Getting your spokesperson on BBC national TV and radio

Last week (ish) I attended a Gorkana media briefing with Rebecca Wearn from BBC Breakfast and Sean Farrington from BBC Radio 5 Live’s ‘Wake Up to Money’. These sorts of events are usually hosted in London, so it was great to get the chance to attend one in Manchester – yet another benefit of the BBC moving some of its operations to Salford.

There were some impressive figures bandied about. BBC Breakfast attracts around 7m viewers each day and up to 15m in a typical week. And while Wake Up to Money averages a less jaw-dropping 0.5m weekly listeners, it’s recognised for setting agendas and, due to its early morning slot, often sources the guests that end up on the BBC’s broadcast coverage throughout the day.

Here are the top 5 take outs for PR’s wanting to secure a slot on national BBC broadcast shows:

#1 Tune in to the national news agenda
It’s tough to hear but the BBC probably isn’t that interested in the opening of your brand’s 1000th store. Rebecca Wearn told us so. National BBC outlets deal with the biggest issues of the day, so in most cases what they really want from your brand is an insight into a topical issue that they’re already talking about. A great PR will be scanning the topical issues in their field all the time and when an opportunity arises where their spokesperson will be able to offer valuable insight, they’ll make contact. Daily news monitoring and regular environmental scanning is a must.

#2 Put your best woman forward
Last year, the BBC launched an expert women database to try to increase the number of female spokespersons involved in its programmes. So it should come as no surprise that, given the choice between two guests of equal merit but opposite gender, both Breakfast and 5Live will always choose the female of the species. This is really a noble attempt by the BBC to balance its output and both Sean and Rebecca spoke about the added variety and different perspective female experts can offer as a benefit. So if you have a female expert on hand, use her!

#3 Talk like a real person
It’s quite an obvious point but when the BBC puts experts on its TV programmes and radio shows what it really wants is for people to be able to understand them and relate to what they’re saying. What they don’t want is for business people to start talking about ‘streamlining our strategy’. Nobody wants that. It’s also massively important that brand mentions are subtle and relevant to the conversation. The quickest way to get a BBC interview cut short is to crowbar a series of unnecessary brand mentions into the conversation. That’s also the quickest way to get your expert’s name crossed out of the BBC’s little black book for future interviews too. PR is about relationships and it seems that relationships don’t come back from being cut off in a live national broadcast interview.

PR meme

#4 Location, location, location
For Rebecca, once she has decided to do a story for BBC Breakfast, the first priority is to find the right location. As a visual medium, location is of course incredibly important for TV, so it’s useful to think how you can use what’s at your disposal to add visual value to the story. If you’re lucky enough to be blessed with a location that looks great and would tie in with a story that’s often in the news, you might want to pull together a portfolio of photos. Rebecca keeps a folder of her favourite locations with her at all times so she can consider them for future stories. It might be worth trying to get into that folder…

#5 Know that they want to work with YOU
I don’t know whether it was the 200 PR professionals sat between them and the exit but both Sean and Rebecca assured us that they like working with good PR’s whenever possible. We can put them in touch with the people they want to talk to and we can help to ensure that those people understand the boundaries too. In return, the BBC will always be honest about the purpose of an interview. They’re happy to talk PR’s and spokespeople through the format of the interview and the main areas of questioning (though not to such a degree that the expert can rehearse their answers) and they won’t change the interview focus without letting you know in advance either.

#Bonus – poll 2,000 people or more
If you do a survey, make sure you get at least 2,000 respondents. The exception is if you have polled a specialist group such as GP’s. In that case the BBC may accept smaller sample.


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