Rubbish week for: The BBC's PR team

What happened

It started (for ten) as a really, really good week.

University Challenge hit the headlines. Gail Trimble, heading up Oxford's Corpus Christi team, was universally declared to be the most intelligent person to have ever been part of the quiz show - the "human Google". She gained a national following as she obliterated team after team, becoming a familiar face in the first few pages of national newspapers.

And, resultantly, University Challenge got whole load of publicity, culminating in the highest-ever viewing figures of more than 5.3m for the final. Trimble and her team won.

One week later, it was revealed that one of the Trimble's team mates wasn't actually a student any more, as the series ran through and past his graduation.

Manchester, second-place winners, graciously declined a rematch.

The blunder-prone BBC, however, stripped Corpus Christi of their prize in the midst of an excessive red tape orgy. Leaving the Trimble-loving nation disappointed.


Rules are rules. A joint statement from the BBC and Granada explained that, "Corpus Christi broke this important rule when other universities and colleges taking part adhered to it. We therefore find ourselves in the regrettable position of having no choice but to disqualify Corpus Christi."

And no doubt everyone is super-cautious over at White City since Sachsgate.

Were they to blame?

This is a simple and tragic case of poor executive decision-making and a complete disregard of good PR.

If the second-placers Manchester were happy to let the issue slide, so should the BBC have been.

Instead, tied down by its own bureaucracy, the BBC trashed all the great publicity it had been getting from University Challenge, and instead repainted itself as the pedantic and over-reactive organisation that went over the top in suspending Jonathan Ross and Russel Brand. An image which, no doubt, it had up until now been trying to shake off.

A company at this level really should know how to spin things the way it wants, rather than perpetuating a damaging image of bureaucracy and pedantry.

How to avoid doing the same

Firstly, do your research. Sam Kay, the culprit (so to speak), submitted his course dates to the Beeb. The show's team didn't check them. Who's to blame there?

Secondly, when your public image is already suffering, it really is best to give the people what they want, rather than adhering strictly to the rules.

When you can see that there is a significant audience or consumer loyalty and backing for one of two options in a sticky situation, please your majority of consumers, even if that goes against company regulations.

It's crucial to learn when the rules can be bent. If you have very rigid procedures in place - as businesses increasingly do as they expand - fine. But don't let that cloud your better judgement.

Learn to judge when good publicity is more important than red tape.

Smarta sympathy score

We appreciate that Aunty has been having publicity problems recently, but it's spoiled the achievements of a bunch of super-clever students as well as its own image.

It's not an awful mistake, but in the hope that the University Challenge PR reps in the BBC's publicity department read this and realise it's time to reassess their ideas, we're giving them



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