One Audience

Creating unity

One: It’s very now

Ed Miliband has been praised for his new positioning for the Labour Party, One Nation Labour.  This is a strictly non-political blog, but I like the idea of wresting the concept of one nation from the Conservative Party.

But I have heard this sort of thing before.  When I joined ITV last year, I was given a shirt and a mug with a ‘One ITV’ logo, encouraging us to all think of us working for a single organisation, even if we worked in different places.

My lovely mug. It has my name on the other side, and only goes red when warmed up.

My One ITV shirt. I admit… it’s not my favourite, but you will note, it IS wet

And when I was at the BBC there had been, you’ve guessed it, a ‘One BBC’ staff harmony campaign, though management missed the trick of providing a shirt or mug…

Why do broadcasters do this?  In part because every big organisation tries to encourage staff to like each other a little, but also because they believe the audience wants them to.  In order to compete with other broadcasters you have to harness the audience’s loyalty in one area and encourage them to try out other things.

‘Since you watch Channel 4 News you’ll love our Channel 4 News website’.

‘You listen to Radio 1? Have you tried BBC3’?  That sort of thing.

I’m going to tell you about a meeting I once attended, in which two BBC journalists discussed their experience of being given the chance to work in another part of the BBC for a few months: another way to foster a One Organisation spirit…

They were both radio specialists and had been sent to work on the BBC’s websites, and for BBC World News, the TV channel. One of them had hated the experience of working on line.  When writing radio scripts he didn’t have to worry about spelling.. he cared about how it would sound.  When he wrote pages of text for the website, he not only had to be very careful about spelling, he also needed to follow a strict style guide, and his copy needed to be easily edited as stories unfolded.  It was a culture shock, and he was relieved at returning to radio.

The other journalist felt liberated by switching from radio to online and to television because of the chance to tell stories in a different way, and to incorporate images.  His problem came when he mentioned the famous radio programme he normally worked on to his new colleagues. They barely knew it and never listened.  Even though they were journalistic soul siblings.  It came from a different building, and from a separate team, and so they didn’t bother about it.

So far from ‘One BBC’ there were often fractious relationships or no relationship at all.  Which is a real problem, and not unique to the BBC.

The BBC’s solution?  Requiring new staff to be skilled at working across media… AND moving to a single news building where they can get to know each other, share resources efficiently, and work more harmoniously.  And there’s something in this – the impact will be dramatic.  Binding talents together builds strength. Mongrels are more genetically robust than pedigrees – more adaptable and tougher. Town planners have found that the happiest large-scale building developments are where offices, shops and houses are mixed together rather than kept apart.

(I once worked at an office which was so short of things to do apart from work that many staff spent their lunch hour reading the newspaper on the toilet. The lack of alternative amenities meant that when the canteen closed for a day in 2002 following a rat infestation, staff rioted and three catering staff were killed*.  Then they built Westfield and the problem went away).  So a blend, but coming under a single ‘we are one’ banner can work well.

All this coming together under one roof was encouraged by audience research which found that to our viewers we were the same organisation.  If they could listen to the Today Show, watch the 6 o’clock news, and visit the BBC website why shouldn’t the staff?  The audience team even helped provide a mantra – ‘many audiences, one mindset’ – supported by a research project which had found that listeners in Africa and viewers in America had more in common than you might think.

How media organisations sometimes feel to the staff… and how they look to an audience

Deepening loyalty among TV viewers is actually quite hard.  Audiences may love the programmes, but not feel a particular affinity with the channel.  ITV and Channel 4 have long-standing plans to build a large database of loyal viewers to sell things… ‘You watch Allen Carr’s chat show, then come and see the Chatty man on tour’. If you like the Jeremy Kyle show, then ‘put something on the end of yours with our range of condoms…‘.

It’s… well, let’s see what happens

The prize of all this ‘One business’: mobilising audiences to switch between your different outlets, to respect your brand, to stay on your channel to try out the next programme, to wear the t-shirt, is so attractive that few can resist it.

One Nation Labour…  A decent stab.  Quite clever.  Certainly a better idea than ‘Team GB Labour



(*dramatic license… this didn’t actually happen)

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