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Hughes blog post: Battle of the brands – Top Gear v. BBC

26 March 2016    

Living in a house with four males as I do, I am keenly aware of the hugely popular and internationally successful British TV motoring program, Top Gear.

It’s a multi-million dollar brand for the BBC and despite my personal lack of interest in cars, over the years I’ve come to enjoy the format and its trio of presenters – James May, Richard Hammond and the just sacked, widely described as “colourful” and often politically incorrect, Jeremy Clarkson.

My family and I sit down regularly to watch the program and we all get something different out of it. That’s why it’s been such a hit – it has very broad appeal.

However, despite the show’s generation of $93 million in revenue for the BBC, its executives have sacked Clarkson, who went too far earlier this month and allegedly had a physical altercation with a program producer over lack of hot food at the end of a long day’s filming.

While the BBC clearly had no option but to act, it surely spells the death of the Top Gear brand? A bitter pill for the BBC – as well as Clarkson and his co-hosts. (No doubt they will cry all the way to the bank.)

The issue raises a variety of important questions and when it comes to PR and brand-reputation management, you can bet the BBC comms staff have being doing loads of overtime together with the legal and executive team.

Will the show go ahead? How can it without a key part of the team? Should the BBC continue with the brand after such a degree of damage? Has the BBC killed one of the geese that laid the golden egg and will any demise of the show lead to even more lucrative offers for the show’s presenters from a rival network?

Clarkson may have elements of the “lovable larrikin”, the slightly eccentric rogue who speaks his mind and won’t be censored.

But at the end of the day, the BBC as an employer and broadcaster had no alternative than to cut him loose, even though the program is a valuable commodity and Clarkson, a valuable star.

And, in my view, it was the right decision. The BBC’s brand – like any brand – relies on the values and culture of the whole organisation including its people, products and behaviours being aligned internally and consistently projected externally.

To condone behaviour which conflicts with that brand position not only undermines all those who work for the BBC but also those who interact with it – not least of all its audience.

It’s a valuable reminder to us all that a brand is much more than a logo – it’s a reputation earned over a long period of time by a set of behaviours which deliver consistent experiences. It is the therefore the responsibility of all leaders to demonstrate and protect their organisational values and imbue their team with them.

Sorry to see the “car crash” Top Gear has become – but in the end, the BBC’s decision is one we at Hughes would endorse.

- Catherine Bauer