The battle is on for screen time

Last Friday, ITV marketing director Clare Salmon put in a telephone call to BBC Broadcast. It was the call Andy Bryant, director of Creative Services had been waiting for – the call that would secure the future of the broadcast design team at a very fragile moment – just as it exits the BBC for good. ‘We may not know who is going to buy us, or what we’ll be called,’ he must have thought to himself, ‘but we have screen branding contracts for ITV and the BBC. We’re in business!’

Come 2 October, just as it is launching another autumn schedule and popping the champagne corks for its 50th anniversary, ITV’s new-look screen branding should be hitting our screens. One thing is for sure: it’s not just the nation that will be watching. So will the channel heads and marketing directors from channels one, two, four and five, just like they probably were last New Year’s Eve, when Channel 4’s in-house team, 4creative, unleashed its own screen-busting rebrand. The question is, can ITV raise the bar this time?

Branding ITV is a big job. It’s not just another chalk point on the wall to BBC Broadcast in the war of the screen designers. It also affords a big enough pot of cash to sustain anyone in these leaner times.

Once the euphoria has settled down though, there is a lot for BBC Broadcast to do in a short space of time, particularly considering Channel 4 allowed two years to create its latest look.

If estimates of the ITV budget for a full rebrand are correct, (Salmon apparently wanted it to come in at £1m, though some costed it closer to £3m), the six sequences being designed won’t have massive individual production budgets.

And even if work begins immediately after ITV’s board meeting next week, (which will sanction the extent of the rebrand based on Salmon’s research findings), that only leaves four and a half months. It’s not a long time to create a channel brand from scratch, assuming that is the direction chosen.

Channel 4 director of network marketing Polly Cochrane raises the concern that such a short time frame to do the work may not allow for the critical task of ‘making sure you have the necessary buy-in across the organisation’.

The irony of a BBC-branded design team working for ITV is by no means lost on Cochrane, who expresses some surprise that Salmon did not approach 4creative. Brett Foraker’s design team at Channel 4 has, after all, designed sponsorship idents for ITV and Sky.

‘It does feel a bit odd that ITV is working with BBC Broadcast, and also odd that it didn’t approach the 4creative team, though I’m not sure how I would feel about us working on a competitor’s brand. We would probably have had to have turned them down,’ she says.

The challenge of enunciating its values on-screen will be a big one for ITV, if what Cochrane says is true. ‘I am not clear what ITV stands for other than safe, familiar and mainstream,’ she says.

But perhaps all that will change. Salmon’s appointment of M&C Saatchi – her old agency at the AA – to refine a brand position for its channels, is certainly a first step forward. If it follows the branding procedure adopted by Five, we are likely to see ITV identify its key programming then create a set of values around this. The primary job for BBC Broadcast will be to bring the new positioning to life, on-screen.

BBC Broadcast’s head of design Jeff Conrad, who pitched to ITV with Bryant and senior creative director Jane Walker, is ebullient about picking up the ITV job, as you might expect.

Conrad compares the task of branding ITV with that of branding the BBC. It’s almost the reverse scenario, he explains. Unlike ITV, the BBC has never had a ‘singular identity’. Until Lambie-Nairn came along in 2000, the BBC was an assortment of different channels with distinct characteristics. With ITV, however, ‘You know you are in ITV space’, Conrad says.

ITV is keeping tight-lipped, so we’ll have to wait and see what it comes up with. But there is still much about the ITV pitch to ponder, particularly for the four losing teams.

The first thing is that broadcasters do not seem prepared to throw big purses around these days. While Channel 4 declined to reveal its branding production budget, the feeling is that the work did not cost much more than ITV’s, even if it looks very expensive.

There is apparently much more caution now on the part of channel heads when it comes to investing in their station brands.

Martin Lambie-Nairn suggests that the business case alone should be enough to justify the budget for a well- executed branding strategy. Those opting for lower budgets will probably need to review things every couple of years, he says, and they will not feel the residual benefits either.

Lambie-Nairn not only laid the foundations of the BBC rebrand in 2000, but also branded Carlton before the ITV merger. Then again, the consultancy has not seen any real work from the cost-cutting BBC for a couple of years.

‘When we started the job of branding the BBC, there were more than 150 logotypes in use and several hundred letterheads, all with their own cost. We rationalised things and saved it £1.8m a year in stationery alone. That’s not design, it’s loving kindness,’ he laughs. ‘It’s about seeing the opportunities for your client.’

Lambie-Nairn warns that left unchecked, brands can start to spiral downwards: less budget leading to poorer branding, and to falling perceived quality.

But whatever ITV unveils this autumn, the fact remains that the days of big budget broadcasting rebrands are surely over. The real battle now will be between screen design consultancies and the ‘in-house’ teams. The outsiders will be eager to claw back all that lost ground, especially once BBC Broadcast is untied in the next three or four months.

BBC Broadcast Team for ITV

Jane Walker

Senior creative director

Tim Platt

Creative director

Paula Williams

Design director

Vicky Stout

Designer

Eve Rawlinson

Account director

The ITV pitch list

• BBC Broadcast (winner)

• Bruce Dunlop Associates (incumbent)

• Lambie-Nairn

• Dunning Eley Jones

• English & Pockett

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