HEADLINER: An unassuming brand expert with plans for BBC Worldwide

Quiet Peter Phippen is not the conformist he appears to be, Anna Griffiths finds.

Quiet Peter Phippen is not the conformist he appears to be, Anna

Griffiths finds.

Sitting in a large private room at the Groucho, Peter Phippen, or

’Phippo’ as close colleagues call him, shifts uneasily in his seat,

looking at odds with the chic surroundings and uncomfortable as I try to

steer him towards answering personal questions.

Being under the spotlight is not to his taste but, following his

promotion last week from director, BBC Magazines, to managing director

for the UK region - overseeing all BBC Worldwide’s TV and publishing

activities - he will have to stomach a bit more attention. His new job

results from the BBC’s decision in December to merge BBC Worldwide into

an integrated multimedia company in an effort to maintain its position

as a major media player.

Phippen is a magazine man, steeped in the medium since graduating from

Cambridge. Within four years of joining IPC as a graduate trainee he was

marketing manager for the monthlies group. Less than three years after

joining the BBC he was made publishing director at BBC Magazines.

Moving into TV is a big step for Phippen. ’I’m probably more daunted

than excited,’ he reveals. ’I don’t much like talking about things I am

completely ignorant about. Substance is very important, so probably for

some time I will remain silent.’ Despite his caution, the new job seems

to suit him well, given that he is passionate about brands not being

bound to one medium. ’The traditional way people have thought about

magazines in terms of brand extensions is a old fashioned. You need to

think about a proposition - a media idea - how you convey it to a group

of people and think of all the ways you can communicate it.’ He will

organise BBC Worldwide in the UK to ’manage ideas and communities of

interest, rather than individual media’. The change in structure will

emerge over the next few weeks.

Phippen looks rather like an Oxbridge don - 37 going on 50 - but despite

his fusty appearance he has not always followed the straight and


The son of a missionary, he was a rebellious teenager, riding motorbikes

and distancing himself from his conformist background. Then, having

tasted rebellion, he decided to steer himself back on to a more

conventional path.

There still remains, however, a desire not to conform totally. ’I could

not work for an organisation where I would have to follow orders and

obey a central vision of the company ethos. The BBC is an attractive

organisation - too anarchic in some ways. Don’t be fooled by dull

buildings and apparent bureaucracy. It’s full of entrepreneurs and

people who care passionately about programming - creative people who

don’t do what they are told. I like that.’

Phippen is not given to small talk and he thinks carefully before

answering each question, flushing occasionally when probed beyond his

professional boundaries. If he needs more time, one BBC source confides:

’He will take off his glasses and polish them furiously.’ He won’t be

hurried until he has worked out the best way forward, but when he makes

a decision, it is rarely undone. One media source who has worked with

Phippen, says: ’People underestimate him because he seems quite slow and

deliberate. He doesn’t really tend to build up the Peter Phippen


There is an arty side to Phippen, which he likes to indulge. One BBC

colleague recounts how, at a conference in Barcelona after a few drinks,

Phippen filled in on the hotel piano after the pianist had retired.

After playing brilliant jazz for over an hour, two elderly US tourists

thanked him and gave him a tip on their way out.

Despite his insistence that he will sit back, learn and wait before he

takes any major decisions in his new job, he has already formulated a

clear vision of what he wants to do. In his new capacity he aims to sell

across all BBC Worldwide’s activities ’bit by bit in the UK region for

BBC Worldwide, which will allow us to think editorially about what we

offer an advertiser across the organisation. It will be more creative

than cross-selling, but we will be able to provide solutions for

advertisers in more than one medium.’

Phippen is no doubt aware of the pressure on BBC Worldwide to generate

revenue back into the public service BBC, which faces

financial demands in an expanding multi-channel environment. By 2005,

the BBC’s director-general, John Birt, wants to have trebled Worldwide’s

contribution. In his own quiet way, without seeking credit, Phippen has

probably already, after much thought, plotted a successful course for

BBC Worldwide in the UK.

The Phippen file

1982: Graduate trainee, IPC Magazines

1984: Assistant publisher, women’s monthlies, IPC

1986: Marketing manager, women’s monthlies, IPC

1987: BBC Magazines, marketing manager

1990: Publishing director, BBC Magazines. Made board director in


1997: Managing director, UK region, BBC Worldwide.


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