here have been hundreds of PR disasters in history. Whether it was Gerald Ratner calling his products ‘total crap’ and virtually destroying his business overnight, or more recently, Sports Direct handling of their controversial zero hour contracts and less-than-minimum-wage paying jobs. Having Mike Ashley turn up to a press conference at their ‘improved warehouse facilities’ and dropping a grand’s worth of fifties into the plastic bin before going through security was just plain ridiculous. The general theme that runs through every PR disaster is a lack of understanding of their brand or their customers.
Whether you’re a Great British Bake Off (GBBO) fan or not, you’ll no doubt have heard about the furore surrounding the show after Channel 4 managed to pry the hugely successful show from the grip of the BBC.
For seven years, UK households have tuned into the BBC to watch this quaint, ‘quintessentially British’ show about baking, rise from a little profiterole of a show to a mammoth croquembouche. They’ve embraced the well-endowed squirrel and marveled at how the country went crazy over ‘Alaska-gate’. It’s inspired a new generation of bakers and become probably one of the most surprising success stories for the BBC.
Watching GBBO, you can see they have a very defined style and know exactly what their viewers like. You have the tent, the pastel colour scheme, the friendly hosts with their occasional innuendos, the smooth talking Paul Hollywood paired with the baking legend Mary Berry, a certain friendly calm atmosphere that features shots of people sitting around drinking cups of tea whilst waiting on their cakes to rise, the list goes on… yep, they know what their audience likes. Which makes the recent most PR disaster even more surprising.
Let me get something thing straight, I’m not actually a fan of GBBO and so therefore don’t really mind if they switch to Channel 4, but I am interested in them from a branding point of view. Remember, branding is not just your logo. It’s ‘EVERYTHING’ that encompasses your company/product/service/tv show etc. It’s your design, it’s your marketing, it’s your tone of voice, it’s your customer base, yes…it’s your PR…it’s everything that makes your brand what it is.
And so it seems like Love Productions, the company that actually owns and produces Bake Off, seems to have forgotten that. They have forgotten who their viewers are and what they stand for. Now we have this whole messy breakup being played out in the media and it’s not coming across too well for them. I can’t help but feel like it could have been avoided.
Mistake 1 – Claiming it wasn’t about the ‘dough’
When the news first broke that the BBC has lost the rights to the show, there was no news as to why they couldn’t come to an agreement. Love Productions, claimed, “this has never been about who might write the biggest cheque, but about where we can find the best home for Bake Off.” Then just a day later it was revealed that the show was moving to Channel 4 who had offered three times what the BBC was offering. So it was about money. Why pretend people are idiots and suggest otherwise. From the beginning, they should have owned it. They are an independent company and have every right to try and make as much money as possible from it. The BBC is bound by regulations, one being that they can only spend a certain amount on particular programming. Even if they wanted to match what Channel 4 was offering, they couldn’t. It left distaste in the mouth of the viewers when they tried to suggest that they were looking to ‘find the best home’, as it made out that the current home isn’t suitable and the viewers are missing out because of it. Like the BBC is doing something wrong and not fair on the viewers – when clearly that’s not true. They just wanted more money!
Mistake 2 – Not telling the presenters
Having the ‘faces’ of the show coming out saying they had no idea that this was happening just looks bad. The presenters didn’t even suggest that they knew something might happen, that they’d perhaps heard murmurs, they said they literally had NO idea. The show portrays a really friendly, happy, village-fete like ‘chumminess’, and in contrast, this whole saga feels like it was played out shadily behind closed doors with a bunch of suits.
Mistake 3 – Insulting Mary Berry
One thing you should NEVER do is insult Mary Berry. She’s a national treasure and it seems like the Channel 4 chief creative officer forgot that when he played down her contribution by saying “Paul really is the star baker“. Don’t get me wrong, he’s apparently very good, but is he better than Mary? Is he even at the same level? Even if he is, don’t say anything that could be considered negative, as the media will have a field day.
Mistake 4 – Lack of damage control
Even now the news has broken, it just feels like GBBO is stumbling from one ‘soggy bottom’ to another. They should be going into damage control to prevent things from getting worse. They allowed Paul Hollywood to make a statement about moving to C4 and staying with GBBO thanking Mel and Sue, but failing to mention to Mary. Now, it was most likely just due to timing as he later came out and said, but again, this could have been avoided. Why bother even making the statement at the time if he didn’t know fully what was going to happen? All you’re doing is feeding the beast that is the media and adding to the circus.
This whole PR disaster could have been avoided – and now I wonder whether things have gone too far. The media is loving the fallout and is eagerly creating article after article knowing full well the public are eating it up. They will continue to speculate and spin and most likely ruin any chances of Bake Off being a success on C4. Why? Because drama and negativity will make them more money. Look at Top Gear. When the media had the revamped version in their sights, it had no chance of success. Before it had even aired, everyone already assumed it would flop.
So remember, when it comes to PR, consider your audience. Your PR should reflect your brand. They don’t want to feel like they are being duped where your brand is saying one thing but the people behind it are saying another. Otherwise people will lose respect for it.