Valerie joined the BBC as Director, HR in August 2014 and is responsible for HR, Internal Communications and the Academy. In her interview with Connect Intelligence, Valerie shares her insights into BBC’s success, cultural diversity and transformative strategies within a politically volatile global media landscape.
Q: As the world’s longest running national broadcasting organisation, adaptation would imaginably be key to the BBC’s long lasting success. Spanning radio, TV and online, offering coverage in up to 28 languages, how else are the BBC looking to capture new audiences?
As we began a new 11-year charter at the start of 2017, Tony Hall, the BBC’s Director-General, spoke to staff to set out the priorities for the corporation and asked staff to support us in one very clear goal for the future – reinventing public broadcasting for a new generation. The BBC is paid for by everyone and therefore has to provide something for people of all ages and backgrounds. Younger and older audiences are increasingly using media in different ways so we need to constantly look at the online space and see where and how we can serve our audiences in creative new ways.
Our plans to develop BBC iPlayer will be a key component in this. The ambition is to see the platform move from being a catch-up service to a destination in its own right. By 2020, we want to have doubled our reach and quadrupled the time each person spends on it every week.
In 2016, we moved BBC Three online – the first TV channel in the world to do so – to offer 16-34 years old with original, contemporary programming in drama, comedy, factual and current affairs. It was a bold move but one that is paying off. BBC Three was named as Channel of the Year at the Royal Television Society Awards in March 2017, just one year after the switch. The transformation of Radio 1’s online offering started even earlier. Its YouTube channel now has 3.5 million subscribers with over 1.1 billion views since launch – it’s by far the biggest radio service on YouTube.
We have to ensure we are providing a service for all licence fee payers and so diversity is absolutely vital to a modern BBC. It’s written into our charter and we are striving to reach the ambitious targets that we have set ourselves to increase diversity both in our on and off screen talent. We already have one of the most diverse workforces in the UK but we know there’s more that we can do to ensure all our audiences see something of their world reflected in our content.
Q: In the past, the BBC has been criticised as being an ‘old boys club’ in the case of muting diversity for the top jobs. As director of Human Resources, how else are you ensuring the BBC is looking to diversify culturally and why is this important for the BBC’s identity in years to come?
For us, it’s not just about attracting the right talent to the BBC but retaining them and ensuring that our leaders of the future are prepared with the skills and knowledge they’ll need to take the BBC forward well after its centenary in 2022. That’s why a key element of our diversity strategy is to continue our successful employee development programmes, from leadership schemes to placements for interns. We’ve set new 2020 workforce targets to ensure our employees and leadership teams are at least as diverse, if not more so, than any other in the industry and fully reflect the audiences we serve. We’ve also committed to closing the gender pay gap by 2020 and are leading the way as we as strive to be best in class on fair pay.
As before, we’re paid for by licence fee payers and we need to ensure we’re reflecting all cultures and backgrounds across our services and content. But furthermore, a diverse workforce brings diverse and creative skills and our ambition to be the most creative organisation in the world can only be realised if we have the greatest breadth of thought and ideas amongst our people.
Q: What are the most important considerations that can be transformed into strategy from a HR perspective when it comes to ensuring fairness and equity is sustained in a group an organisation as far reaching and influential as the BBC?
Our values state that we are one BBC and I’d say that underlies much of the work that we have done recently to ensure there is a great sense of cohesion. We want to make working at the BBC a creative and rewarding experience, as well as being a simpler place to work. We’ve simplified the structures of the BBC, reduced the numbers of layers of management and improved the way different parts of the BBC work together.
Alongside this, our HR department has gone through a significant change and modernisation over the past few years to ensure it’s operating in line with best practise for organisations of this size. And like the rest of the organisation, we have transformed the way that HR works for our people and created a new model which simplifies the way in which staff engage with our HR services and makes us more cost effective.
Q: With newer ‘trending’ media groups like Buzzfeed increasingly on the rise, the digital space is becoming more fiercely competitive than ever before. What changes can we expect to see from the BBC as the UK’s national news provider in a global media landscape?
The personalisation of the BBC’s online services is a major priority for us. We currently have 13 million active, signed-in users – we want to grow this as quickly as possible so that we can find out more about our audiences, what they like, and bring them the content they want more effectively.
The BBC is a leader in digital innovation and is constantly experimenting with new techniques and platforms to reach audiences and allow them to consume news when and how they like. Video remains the best way we tell our broadcast journalism, but more than 60 per cent of BBC News’ digital traffic now comes via mobile devices. A recent upgrade to the BBC News app saw us launch a ‘videos of the day’ function, all created with smartphone users in mind.
We’ve also looked how to harnesses the power of social media platforms and networks. BBC Two’s Newsnight used Facebook Live after the results of the EU Referendum to give audiences an insight in to editorial meetings and behind-the-scenes, whilst Panorama produced exclusive content for Snapchat looking at the migrant crisis.
Whilst we’re amongst the best in the world at telling people what’s happening right now, we want to do more to help our audiences understand what’s really happening in the world. In a global social media landscape we’ve also been looking more at how we deliver slow news – news that gets at the ‘why’, as well as the ‘what’; news that might take a little bit longer, but understand the issues a little bit better.
But given 10 years ago, at the start of our last Charter, there was no iPhone and hardly anyone had heard of YouTube, it’s almost impossible to know what the long term opportunities might be. Whilst today, our journalists around the world routinely use mobile phones for reporting and editing, new platforms, technologies and audience needs will undoubtedly emerge over the next five years. Our training Academy is continually looking over the horizon as far as we can to spot future trends, both in technology and editorial.
Q: In the wake of Brexit, what role do you believe international political events have in impacting the future of national broadcasters and media groups like the BBC?
It’s not as much the impact it has on us as a broadcaster but more importantly, our role in reporting on such events across our News and Current Affairs coverage. Impartiality is the cornerstone of the BBC. It is one of the reasons why the public trusts the BBC more than any other source of news and we will go to great lengths to ensure that we balance our coverage and address all issues from a wide range of different perspectives. As for the future, under our new 11 year Charter, we have a clear vision for how the BBC will continue to provide audiences with the great content and innovative services that we know they love.
Valerie Hughes-D’Aeth, Human Resources Director, BBC (UK) will be expanding on this at the HR Leaders Forum 20 & 21 February – Sydney, Australia.