chapter  6
Celebrity, gender and reputation management at the BBC
ByJANE ARTHURS
Pages 24

The BBC is prone to reputational crises that arise from the tensions between bureaucratic control and creative innovation that underpin its brand identity. The strategic importance of public relations for the management of corporate reputations is in its influence on how the organization’s activities are perceived by key stakeholders. Broadcast companies negotiate a range of often contradictory interests, values, contexts and expectations which make them especially prone to public conflicts. The BBC occupies a very particular position within the ecology of UK broadcasting as a guardian of the public sphere. This poses specific dilemmas for managing its public relations in that higher standards of editorial judgement and management ethics are expected in comparison to its commercial rivals. Consequently, its approach to public relations has to be highly sensitive to changes in the socio-cultural and political environment, given the greater risk of its attracting negative publicity than other media companies. At the same time, celebrity branding is an increasingly important dimension in creating and maintaining the BBC’s reputation in an era of increased competition for viewers in a crowded media environment dominated by global commercial companies. It follows that the BBC’s legitimacy increasingly depends on how it handles any difficulties that arise between the corporation and its celebrities. This was demonstrated most starkly in the crisis that was unfolding at the

time of writing (at the end of 2012) over the BBC’s handling of revelations about Jimmy Savile, who died in 2011 after a lifetime as a BBC celebrity presenter. The failure of the BBC to broadcast an investigation into allegations that he sexually assaulted possibly hundreds of under-age girls led to a serious crisis of trust in the organization and the forced resignation of the newly appointed Director General, George Entwhistle, after only fifty-four days in office. Savile’s posthumous reputation was destroyed by what was widely regarded as the worst possible sexual crime.1 In contrast, the two case studies focused on in this chapter show that, in less extreme cases, celebrity careers can prosper from the increased levels of visibility for their personal brands that public relations controversies provide in an individualized enterprise culture.