This week’s decision by the BBC’s 60-strong news resources graphics team to launch on to the external market is the culmination of two years of regional rumblings in this direction.
The point with this week’s development is that the BBC’s design departments are actively seeking to market their services, with a view to pitching for work alongside independent consultancies.
In the past, the graphics departments at the corporation, like the one at BBC Bristol, have carried out external work when they have been approached by clients.
According to the broadcaster’s head of corporate and brand design Tony Key, many of the BBC’s teams have the “capacity to create revenue streams outside the corporation – there’s nothing unusual in that”. But the move to sell design proactively outside the BBC is new. Broadcast budgets are getting smaller, and the bid to sell design as an independent service is driven by the need for design to generate more income.
“Most BBC design departments are suddenly looking at ways of marketing themselves externally – attention is being turned outwards while the priority remains in-house,” says BBC Bristol senior designer James Hall.
The million dollar question is how will this affect outside design consultancies specialising in this area? And will there be a domino effect in other areas, as the BBC’s screen graphic specialists turn their hands to graphics in a wider arena?
“We’ll start by promoting our skills in broadcast, advertising, corporate video… the television-related jobs,” says Hall. “But we’ll spin off into other areas, such as print. We’re a design service and we’re up for hire.”
Hall’s Bristol department has seven designers. But London’s news resources department has 60, and all will be available for outside jobs, although the size of teams will vary according to jobs and availability. Independent work is already underway: four designers have just created an identity for Thinktank, a programme for Juniper Production.
Sixty designers is a big resource. Are they going to pose a threat to outside consultants?
Jane Roberts, business development director for screen graphics specialist English and Pockett, says the new venture will pose a threat only if an international marketing campaign is staged, as 80 per cent of the consultancy’s projects come from overseas.
According to Ken Connell, head of production resources at BBC News, the world market is not going to be targeted. But he adds: “We will be a threat – though not a huge one because we’re very busy inside working on the core business. But we could certainly be pitching against design companies which specialise in this area.”
Roberts points out that BBC in-house graphics departments are historically known as The University of Design, and will need to toughen up. “It’s great to develop design skills in a sympathetic way, but outside it’s commercial reality. In the past the in-house teams have had time and resources to do endless design ideas for nothing. They’ll now have to think about realistic fees for design time, which is against the internal culture.”
What about trust? Could another channel trust a design team with its innermost secrets in full awareness that the team’s first priority is a rival? “We think the BBC name will overcome this. It’s not a problem,” claims BBC Bristol’s Debbie Taylor.
Her colleague James Hall throws down the gauntlet. “The competition is on and it’s for the best to win.”