officially, Frost and Farr have different remits, but there’s much talk

of tension and rivalry between the two. Frost is responsible for the

BBC’s corporate image, Farr is in charge of marketing the TV channels

and radio stations. An agency source says: ’They both have big jobs but

there’s some awkward crossover.’

Frost and Farr themselves admit to being interdependent, but paint a

more harmonious picture of their relationship. As they describe it, the

marketing teams from both the broadcast and corporate directorates are

united in their mission to introduce a marketing culture into the heart

of the BBC. They admit it’s a long and difficult process. ’Marketing is

still in its infancy at the BBC,’ says one source. ’It’s attached itself

to a few strong individuals, like Jane and Sue and the people they’ve

hired, but it hasn’t taken root.’ In the same breath, however, the

source adds: ’John Birt is determined it will, so it stands a good


According to Paul Twivy, whose agency, Circus, advises the BBC, early

hostility to marketing was unsurprising. The BBC switched too radically

from an ’Auntie knows best’ to an ’Auntie knows nothing’ approach that

put all the emphasis on research and none on the programme-makers’


Now, though, the corporation is seeking ’a balance of instinct and


Farr, who has been at the BBC longer than any other senior marketer, is

candid about how tough life was after she joined BBC Radio as its first

head of marketing in 1993. ’There were times when I felt we were pushing

against a closed door,’ she admits, before adding: ’Now we’re not even

pushing on the door; it’s open and we’re being invited through.’

It’s still tough. ’The BBC is full of frighteningly bright, passionate

people. The only way to gain their respect is by adding value to what

they do,’ Farr says.

Farr’s early successes included helping to launch Radio 5 Live and, with

the assistance of St Luke’s, turning Radio 1’s fortunes around. For her

efforts, she gained the admiration of Radio 1’s then controller, Matthew

Bannister, who singles out the ’as it is’ campaign in 1995 as the key

turning point which proved to him the value of marketing. In his new

role as director of all the BBC’s radio output, Bannister is a champion

of the marketing cause. ’All my controllers see marketing as the

priority,’ he says.

Farr, however, sees obstacles aplenty. With all those bright,

passionate, creative egos around in programme-making, it was crucial for

her to match them with strong personalities of her own and she has been

busy building a team around her since landing the top job at BBC

Broadcast last year.

’There are three essentials,’ she says of the qualities needed by her

lieutenants, ’marketing experience is a given, but they also need

resilience and the ability to understand where different people are

coming from.’ This last attribute is, she says, one of the reasons why

many of her recruits, including the acting head of marketing for radio,

Sophie McLaughlin, and Maureen Duffy, marketing controller of BBC TV,

are (like herself) ex-agency people.

Farr’s remit at BBC Broadcast is vast - from network TV and radio to

regional and educational output and online services. These all came

together in her trailer for the BBC’s World Cup coverage last month, a

piece of work she’s proud of. ’We’re thinking horizontally now,’ she

enthuses, ’whereas traditionally the BBC thought vertically. All of

these departments would have done their own thing.’

Like Farr, Frost has had her fair share of battles to fight. When she

arrived at the BBC from Shell in 1994, she had no job description, just

a table and a telephone. She, too, encountered resistance to the

marketing discipline - though no more from the BBC’s producers, she

claims, than from Shell’s nuclear physicists. To win them over in the

early days, she cannily orchestrated a series of ’small wins’ that

helped departments save money rather than spend it - such as improving

leaflet design, or ensuring they had a negotiating position on media. In

time, her role in persuading politicians to keep the licence fee, and

her ferocious commitment to the principle of a publicly funded BBC, have

also helped.

Most of what she and her team do now is brand marketing in the purest

sense: they make people feel good about the BBC - whether they’re BBC

workers, viewers or decision-makers. The commercial ventures benefit

from this and bring more money back into the BBC - something that, far

from apologising for, she sees as a key reason for her existence. ’We

can’t put money into commercial ventures because it’s not our money,

it’s the licence fee payers’ money,’ she explains, ’but what we can put

in is brand value. It’s like being a venture capitalist for Worldwide.

We have to return more value to the BBC than is expended in their use of

the brand capital.’

This is the sort of talk that makes the programme-makers reach for the

cyanide capsule. But if it’s meant to appease the external critics, it

doesn’t quite achieve that either.

Bob Wootton, the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers’ media

spokesman, doesn’t believe there is a distinction between the BBC and

BBC Worldwide: ’It’s an argument that gives them the justification to

pursue some pretty broad agendas,’ he claims.

Wootton is equally dismissive of Frost’s claims that ’Perfect Day’ was

not an ad for BBC Radio. While ISBA and the commercial radio companies

complain that it’s precisely the sort of promotion now banned for the

BBC’s magazines, Frost maintains: ’It’s about an organisation that can

get all these people together for no money. It’s nothing to do with BBC

music! It simply makes people believe that the BBC can deliver.’ Wootton

retorts: ’It’s a flagrant ad and a bloody good one!’

Richard Eyre, the ITV chief executive, is a less stringent critic. ’I

strongly believe in the licence fee as part of a three-tier system of

programme funding,’ he declares, ’alongside advertising revenue and

subscription revenue. But different funding sources bring different

obligations. The key measure of success for the BBC should be audience

reach, not audience share. At the moment, the BBC is aiming

unequivocally at share. Its behaviour is indistinguishable from that of

a commercial broadcaster.’

