Interviews – Media – Jane Frost

Jane Frost, is the BBC’s controller, corporate marketing and was behind the much-lauded corporate promo Perfect Day. Jane says she believes in the BBC so much she wants to ‘grab people and tell them about it’. Her advice to graduates interested in a career in marketing is that if you like people there isn’t a better industry to be in, but if you don’t, ‘don’t bother’

You started your career as a graduate trainee at Unilever. What did you get out of that?
I was moved around all the brand groups and got to do a little bit of everything – personnel, basic accountancy, and actually making the soap power and flogging the stuff.

My biggest influence was the then-chairman Len Hardy. We were all hauled up before him and told our job was to create value – for the consumer, for the shareholder and for the employee. It has taught me to ask what is the value in something as I have progressed and done business through life.

You don’t have the right to be in business and make money out of people unless you are delivering something back. And anyway you’ll be found out pretty soon if you don’t have something real to provide. Customers aren’t dumb.

You left Unilever to work for Shell as director of planning and marketing for the Middle East. What did you learn there?

It was my first international experience. I learned you have to understand the basics, because the basic disciplines work in any language, in any product, in any discipline. It was also a salutary lesson to realize how small and unimportant the UK is.

You were headhunted by the then-director general of the BBC John Birt to set up a department to cover corporate and brand marketing. What made you take a job in a non-commercial organization?

I had got where I wanted to go in Shell and wanted to give something back. I grew up with the BBC and I want my kids to grow up with something I appreciated. So I thought if I was going to ‘put back’ then marketing the BBC must be the one. The corporation was in crisis and no one was sure whether it would survive or not. You can have the best product in the world but if nobody appreciates it you might as well not bother.

You were behind the BBC’s award-winning corporate promo Perfect Day. To what extent did that represent a turning point for the BBC in its approach to marketing?
It stunned. Nobody had dared advertise the BBC before. We put this thing out in cinemas. We put it out on record and everywhere else. I was waiting for the bolt to fall and it be decreed that the ‘BBC shall not advertise’. But it didn’t come. We did get the competitors whingeing ‘only the BBC could do that’ to which I said ‘precisely – that is exactly what I’m telling the public’.

What is your view of the marketing sector at the moment?
I worry about it being a South Sea bubble. There are a lot of marketers around who aren’t marketers. They are publicists, or advertisers, but not people who put together a group of things to make an effective product the consumer wants to buy. They don’t understand value necessarily. So you get great advertising that doesn’t say anything. If people who are riding that wave don’t deliver value themselves into the company then we will go back to being leaflet producers.

With the arrival of digital there is the prospect of the BBC’s audience share eroding and with it justification for the license fee. How much of a danger does that pose?
There is no reason why the BBC shouldn’t be a collectively strong brand, rather than the monolithically strong brand it has been in the past. But it’s got to push the right switches and keep relevant and retain its authority.

There is an awful tendency for a lot of long-established brands once they get into market fragmentation to suddenly scream and say ‘I’m not relevant any more’. Rather than saying ‘actually I’ve got all this wonderful authority a new brand would give their eye-teeth for. How do I make it relevant?’

The consumer knows more channels don’t mean any more content – there isn’t any more content to go round. What we’ve got to do is concentrate on producing what people really want which is top quality, standard-setting programmeming and then people will come and find us.

What do you think about BBC director general Greg Dyke’s criticism of the corporation being ‘over-managed and under-led’?
There is a risk of that in any big organization and we are not the only ones. There is a tendency to promote brilliant functional deliverers. But what people don’t realize is that management is a set of skills and abilities quite diverse from either making programmes or broadcasting.

Occasionally, if you are lucky, you find the two in one person. But it is not always the case. And therefore what you tend to get is poor managers, who don’t particularly want to be managers. They would rather make programmes.

What advice would you give someone who is considering a career in marketing?
Marketing is about people. Marketing is the most people business you can have. It’s about influencing internally within the company and the people who you sell to.

If you don’t like people don’t bother. But if you do like people there probably isn’t a better place in industry to be. Because you get a little bit of everything and you get to do all the fun things as well. It is a lot of fun and a lot of value.

Most of the great entrepreneurs are instinctive marketers. But there is a huge amount of room for taking it from inception to a firmly established business. It is an international business as well and everybody needs it in some way.

And any company that can give you international experience I would say ‘grab it’. Because it’s priceless and there aren’t that many people around the UK with decent international experience.

What skills do you need to be a good marketer
A good marketer is a good politician. They have to be able to instinctively grasp an argument and turn it and use it and convince people.

Really great marketers also have a passion about what they are doing and get really involved. I believe in the BBC so much I want to grab people and tell them about it. I felt almost the same about Shell and almost the same about Persil.

What is the best way to get into marketing?
You can enter as a graduate trainee or after taking a course. It doesn’t really matter. The main thing is to get a good grounding first. It is worth looking at the courses offered by the Chartered Institute of Marketing. Maybe take one of their courses and see whether you like it. The demand for those kind of qualifications will increase as the marketing industry expands.

Why should marketers come to work at the BBC?
We don’t have graduate marketing trainees. Marketing is a very new discipline and we tend to take from other areas. Working for the BBC is fun because it is a stonking good product. It is always easier to market a product that you like yourself.

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