Hemmington is responsible for overseeing the spending of nearly 20% of the license fee ©123RF
Hemmington is responsible for overseeing the spending of nearly 20% of the license fee ©123RF

How to save money without stifling creativity at the BBC

19 August 2016

Building good stakeholder relationships and engaging with projects early allows the BBC’s procurement boss to make savings without stifling creativity. 

Jim Hemmington, director of procurement at the BBC, is responsible for spending £1.4bn a year on goods and services for the corporation, everything apart from buying programmes. He oversees the spending of nearly 20% of the license fee.

Last financial year, his procurement team achieved £65m of savings, exceeding their target of £50m.

“The BBC is obviously a very creative organisation and when you look into some of the production areas, talent and creativity and quality is key,” said Hemmington, who is speaking at this year’s CIPS Annual Conference. “We’re looking at driving competition, pushing for a more commercial way of consuming the services which can sometimes conflict with editorial and creative objectives.”

Early engagement is key to managing stakeholder relationships like this, and can mitigate the image of procurement as gatekeepers. Hemmington’s procurement team are involved from the very start: the “green light” process where programme concepts are first evaluated.

“The thing I say to my team time and time again is: ‘Present yourselves as business partners championing the business’. I want people out of the business saying: ‘These guys are heroes for us, they come in, they help us and they really add value to what we’re trying to do’,” said Hemmington. 

It can be a fine balance for a public corporation tightening its belt. For example, when sourcing behind the scene talent such as special effects experts or makeup artists, the BBC can struggle to compete with its competitors on levels of payment. “You have to find means of counteracting that,” said Hemmington.

Brand loyalty helps, but the BBC also aims to link up productions to keep external talent engaged. “[The] talent know that when a production is coming to an end they have another production within the BBC that they are already engaged on,” said Hemmington, who can do this by engaging with stakeholders in the early stages of production.

Hemmington said he also brings contractors to the table early on big projects to help identify potential value opportunities. During the Brexit referendum Hemmington had his logistics suppliers on site throughout the night to make sure appropriate taxis and transport were available for politicians and pundits.

However, the BBC does not always have the luxury of knowing when a big event will happen, and both its procurement team and its suppliers sometimes need to be able to move faster than its journalists.

When in 2013 Pope Benedict XVI became the first pontiff to resign in nearly 600 years, Hemmington said the BBC’s logistics partners had booked its journalists plane tickets as soon as the news broke. “Lots of Catholics were heading out to Rome as soon as the news broke, so flight capacity was used up very, very quickly,” he said.

“We got the best stories out from that particular incident. Of course the head of news was very, very complimentary of what the supplier had brought to the table on that one,” said Hemmington.

Likewise when the Paris terror attack happened in November last year, Hemmington said the BBC’s partners logistic partners were quick to help the corporation account for all its journalists in the country before going on to book flights and transport.

“[Our partners] will know, with a story like that, broadly what number of journalists the BBC would want to take out to cover a story like that, how quickly they’d want to get people out. They also know where our local journalists are, and if there are any local travel arrangements they may need they will put them in place quite quickly,” he said.

This level of cooperation does not necessarily come from long-term partnerships, said Hemmington, and contracts are re-tendered every three to five years. “You just need to be a good supplier with good ideas about how you can understand our ideas quite quickly and deliver the goods,” he said.

Where possible however, the earlier the engagement the better. “Our guys are already working with production for the next Olympics in 2020 in Japan,” he said.

Jim Hemmington will be one of the speakers at this year’s CIPS Annual Conference. Find out more and book your tickets here.

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