So the commercial sector has finally decided to complain to matron
(ie. Gerald Kaufman and the Commons media committee) about that nasty
playground bully, the BBC (Campaign, last week). The charge? That the
BBC is acting in an unseemly and aggressive commercial manner.
Cripes, as if that wasn’t bad enough, ITV says the BBC has even been
copying its homework (Neighbours at War versus Neighbours from
But let’s stop for a moment and examine the substance of the
Do the BBC’s activities pose a threat to commercial media? Yes, but
’twas always thus. What exactly are those activities? In no particular
order, they seem to be: the magazines, BBC Worldwide, BBC News 24 and
UKTV, which includes the Flextech deal. All these are marginal
activities but they represent a toe in the water for the brave new media
future. The BBC is doing what any sensible media organisation should -
looking ahead. Does the commercial sector seriously expect the BBC to
ignore digital and all its implications?
The second charge is the level of the BBC’s cross-promotional
I have some sympathy with the commercial lobby. But it is naive. If the
BBC does all this other stuff, then it must promote it and it must, by
definition, promote it on its own airtime.
No, I suspect their real gripe is not that the BBC does all this
cross-promotion but that it is so good at it. How galling it must be for
commercial media to hear the whole country singing Perfect Day.
However, the underlying cause of this must surely be the legislative and
regulatory framework under which the BBC operates. Bear in mind that it
was drawn up for another era, before digital was a glint in anyone’s
Clearly the commercial lobby wants some new rules of engagement. The
trouble is that, whatever they are, they will soon be out of date. The
Government may find it easier to let sleeping dogs lie.
Poor old Ogilvy & Mather must be sick of reading about Guinness. So I
write to offer some words of encouragement. What goes around comes
around, especially in adland.
It should, therefore, take heart from the example of M&C Saatchi. Just
before Christmas it was fired by ITV (account worth pounds 10 million).
Last week it was hired by BSkyB (worth pounds 20 million).
It’s good psychology for a client to pick up an agency when it’s
The agency’s gratitude means it will be rewarded with extra effort - if
only to prove the other buggers wrong. On this basis, the member of the
beerage that picks O&M will get a seriously motivated agency. Looking at
potential candidates, my advice is that Tetley, which has had the worst
advertising of any brewer for several years, should get itself down to
But O&M shouldn’t rush into the arms of the first brewer to look its
way. Remember Barker & Ralston: having lost Saab, it signed up Kia Cars,
portentously claiming it would do for Kia what Bill Bernbach did for VW.
That’s Kia Cars, the ones from South Korea.