The BBC kicked off a review of its advertising agencies in February.
This week the agencies pitching - Leagas Delaney, Fallon, Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters, Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, TBWA/London and Publicis - are expected to hear the Corporation's decision on who will be on its new agency roster.
That the review has taken nine months to complete demonstrates the level of turmoil within the BBC's marketing department. The review was instigated by Sue Farr, former BBC public service marketing director. But she resigned in May following the appointment of a non-marketer over her head, former BBC head of production Matthew Bannister. Bannister took the role of director of marketing and communications. His tenure has been short-lived; his resignation was announced in October and he will exit at the end of year.
While the BBC conducts interviews for a replacement, David Grint, head of core brand marketing, has taken charge of the agency review. Meanwhile, staff morale has plummeted to an all-time low and the BBC's marketing department has witnessed a haemorrhage of some of its brightest talent.
Recent departures include: Anna Gorman, head of new marketing; Cary Wakefield, BBC head of strategic marketing for radio; and Andrea Vidler, head of sports marketing and business development.
It is a measure of the uncertainty and ill-feeling that has been generated by these months of chaos that nobody interviewed for this article was prepared to talk on the record. However, several expressed surprise that the BBC is planning to announce its new agency roster before appointing a new marketing chief. As one insider put it: 'There is a good deal of uncertainty as to what the structure of marketing is and who the people in positions of authority are.'
The new agencies appointed by the BBC will be plunged into this turmoil.
Even though pitches have been completed there appears to be little understanding within the agencies of how the roster might be divided. 'We've heard nothing other than rumour,' says an agency insider. 'There has been talk of an agency for the main marketing area and another for youth. There has also been talk of an agency that will absorb the short-term workload and another with a long-term strategic focus.'
The BBC has not conducted a classic pitch process. There has been no presentation of creative work or ideas. Instead the focus has been on agencies proving that they understand the issues and challenges facing the BBC. A similar question is probably being asked of the candidates for the role of BBC marketing and communications director.
One of the biggest challenges for anyone new to the Corporation is that the BBC is unlike any other traditional marketing organisation. The complex structure within the marketing department (see box) reflects the fact that the BBC contains a myriad of different brands - channel brands, programme brands, presenter brands and, at the top, the corporate brand.
As with any broadcast company, these brands are very different from those a marketer controls in an FMCG environment. An FMCG marketer defines the image of their brands. A broadcast marketer has to accept that broadcast brands, by their very nature, exist within the public consciousness regardless of any marketing that may be created to support them.
Strategy in broadcasting
While marketers and advertisers like to think of themselves as high-level strategists, whose vision, backed by research and analysis, creates the definition from which a brand may be developed, the broadcast environment cannot so easily be controlled. Witness the recent attempts by TV companies to create programming to fit popular celebrities as an example of how a traditional marketing approach can flounder in broadcasting.
The BBC also has long-term strategic issues to face. There are fundamental shifts occurring in broadcasting that are likely to have an impact on the way that people will watch TV. This has led some observers to suggest that before long people will merely watch programmes, rather than channels.
It is far from certain if this will actually happen. However, all broadcasters will need to protect their brands at all levels so that, as the future unfolds, they will be prepared to defend their position.
Nowhere is this more apparent than when it comes to the BBC corporate brand. The BBC is a rare company in that it continues, despite growing commercial competition, to be seen as a symbol that unites the country.
This is based on its heritage as a public service company and lives on today despite its growing commercialism. Can it retain its standing in the public's view as it faces up to what is likely to be a more commercial future?
The new agencies and the new marketing chief will enter a complex marketing arena. Not least because it is, and has been for too long, an unsettled environment. This presents perhaps the BBC's most pressing marketing challenge.
The BBC is in need, more than ever, of some great marketing minds. Its image within the marketing community has taken a knock and, if it is to make appointments, this should be its first priority. As one commentator says: 'Whoever joins will need to rebuild the standing of marketing within the BBC. The department and discipline have been put back about 18 months by recent events, which it can ill afford.'
REWRITING THE BEEB'S MARKETING BLUEPRINT
The past two years have seen the BBC's marketing department undergo several internal re-organisations.
The first, under Farr, in early 1999 brought together all the BBC brands under one roof to form a department called BBC Public Service Marketing.
Within this there operated several interlocking hierarchies, with individuals responsible both for particular radio or TV channel brands, such as BBC1 and a parallel hierarchy of people responsible for genres, such as sports or entertainment.
This enabled marketers to be allowed input - although not control - on issues such as channel strategy and product development.
That all changed after the arrival of director-general Greg Dyke. In a review that began in May, the corporate communications department was streamlined into marketing under Dyke's appointee, Matthew Bannister, swelling the number of people in the department to close to 500. This includes about 70 marketers and all those working in public relations, audience research and customer services.
Bannister's marketing blueprint included the creation of 'attitudinal' marketing groups covering such areas as 'youth', 'mainstream', 'heartland' and 'nations'.
With the exception of 'youth', this blueprint failed to win the support of either those inside the marketing department or service directors and channel controllers within the BBC. According to one insider it is 'not in relation to how people consume broadcast brands'.
The BBC's public service remit, which has gone hand-in-hand with a poor view of commercialism, means that the BBC marketing department has, in the past, struggled to gain acceptance among certain factions within Broadcasting House.
Much of the credit for the current recognition of the importance of marketing within the Corporation must go to Farr and Jane Frost, who were the first 'professional' marketers to join the organisation.
However, the alliance between marketing and areas such as programming remains fragile. It is rumoured that Bannister sought to boost the influence of marketing on areas such as channel development and programming and consequently stepped on some toes. If this is true, it could make the job for his successor harder.