One way to remedy this would be to force the BBC to publish its

schedules before its commercial rivals. But these concerns aside, Eyre

is quite happy to see more promotions like ’Perfect Day’. ’There’s never

been a more competitive time in TV. We have to allow them to use

marketing tools.’

Wootton believes there is an intellectual argument to the contrary but

accepts that the BBC will not lie down. ’Instead of putting the BBC in

shackles,’ he says, ’we should unfetter everyone.’

In particular, his arguments refer to editorial restrictions. At the

moment, while ITV and its rivals are subject to the controls of the

Independent Television Commission, the BBC, in Wootton’s words, ’answers

to no-one but Parliament’.

Both ITV and ISBA are lobbying for a regulator for all TV, including the

BBC, and it’s a measure likely to be included in a Government green

paper due out later this year. As the arguments get ever more heated,

the BBC is bound to defend its ground. And guess how? More marketing,



April 1993 Sue Farr becomes the BBC’s first senior marketing

professional, as head of marketing and publicity, BBC Network Radio. She

reports to Liz Forgan, managing director of Network Radio

March 1994 Farr launches Radio 5 Live

September 1994 The BBC appoints Jane Frost as its first head of

corporate marketing. Her brief is to boost the BBC’s brand in a bid to

keep the licence fee alive as the Government reviews the BBC Charter,

which is due for renewal in 1996

April 1995 Radio 1 ’as it is’ campaign repositions the network as a

younger, more cutting-edge music station

August 1995 Frost delivers BBC2’s first ad campaign

December 1996 Government guarantees licence fee until 2002

June 1996 John Birt announces the creation of a new BBC directorate, to

be called BBC Broadcast, which will unite the scheduling, commissioning

and transmission of its television and radio channels

April 1997 BBC Broadcast launches formally with Will Wyatt as its chief

executive and Sue Farr as its pounds 120,000-a-year director of


May 1997 BBC calls in Paul Twivy to help co-ordinate an internal

strategic marketing review

September 1997 Frost launches ’Perfect Day’

October 1997 New BBC idents November 1997 BBC appoints Leagas Delaney to

the task of communicating its move into digital. In the same week, the

commercial radio industry, led by Capital, accuses the BBC of using its

own television airtime to advertise its radio stations

January 1998 Farr poaches Maureen Duffy from J. Walter Thompson for the

role of marketing controller of BBC Television. Other hirings follow as

Farr builds her team



Maureen Duffy, 39

marketing controller of BBC Television

After 15 years at J. Walter Thompson, most of it spent in the media

department, Duffy finally broke the umbilical chord to become the first

marketing controller of BBC Television in January this year. A

workaholic with a tenacity that made her a respected media negotiator,

she is charged with the tough task of making marketing as central a part

of the TV programme commissioning process as it has become in radio.

Sophie McLaughlin, 31

head of strategy and acting head of marketing for BBC Radio

McLaughlin learned her trade at HHCL & Partners where she was an account

director until joining Farr and Matthew Bannister at BBC Radio in


She was marketing manager for Radio 1 during the tricky repositioning of

the station and her success there made her an obvious successor to Farr

when the latter moved on to bigger things. Valued for her strategic

input as well as her marketing nous.

James Thickett, 34 head of marketing for the regions

Thickett is responsible for BBC Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and

the English regions across both TV and radio. A former Disney marketing

director who masterminded the launch of the Lion King, Thickett joined

the BBC in April and is recruiting marketing managers for each


With a CV that also includes fmcg experience at Nestle and Grand

Metropolitan, his task will be to counter the perception of the BBC as

being London-based and biased.

Dafna Israeli, 45

head of marketing BBC Education

Israeli has been in this position since 1996. A marketing consultant

specialising in change management and strategic planning for ten years

before joining the BBC, she has fully integrated marketing into the

commissioning process. Israeli’s brief is probably the least

controversial of all the BBC’s marketers as much of what she promotes is

not in competition with the private sector. Israeli controls the largest

marketing operation in BBC Broadcast, which she joined in April this


Dominic Riley, 36, head of marketing, BBC Online

Riley has been at BBC Online since last autumn and presided over its

launch in December. It is already the UK’s most popular site. He’s also

involved in piloting digital TV projects and chairs a committee which

co-ordinates all the BBC’s online activities, including BBC Worldwide’s

joint venture with ICL Fujitsu, Riley, who was the digital

radio marketing manager at the BBC for just over a year before landing

his current job, is a former music and video marketing specialist.

Previous employers include Sony Records, Polygram and Kingfisher’s music

and video distribution division, Entertainment UK.



Cary Wakefield, 36

project marketing director, digital services

Wakefield has the unenviable task of co-ordinating the marketing effort

for the launch of the BBC’s digital services. Her five years marshalling

pan-European brand launches for Quaker Oats between 1992 and 1997

qualify her to walk the tightrope between the different BBC directorates

involved in the digital launch.

Collette Lux, 32

head of marketing planning and communication

Lux spent nine years at one of Frost’s former employers, Unilever,

before joining her at the BBC. Last year she took the plunge to become

head of marketing planning and communication at the BBC. Everything from

trails to internal communications come under her remit.

Caryn Jones, 34

head of customer relationship development

Jones trained as an accountant before earning her marketing spurs at

Lloyds Bank, where she increased the weight given to direct mail. She

switched to the agency side as a strategic consultant for Tequila Option

One and joined the BBC as head of customer relationship development

earlier this year.

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