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Bake Off Turn Off?

By David Walker


What’s the key thing to remember about a perfect recipe? Quite simply, don’t mess with it.

It’s often what good PR is founded on - and it remains one of the great lessons of TV.

Attempt to change the ingredients when you’re doing just fine and you may well be courting a ‘jumping the shark’ moment – a well-coined phrase in TV land which references the infamous Happy Days episode where the Fonz suddenly and bafflingly hurtled over the head of shark while on water skis, an occurrence that almost immediately led to the demise of the show.

We’ve seen previously venerated shows jumping the shark, from Bobby Ewing’s comical return from the dead in Dallas to the creators of Lost tying themselves in so many knots that they simply couldn’t explain all of its mysteries.

So what of the imminent return of the Great British Bake Off? Quite frankly, it’s already a public relations disaster, even before the airing of the first instalment – riddled with soggy bottoms. More “Off” than “Great”.

In TV, there is much to lose from a daring change of direction, leaving PRs with an impossible rescue job.

Bake Off’s messy divorce from the BBC was the beginning of the end, and few came out of it looking good, least of all its creators Love Productions who claimed the move wasn’t about money, but instead finding “the best home for the Bake Off”.

Worse, after the format’s sale to Channel 4 for an eye-watering £75million, it became clear the legals had somehow failed to tie up its winning mix of talent. Looked at from a PR perspective, you have to ask why they weren’t fully briefed, and why they were allowed to comment individually on their own divisive interests.

Thus, we entered upon a true media debacle with Paul Hollywood coming across as a money-grabber for jumping ship for a reported £1.2million, Mary Berry perching her soggy bottom firmly on the BBC sofa, and Mel and Sue getting out of Dodge altogether.

Then Channel 4’s chief creative officer Jay Hunt blatantly and very publicly insulted national treasure Mary by insisting “Paul really is the star baker”.

A further public relations misadventure saw Paul releasing a statement - thanking Mel and Sue, but failing to mention Mary. Ouch!

The charm of the show has always been its quaint, quintessential Britishness. But with huge sums and vast egos now at play, the charm fades and the brand is irrevocably damaged.

We have a strange new line-up desperate to replicate former glories – stalwart telly gnome Sandi Toksvig, oddball hilaro-goth Noel Fielding. The only sensible choice is Prue Leith whose cooking credentials speak for themselves - but will they be enough to convince fans not to switch off?

Noel has stolen a march on his co-hosts in the shoot-yourself-in-the-foot stakes by stating he won’t be eating any cake as he wants to watch his weight - a bit like Clark Kent getting a job in a Kryptonite factory. Sandi Toksvig hasn’t fared much better, admitting to hardly watching the show before signing up.

The jarring sense of a greedy corporate machine whirring into life will only be heightened by the numerous ad breaks inevitably centred on food-related products and outlets.

Back on the venerable old BBC, there’s a Bake Off replacement prepped for launch and desperately insisting it has nothing to do with the original show. Called The Big Family Cooking Showdown, it’s got former Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussein and will air on BBC Two around the same time as the show which first catapulted her into Britain’s living rooms.

The comparisons are inevitable, and as a certain tabloid front page put it, ‘The oven gloves are off’ in this rabid battle for viewers, which will likely further alienate the public.

The PR battle has already been lost. The Bake Off brand has undoubtedly been tainted. Meanwhile, the show’s rivals are wheeling out productions trying so hard to be different they’re in danger of missing the point entirely.

Let’s hope that major lessons have been learned from last year – that the audience is kept firmly in mind, the brand is carefully upheld, and a united front is presented by the new Channel 4 line-up. After all, the best PR is genuine PR delivered with conviction, because the public instinctively responds to that.

They’ll know immediately if something doesn’t smell right in the new Bake Off kitchen.

Good PR protects a brand from major changes. Call us on 0800 612 9890 for help and advice on preserving brand reputation.