Kingdom of the North Strikes Again – BBC moves thousands more journos out of the capital……but are PRs ready?

Earlier this year, an article was published looking at whether or not London held its crown as the PR capital of Europe and whether post-Brexit and post-pandemic things would change. I think that oversimplifies the complexity of the issue, it’s not about whether London has lost its crown, its about the fact that industry (media and brands) are waking up to the fact that not everything has to be delivered within the square mile.

The latest in this smacks directly into the heart of PR and media – with the BBC today announcing its top-to-bottom changes. The massive transformational changes are the largest in decades – surpassing even the Beeb’s move to Salford back in 2011.

The BBC needs to reflect society, and so anything which moves it into communities across the UK can only be a good thing. Some of us in the RUK (rest of UK) have some pretty empowering and exciting stories to tell. This is the opportunity for PRs.

Inevitably there will be headlines about staff not wanting to move, major talent leaving the corporation and potential stumbling blocks, but I commend the BBC for taking action now to position it for the years to come. I can assure you it won’t be the last announcement of its kind.

Of course this change does represent thousands of families having to uproot or make huge decisions. The human cost of a change like this must not be missed and the BBC should do everything within its power to support these people.

Mike Young, Broadcast strategist at broadcast PR agency, Broadcast Revolution, recently joined the company from the Beeb. In 2011 he worked at 5Live and was uprooted. But the change, in his opinion, was worth it.

“It’s a decade since I bid farewell to 5live’s studios at BBC TV Centre in West London and headed two hundred miles north to the shiny new Media City on Salford Quays. I output produced the very first 5live Breakfast programmes from Salford. It was exciting if slightly surreal. There we all were in brand news studios but the programme itself didn’t actually sound that different. It didn’t need to.

For me, the incentive was the excitement of seeing 5live rebooted. After a couple of years in Salford 5live did start to sound very different as on-air talent moved on and new voices appeared in high profile roles. Some were good, others less so. But I can think of no finer example than 5live Drive’s Tony Livesey, a Burnley lad, who now shines out as one of the finest radio presenters anywhere on the dial.”

This follows Channel 4 making its move to Leeds, new treasury operations in Darlington and Leeds and Hits Radio coming from Manchester but our industry needs to move harder, faster and stronger on this too.

Are PRs talking to clients about their moves in the North and what it means for their storytelling?

Broadcast Revolution was born with the North coursing through its veins, as it is clear for anyone to see how broadcast media (and other media) is shifting in the UK. Increasingly, we are seeing clients adopt a Northern press office function to take advantage of moves in the levelling up strategy.

Manchester is now home to some of the most visited traditional websites in the UK, regularly beating some of the national newspapers into oblivion. I would expect many media houses to move over the next five years or so – but the North seems to be doing it differently.

This isn’t about making Manchester the media capital as you simply move the problem. Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Newcastle, Sheffield, Belfast, Edinburgh and Glasgow are all tackling this.

Media City UK is not a hidden mystery far away from the dizzying heights of Soho.

These moves demonstrate the importance of our media representing a diverse and inclusive country. Which means that their shows will reflect the entire communities they serve. Brands are working hard to be more representative and these changes will make this even more important than ever. Logistically, its also means if the world ever returns back to normal, brands will need to consider what their assets are such as spokespeople, where they are based and how flexible they are to be involved on these shows.

If the pandemic has shown anything, it is that the working environment no longer needs to be one base. As an industry, we talk a lot about our strategic teams representing the audiences and our clients we want to reach… But the next time something doesn’t quite land in the way you’d hope in the North (and other regions of the UK) I’d encourage you to have a look around the room as the answer might be looking back at you.

What are the changes impacting PRs?

  • News and current affairs programmes like BBC Two’s Newsnight being presented from different UK bases through the year.
  • Radio 4’s flagship Today programme to be co-presented from outside London for at least 100 episodes a year.
  • Key daytime strands on Radio 1, 1Xtra and Radio 2 will be moved from London and made across the UK.
  • Radio 1’s Newsbeat team will relocate to Birmingham, which will also be the base for the Asian Network.
  • BBC News’s Climate and Science team will move to Cardiff, while the Technology team will shift to Glasgow. The Learning and Identity News team will go to Leeds.
  • A new generation of 100 new reporters to be based in towns and areas that have never had a regional TV presence.

Broader BBC commitments to the regions

  • A commitment to commission and produce “a clear majority” of TV programmes across the UK and not in London.
  • A commitment to locate 50% of the money spent on network radio and music outside London by 2028.
  • The moving of major parts of BBC News to locations across the UK.
  • More investment in BBC local reporting and apprenticeships.
  • An upgrade of the BBC’s Belfast headquarters.

By Josh Wheeler, Head of the North and Regions at Broadcast Revolution