Gorkana Insight & Analysis Team
At this morning's breakfast Gorkana caught up with Jon Zilkha and Hugh Pym to find out more about the BBC's Buisness Unit, how it is structured within the Corporation and the case studies it is interested in receiving from the PR community.
Jon Zilkha has been the head of the BBC’s Business Unit since 2011 and was previously the deputy editor of the Today Programme and has worked for the BBC since the mid nineties.
Hugh Pym has been the BBC’s chief economics correspondent since 2009. He has held a number of roles including the acting economics editor, business and industries correspondent and before that was with Sky. He is the author of a number of books on politics and economics.
The Business and Economics Unit within the BBC is part of the BBC news gathering department. It provides specialist business information for a number of audiences. This includes output for the main TV bulletins, World News, bbc.co.uk and the Today Programme.
The Unit is based at Television Centre in West London but will soon move to Central London. With the rebuilding of Broadcasting House radio had moved to West London – but they are now moving back to the new Broadcasting House, off Portland Place, shortly. The office is already open with the Language Services of the BBC World Service based there as well as the Science Unit. By the end of the financial year the whole of BBC News in London will be based there. This will make it easier for correspondents to get to the City.
The Business Unit has a number of specialist correspondents across a range of sectors including transport, finance, technology, industry and economics.
It also includes teams in Mumbai, Singapore, Dubai and New York who each have responsibility for delivering economic news in their region. They help to present a global picture and each region produces its own business report.
The Business Unit pitches its news to producers across the BBC and Hugh and Jon try to find the most appropriate homes for their stories across different programmes with varying audiences.
The website is a 24 hour production and overnight the international offices will be working at updating it. World Business Report on BBC World News is also constantly updated including overnight by the team in Singapore for Asia Business Report. The team are keen to build up the added value information on the website – especially through special reports on the indexes such as The Technology of Business and The Business of Sport which both attract a great deal of traffic and are two examples of niche content which is done in a “BBC editorial way”. Information for these “niche platforms” is welcomed by the business unit from PRs.
The Unit does not cater for a specific audience and therefore writes news for a mass audience.
Contact, Planning and Case Studies
On a daily basis the Unit never be certain what issues they are likely going to cover in advance. Meetings in the diary are difficult to plan and the dynamic of a day can change by an unexpected story – with Hugh quoting Mervyn King’s Mansion House speech last night as what might been a routine story but which, because of the bank funding announcement, actually made a big impact editorially in today’s news agenda.
PRs are encouraged to get case studies to the Business Unit quickly if they can provide a study that is relevant to a story covered that day.
As well as corporate news, economic indicators are used by the Business Unit in the form of case studies. An entrepreneur growing their business, employing new people and exporting goods is a story the Business Unit want to hear about.
Coffees with CEOs are encouraged and Hugh likes to put these in his diary. For upcoming product launches PRs are encouraged to contact the Business Unit with the dates they are happening.
The Biz Plan email is the central email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) that the Business Unit looks at throughout the course of the day – the team can pick and choose whether there is an angle to a story they want to pursue. As an example, following the bank lending story last night, if a PR can provide an appropriate SME case study of a business which will directly benefit from additional lending then the Business Unit would be very interested.
A brief email with four or five lines of information works well and can be forwarded by Hugh and Jon to their colleagues in the office. The format they like is simple; here’s the story and here’s the comment the PR’s client can provide.
When planning for GDP or unemployment figures company case studies are an important part of the Unit’s activities and are often required.
Planning at the Business Unit is handled by two individuals; Piers Parry-Crooke, the assignments editor - responsible for on-day assignments and Robb Stevenson, the business and economics planning editor – responsible for next day and longer term stories on radio, TV, online or other media channels.
Piers assigns and deploys reporters to business stories and decides how they should be covered.
For Today Programme interviews with company CEOs, the Business Unit team are looking where possible for executives to give a broad perspective on the UK economy, not just comment on their own company.
Factors which contribute to taking a story beyond the website and into other BBC output channels - including Five Live, The Today Programme and BBC Breakfast - include who the CEO is, how well known the company is and how the company interacts with its customers.
Business Unit Briefings
CEOs and influential business people will often come in once a fortnight, typically for an hour, to talk with the Business Unit team about upcoming issues off the record. Mutual areas of interest can then be identified and whether there is a particular news angle the BBC is interested in which the CEO can provide comment on. The team finds these meetings useful as an introduction into the broadcasting world for a CEO who maybe unfamiliar with the broadcast world. It can lead to future commentary opportunities.
PRs should provide talking heads who are natural and engaging and are generally confident about a wide range of issues. The Business Unit is constantly refreshing the pool of commentators they hear from. More female commentators on the economy are also encouraged and PRs can get in touch with anyone from the Business Unit (details on Gorkana).
Key themes and sectors
Business themes for the Unit are not only about the Eurozone. Stories which provide a different perspective on the world are sought and these can include innovation, the environment, the attitude of business and the opportunities UK companies are seeking to foster growth and increase employment.
Individuals who can provide an insight into the uplifts they are seeing from trading with the developing world – for example car manufacturers – are encouraged to get in touch.
The energy sector is covered by the Business Unit in conjunction with the environment section of the BBC in the home news department. John Moylan covers energy and industry stories, particularly oil and gas, and talks with regulators and energy companies regularly. Gas price stories where energy trends can be related to consumer bills are very relevant for the BBC audience.
Technology stories should go to Rory Cellan-Jones, or one of his colleagues. If however there is a broader economic discussion to be had then meet ups with the Business Unit are encouraged. The BBC Technology Index is also a good place for news, statistics and comment and that team works closely with Rory when he is compiling stories.
The Education and Social Affairs Units of the BBC are interested in hearing about apprenticeships, but if there is an employment angle then the Business Unit would be encouraged to cover it too.
Stephanie McGovern, the breakfast business presenter, is based out of Salford but is currently travelling the UK to do business stories. The Business Unit wants to hear from businesses from all parts of the UK, not just London. BBC regional business correspondents are interested in receiving news from PRs and the BBC Business Unit talks regularly with them, acting as a facilitator for PRs to get good stories to them. PRs should email Robb Stevenson with regional stories and he can pass them on.
Write up from Doug Keighley