Philip AlmondThis month Polly, my 11-year-old daughter, came home from school clutching her new BBC micro:bit. This small, programmable device, created by the BBC with the help of more than 30 partners, is being given free to every child in the UK in year seven, or the equivalent. Much as the BBC Micro inspired a generation of personal computing in the 1980s, the micro:bit is intended to inspire a new generation to code.

Usually, a public consultation like this might get a few thousand replies, but the one on the BBC got about 200,000

It’s already inspired Polly. She spent that first evening playing with and programming her new device. The first thing she made it do was spell out: “This is my micro:bit. The older years are jealous.” If it makes coding aspirational to Polly and all children in her school (even the older ones, who sound like they’re feeling a bit left out), that will be brilliant. Who says girls can’t code?

I’ve played a very small part in helping the micro:bit come about, sitting on the management team that has overseen its development and advising the members of my teams who have worked on the audience insight, brand development and marketing.

Seeing it arrive in schools is a real source of pride and a reminder of why the BBC is such a special place to work.

The BBC has unparalleled impact, reaching 97% of the UK population every week, and a brand purpose to inform, educate and entertain that has been its North Star for more than 90 years.

We have amazingly varied content to work with. Over recent weeks my teams have been telling me about their plans for the Olympics in August; promoting outstanding dramas; and launching the new Top Gear, this year’s BBC Proms, and BBC Three as a digital service.

We have also been dealing with the audience reaction to the Helen and Rob domestic-abuse storyline in The Archers (which has resulted in significant increases in contacts to abuse helplines); advising our broadcast journalists on how to best explain the key issues on the EU referendum to UK voters; and helping to plan and manage this year’s Radio 1 Big Weekend, which takes place in Exeter in late May.

This week we also reviewed the storyboards for the BBC campaign for the Euro 2016 Football Championships. The idea was presented by RKCR/Y&R as part of its pitch for the BBC last year and has come through pretty much untouched. It’s a cracker and has a great endline… which, of course, I’m keeping schtum about until it launches.

Striking a balance
It’s worth remembering just how much the BBC enriches the lives of everyone in the UK on a daily basis. The corporation’s Charter is currently up for a renewal – a process that will decide the shape of the BBC over the next decade. It’s generating a huge amount of debate. In the past month, at least six reports – by different bodies from the House of Commons and Lords to the DCMS and Welsh and Scottish Assemblies – have been published, all giving their recommendations on the kind of BBC they want to see in the next decade.

As a marketer, for me the most important report by far was the one published by the DCMS, where the audience got to have its say.

Usually, a public consultation like this might get a few thousand replies, but the one on the BBC got about 200,000.

The public said it wants a BBC with broadly the same remit it has today, but also one that can adapt, so it can continue to play that same life-enhancing role for UK citizens in the internet-based future. That is very much the kind of BBC we want to see as well, and the one we hope will be at the heart of the government’s proposals when it publishes its White Paper.

Building that internet-fit BBC is a journey we have been on for a while. As the technology continues to change, audience behaviour evolves and creates new opportunities to which we have to respond. However, with years of frozen licence-fee income and another tough financial settlement imposed by the government last summer, we have to be really smart and selective about how we develop and save money at the same time.

Creative focus
The BBC has unparalleled impact, reaching 97% of the UK population every week

In marketing and audiences, part of that journey has been the decision to create an in-house agency to deliver the bulk of our campaigns. The new team came together in January and this month we welcomed executive creative directors Aiden McClure and Laurent Simon. They were formerly at Adam & Eve/DDB, where, among other work, they were responsible for the John Lewis 2013 ‘Bear and Hare’ Christmas campaign.

By bringing the team in-house, we can work much more efficiently with our production colleagues and put together the vastly different and much broader range of creative assets we need (we’re also saving more than £1m a year through the new set-up).

With Aiden and Laurent in charge, we also know the creative output will be world-class. They sit just round the corner from me and it’s been great to see them getting their feet under the table and getting to know their teams.

More broadly, one of the key initiatives we are working on is myBBC, a project that will help us dramatically improve our understanding of what our audiences do online. It will enable us to offer a more relevant, personal BBC, giving audiences easier ways to navigate the breadth of the offering, as well as providing new digital functionality.

It’s already helping to drive the new BBC Bitesize App, which will mean personalised revision is only a click away for this year’s GCSE students; and it’s the way I get notifications on my phone from BBC Sport on how rugby union club Saracens are doing when they play away (if they’re at home, I’m watching at the ground). We’re currently recording about 800m audience actions per day on our sites, and when we link that to a new ID system, as we plan to later in the year, we will be able to give users even more of the BBC they love, even more easily.

Every two weeks my team gets together with our tech colleagues to tackle the key issues on the myBBC project. The sessions are useful, stimulating and I learn something new every time. It’s all about getting people from two very different business cultures – marketing and audiences, and tech – to talk the same language and create great stuff together. Given the massive impact tech is having on marketing and insight these days, I am sure it is a conversation that’s being replicated in businesses across the world.

Like Polly and her school year, we’re learning more and more about our digital future, developing new skills – and having some fun while we’re at it. However, we’re always focused on delivering our unchanging public-service mission to inform, educate and entertain.

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By Expat