MEDIA HEADLINER: The BBC's enthusiastic client with a blue-chip background. Andy Duncan is driving the BBC's new-found marketing creativity

Rooney Carruthers pretty much summed it up in last week's Private View. Not so much the bit where he said that he loved the new Radio 1 ad. Nor when he was also moved to say: "This ad is perfect." No. It was what he said after that.

s "This is a client extracting every last drop of creativity from its agencies" statement that hit the mark.

If the BBC is firing on all cylinders, one of the most important guys in the engine room is Andy Duncan, the corporation's marketing and communications director.

Someone somewhere should write a case study about the BBC and its long, and often troubled, relationship with the marketing discipline. You take this corporatist, quango-like body staffed at the top by pompous jobsworths who, if they have anything in common at all, are united in their instinctive loathing of "trade". The sorts of people who, when they think marketing, they think Reggie Perrin and CJ at Sunshine Desserts.

Then you go through a period when they pretend to embrace modernity, but do it in such a way as to prove that it's all a lot of pretentious nonsense. They appoint the wrong people, well-meaning but lightweight people, or they appoint promising people but undermine their ability to work by loading insufferable internal politics on them or by pulling the budget out from under them when they're not looking.

And then, by some miracle, they find themselves giving the job to Duncan.

And they also find themselves giving him all he needs to do the job. And something rather amazing starts happening.

Duncan joined 15 months ago from Unilever where he spent 17 years rising through the ranks. He's the BBC's first heavyweight marketer with impressive blue-chip credentials - and the commercial sector is feeling the full force of his ability to maximise the potential of the BBC's output at a time when that output, let's face it, is as patchy as it has ever been.

The BBC marketing team is now gearing up for a particularly intense period of activity when it will launch not just another digital channel in BBC3 - a revamped version of the current youth-orientated BBC Choice - but a whole new DTT platform, Freeview (Spotlight, p14).

Duncan tends to downplay his role - largely, perhaps, because he likes to be seen as a team player. He also argues that he was lucky in that he came to the BBC at exactly the right time. It was already rediscovering all that was good about its cultural heritage and it was also leaving behind the factionalism that blighted the regimes of previous director generals as it embraced the "one BBC" philosophy of the current director-general, Greg Dyke.

"It's true I came here after there had been some turmoil and people recognised the benefits that marketing and communications could bring," he says.

Duncan says he has a clear understanding of the relationship between the "masterbrand" BBC to its myriad component brands - individual radio stations and TV channels. At the simplest level it's about marrying content and audience in the most effective way. Each clock hour, the BBC puts out 30 hours of content across the totality of its stations and channels.

"We have to make sure that people find out what is important for them," he states.

Some observers thought that Duncan might become frustrated with the BBC culture when he first went there. William Eccleshare, the chairman of Y&R Europe, who previously worked on Duncan's Van den Bergh accounts at Ammirati Puris Lintas, wasn't one of them. "I actually think the BBC was an extremely astute career move," he says. "He's clearly demonstrated that he can operate in a bureaucratic environment. He's been a breath of fresh air."

And Duncan claims that, contrary to the arrogant image that the BBC has managed somehow to construct for itself in recent years, the truth is that it's actually an immensely creative organisation.

The corporation is getting creative stuff from its agencies (Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, Fallon and DFGW) - a development which, Eccleshare argues, should surprise no-one: "He's an enthusiast to work with. It's always great to work with a client who you feel is well disposed to creative ideas. One who tends to get things quickly and is quick to enthuse if the idea is good. People genuinely love working with him. He's a source of great energy."

So, basically, the commercial television sector should expect to be under the cosh for the foreseeable future, shouldn't it? Well, maybe. But Duncan isn't too comfortable with such talk. It's certainly not how he sees his role.

"It's sometimes tempting to believe that your successes are better than they are and the failures worse. These things tend to be cyclical. We're certainly not getting carried away," he concludes.


1995: Van den Bergh Foods, business unit chairman

1997: Van den Bergh Foods, marketing director

1999: Unilever, European category director, food and beverages division

2001: BBC, director of marketing and communications


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