Want to make a programme? First decide who it's for
That's how the marketing mantra runs, and now the BBC has signed up to it. Should producers be concerned? The man responsible argues his case - and his vast budget - to David Benady
Monday 07 August 2006
Tim Davie spent 12 years promoting snacks and fizzy drinks for PepsiCo before setting up shop in White City last year with the intention of bringing a little of the savvy of the commercial world to the BBC.
When he started work as director of marketing, communications and audiences (MC&A), his job seemed straightforward enough: to promote the programmes and services created by the corporation. But last month, events took a surprising turn when director-general Mark Thompson announced a reorganisation of the BBC that puts Davie's department at the heart of the corporation's activities. Under the new structure, MC&A will play a central role in actually developing programmes and the department has been designated a "creative division".
Davie says that the MC&A department will be involved from the start in creating programmes. It will advise on the best ways to reach the desired audiences and suggest which television channels or radio stations to use and help to develop multimedia strategies. In truth, this is the direction broadcast media will take in the years ahead - to identify audiences rather than create content.
He admits that this might be seen as a "marketing takeover" of the corporation's commissioning process. "There's always sensitivity among programme-makers that we are moving to a more robotic corporate model where everything comes down to a numeric analysis of audience value. That's the last thing we want to do."
He denies the Beeb will end up resembling marketing corporations such as Procter & Gamble or PepsiCo, but says that "historically, marketing in broadcasting could be perceived as just adding a bit of sizzle to a programme once it is made. Now everyone in the organisation needs a deeper understanding of marketing at the beginning of the process. We need to spend money where we give most value to audiences."
A keen runner with a degree in English from Cambridge, Davie says he experienced a degree of culture shock when he joined the publicly funded BBC from the US multinational corporation, where he held a variety of marketing and general management roles. Filling the executive board role left vacant by Andy Duncan, who went on to become chief executive of Channel 4, has its challenges. Davie controls a marketing, communications and audiences budget of £85m with a staff of 400. His department oversees production of some 150 minutes of programme related promotions on BBC1 and 2 each week.
On joining the corporation, Davie's first task was to scrap 120 jobs in his department. This is still being completed, although it will involve only a "handful" of compulsory redundancies. It has been achieved largely by cutting the number of divisions from 20 to about eight and merging posts.
While Andy Duncan was known for a rather mechanical method of apportioning marketing budgets to programmes, Davie has updated the approach. "We have become less formulaic in what priority a campaign gets in support," he says. "Take The Apprentice. We didn't go into big outdoor places; we used bus-stop posters and pop-ups on the web. Like all marketers, we are more bespoke in the way we build campaigns now. We have added a lot more variables and options."
He predicts that BBC marketing will fundamentally shift over time. The BBC is about to launch iPlayer, a piece of software allowing the public to download and watch the past week's programmes. "The industry is going through such radical change - digital and on-demand change the game - so focusing on a really deep understanding of our audiences is going to become more essential. Part of my role is to enthuse the organisation with an appetite to go out and understand all audiences."
The 39-year-old from Croydon has overseen one of the biggest audience research projects ever undertaken at the BBC, which is the basis for Thompson's "creative future" strategy, an "editorial blueprint for an on-demand world". The strategy involves rebranding BBC News, creating a new brand for teenagers, allowing greater personalisation for online services and ensuring "findability" of content through better search tools, branding and navigation. In short, marketing will play a pivotal role.
Overall, though, Davie sees his main job as ensuring different audience groups feel they are getting value for money from the £126.50 licence fee. This sum will rise by 2.3 per cent a year above retail price inflation - hitting £150.50 by 2013 according to the corporation - under controversial BBC proposals being considered by the Government. "If you look at the data we have got, most people think the BBC offers really good value. I am optimistic that the BBC will continue to offer great value for all audiences in the context of the proposals we have put forward."
Davie's current big tasks involve commissioning new idents for BBC1 to replace those troupes of dancers, preparing for the launch of iPlayer, and working as a director of Freeview and digital switchover company Digital UK.
He says that Andy Duncan has set a good precedent by going on to run Channel 4. Davie knows that if he can succeed in putting marketing at the heart of the BBC, he could be in line to run a television station himself one day.
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