BBC crisis: why former marketer and acting DG Tim Davie should axe the Newsnight brand

Later today we may learn the fate of flagship BBC news brand Newsnight. If former P&G marketer and the BBC's acting DG Tim Davie decides to axe it, he or his successor should also look to slim the rest of the BBC's overcrowded news brand portfolio

Tim Davie must be either pinching, or kicking, himself. Only last month Davie, then the BBC's director of audio and music, was unveiled as the chief executive of BBC Worldwide, a role that would play to the former Procter & Gamble marketer's commercial strengths.

On Saturday that career trajectory was dramatically interrupted.

Parachuted into the job of acting director general of the BBC on Saturday night, in the wake of George Entwistle's shock resignation, a pale-faced Davie headed into work on Sunday with press skepticism about his credentials for the interim role ringing in his ears.

But, no matter. He has a job, albeit an 'acting' one, to do. Top of the agenda set by BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten is to decide the fate of 32-year old news programme, Newsnight.

'One of the things that should survive is the investigative journalism which it has represented'‚ Patten said on Sunday, refusing to comment directly on Newsnight's likely fate. 'At the heart of our news offering has to be uncompromising investigative journalism, but you have to get it right.'

This is where Davie's background as a P&G and PepsiCo marketer is likely to influence his decision to axe or retain Newsnight. He may consider how...

1. News is pivotal to the overall BBC brand. One rotten apple can't be allowed to taint that

BBC news is, as the corporation's former head of youth, news, education, sport and online marketing and now CEO of Fallon, Gail Gallie, wrote in Marketing last week, its 'core output pillar'.

It's a brand on which the BBC spends to defend. A freedom of information request by The Guardian found that the broadcaster spent more than £700k between 2007 and 2011 on legal fees to protect its journalism.

News brands such as the Today show, PM and the World at One arouse responses in consumers that can range from anger and defensiveness to ownership, pride and curiosity.  If these reactions don't suggest news programmes are 'brands', I don't know what does.

But when brands become tainted, brand owners have little choice but to delist them. If the News of the World was scrapped because of its besmirched brand, due to its relationship with the phone hacking scandal, how can Newsnight hope to avoid the same fate?

Newsnight's brand will forever be linked with the original decision not to run the Jimmy Savile expose, then to overcompensate with a programme featuring Bryn Estyn's claims.

2. There are too many news sub-brands within the BBC

Observers note a level of journalistic competition within the corporation that borders on the Darwinian.

Full of clever people, the BBC produces a vast news output across so many programmes, that it is conceivable how one show was working on a tribute to Jimmy Savile, while another was investigating child abuse allegations against him.

Time for Davie, with his marketing savvy and sangfroid, to delist the once-premium brand Newsnight.

3. Can news brands be revived?

Yes, and no. Does anyone under 40 years of age remember World in Action, ITV's once great investigative programme? No, thought not.

It's gone by the wayside while in recent years its BBC rival Panorama, famous as a ground-breaking, agenda-setting current affairs programme, was sidelined and reduced.

It was brought back to primetime by George Entwistle, and has had a pivotal role in examining the failures of the BBC in the Jimmy Savile affair.

However the marketer in Davie may consider the Newsnight brand to be so blighted as beyond repair.


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