Procurement of ‘Talent’ – six ideas for the BBC

Recently, the BBC announced it was looking again at the amount it spends engaging ‘talent’ – the people who are paid to appear on our TV screens (and on our radios), whether presenters, news readers, football pundits or other experts.

We asked here whether this might be a good time for procurement in the BBC to make a pitch to get more involved in this sort of commercial activity. The core principles that we use in more conventional spend categories could actually apply successfully to the world of talent, we believe. So here are six practical ways in which those procurement principles could be applied to the acquisition of presenters and the like.

Develop ‘spend category’ strategies

As most readers will know, category management means taking a pro-active, structured approach to developing a strategy and plan for the purchase of a particular type of spend. So clearly the same principles should be applied here. We need a category plan for different sub-sectors of the talent marketplace – newsreaders, general presenters, chat show hosts, sports commentators / pundits...  BBC executives would be designated 'category managers', maybe with a dual reporting line to the Director of Procurement and the Director of Programmes, and tasked with developing and managing their category.

 Develop new suppliers -  a ‘talent’ chain or succession planning  

A basic principle, whatever we're buying, is to be able to select suppliers from a dynamic, competitive market. And if one doesn’t exist naturally, then we can help to create that. So the BBC should analyse the 'markets' for talent, and look to create consciously stronger markets where they are weak. A lack of chat show hosts coming though to challenge Graham Norton and Jonathan Ross? Give some young pretenders the chance on BBC4 and see who looks promising. Keep the top talent on their toes and help to moderate upward pricing pressure!

 Break monopolies (don’t let them form)

That development of new suppliers forms part of this fundamental point – do everything you can to spot and stop monopolies forming. If the BBC or any media organisation gets to the point where programme makers say (as I’m sure they do) – “Darling, we just HAVE to get Graham Norton / Gary Lineker / Claire Balding to do this” then a de facto monopoly may well have been created. You can see how it happens. A particular person becomes associated with a certain sort of programme, the audience feels comfortable, the risk is low – but then one day you realise that they can charge whatever ridiculous fee they like. So as well as developing  new suppliers, keeping a range of existing suppliers in the frame, to preserve that competitive pressure , is vital.

 Use competition

Talking of competitive pressure...If we have multiple credible suppliers for a particular piece of work, then we need to run some sort of competitive process to determine who should get to present the One Show (or whatever). Now we’re not suggesting the full 50 page RFP to be submitted to Alan Titchmarsh  et al, but potential suppliers need to understand that there are alternatives. So some sort of competitive process around the actual award of contracts should be encouraged, even if it is informal and perhaps  verbal rather than highly formalised.

 Use skilled negotiators to negotiate contracts

Does the BBC have the negotiating skills to go head to head with the agents representing the talent? These agents are no doubt highly skilled negotiators, who practice those skills daily in all likelihood. Has the BBC got equivalently skilled people? Are they formally trained? Do they go through proper negotiation planning before discussing Alan Hansen's fees? What is their BATNA? We suspect that, as in many organisations, the buyers are less well trained and do less real negotiation than the sellers, who gain a real advantage from that greater experience and expertise. The BBC could address that.

Supplier management - measure performance, use incentives, develop relationships

Once suppliers have been appointed, the principal of proper management should continue, which means appropriate contract management. The contract should have clear outputs or deliverables, and some sort of performance metrics. Perhaps the payment to the ‘talent’ should be related to viewer numbers or audience satisfaction? And for the most important suppliers, perhaps a supplier relationship management approach should be developed, with designated relationship managers from the BBC side charged with getting the most out of key strategic talent.

And in our next episode, we’ll feature six somewhat more – how shall we put it - creative ideas!

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Voices (5)

  1. Chris Chapman:

    For BBC4 don’t you mean BBC3?

    No new talent – does anyone in Beeb management listen to BBC Radio or watch BBC local TV?

  2. Paul Wright:

    The problem with you plan for developing new talent is that the same people who are critical of the money the BBC pay “top” talent, want BBC4 closed because it is not very good. The idea of talent not being fully formed and needing spaces to develop is just not accepted by some. It is seen as a waste of money not a talent development channel (which the BBC have said it is). Now I don’t watch BBC4 but I see the point of it.

    1. bitter and twisted:

      The problem is that figurehead ‘talent’ does not make a good programme. Does anyone watch Match Of The Day because of Lineker and Hansen etc.? Would anyone stop watching Strictly if Brucie went? No and No.

      (David Attenborough can charge what he likes though)

      1. Dan2:

        Agreed B&T.

        BBC should remember the ‘brand/slot’ is just as important as the star. How many people who walked away from the Beeb went onto have huge success in own right?

        Trinny and Susannah – left for ITV as I recall and effectively no one watched them again (even though they were hugely successful on the BBC). It was because the time slot/brand of the show was just as important as the ‘star’. Didn’t work out for Adrian Chiles. I don’t think Jonathan Ross chat show is as popular as it was on BBC…

        When it comes to negotiations, probably worth reminding the ‘stars’ that it isn’t as easy as they might hope…

    2. Peter Kobryn:

      I know it was not central to the point being made, but BBC4 is excellent !

      If I were at the BBC I would certainly be looking to do something along the lines suggested by Peter if only to try and regain some initiative from the “drip drip drip” of criticism from those who (sometimes / most times ) have a vested interest in promoting bad news.

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