21st April 2015

How do you manage your brand when you lose your biggest asset?


clarkson 3

Given the amount of coverage it’s garnered you’d have to be living on another planet not to have heard the story of a certain celebrity and his rather high profile departure from our national TV network last month.

While the media circus and daily updates on the state of Mr Clarkson has been rather amusing, I must say the most interesting thing for me has been the reaction from the BBC. At the end of the day Clarkson and Top Gear is the biggest selling brand it has worldwide. So how has the public backlash impacted the brand and reputation? What lessons can we learn from the way the BBC handled this sensitive situation and managed its brand and reputation?

There is no doubt that this could have been very harmful to the BBC if handled incorrectly. The BBC crucially needed to demonstrate control and damage limitation in the early stages. It quickly initialised an internal investigation, openly communicated that it would report back with a decision following the conclusion of the investigation and have handled all further enquiries with astonishing dignity in the face of some very hostile public opinion.

In fact, in essence it’s been a carefully managed process with the Director General of the BBC, Tony Hall very much leading from the front. When asked why sack your biggest global star, he reiterated that Clarkson had crossed the line. Plain and simple – no justification that as he’s our biggest asset so we’ll let this go. No, we stand for strong values and those have been crossed.

BBC Capture

(Click here for full video)

In fact, he further reflected this by saying “the BBC was a broad church” which required “distinctive and different voices but they cannot come at any price. Common to all at the BBC have to be standards of decency and respect.”

There is no doubt that Top Gear is important to the BBC’s reputation and brand worldwide but they couldn’t have this situation and the very public handling of it damage its reputation further. Reviewing coverage post departure the BBC has been portrayed well and they have answered some very difficult questions very openly as the video above shows.

At the end of the day, the infamous petition that garnered more than one million signatures and the subsequent delivery to BBC HQ by tank was albeit a nice publicity stunt but it had very little sway. I for one am impressed that they didn’t buckle under the pressure and handled the ensuing crisis in a consistent and efficient manner, with little impact to the brand and its reputation. If anything they’ve gained respect. It will be very interesting to see how the BBC manage any re-launch of Top Gear next year.

By Sally Martin, Senior Account Director (B2B)