The Great British Bake Off: A home economics lesson in employee engagement

Wherever you sit in the world, if you are managing a branded business, the current headlines around -award-winning TV programme Great British Bake Off stimulate interesting questions around the relationships between employees and brands.

It’s rare that a television cookery show captures the news headlines in any country, but that is what’s happened over the past couple of weeks in the UK. Great British Bake Off is a powerful brand, independently produced but associated with the BBC. Now finishing its seventh series, it has spawned numerous spin off series and products, and has started to stretch globally, having been aired in the United States. The chintzy combination of nice people, delicious things and double entendres has brought the show to the nation’s bosom.

Collective gasps of horror were audible up and down the country as it was announced this week that the BBC is losing the show to rivals Channel 4 for a reported £75million ($97m). But what has really caught people’s attention, is that key members of the presenting team – Mel, Sue and Mary Berry – are not moving with the show.

“Without them, the Bake Off is now an éclair without its crème” stated The Independent forlornly…

Which brings me to an interesting (home) economics lesson. What is the value of a brand or organisation without its dedicated core team? Many have speculated that Bake Off is at risk of becoming an empty tent in a field without the team that built it.

This raises several interesting questions. The first, is what makes an entertainment brand: how much is the ‘talent’ – the presenters, how much is the format, how much is the name…? It’s a question that’s occupied many media company as talent leaves. Another British export, Top Gear, is a case in point. In any marketing job, it’s a question that brand managers obsess about as they plan brand stretch. What are the critical elements in the eyes of consumers that need to be retained at all costs?

The second question is around the importance of employee involvement. How do you create the right conditions for all members of an organisation to want to give their best each day, committed to their brand and their company’s future goals and values, motivated to contribute to organisational success? Were top employees involved in questions of the future of the programme? It seems that what started as a commercial decision for the production company, became played out in the media as being all about the top talent. The charge: without these individuals striving for the brand’s success, the brand itself will become half-baked.

The risk for Channel 4 is that the presenting team behind Bake Off is what makes Bake Off unique and this serves as an interesting illustration: the value of any brand or organisation is not just the name above the door but the people inside. Be it an FMCG brand, hedge fund or TV show, success is dependent on the commitment of the employees driving that business forwards. ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ and Bake Off, like any brand, is only as good as the individuals that pull together to ensure its enduring success.

This is why organisations must place a priority on investing and valuing their employees and recognising their vital role in the long term sustainability of the brand. Whilst we all talk wholeheartedly about the value of customer-centricity, we can’t neglect the equal importance of putting the employees first. My husband often remarks “happy wife, happy life”. Perhaps companies should view their employees in the same regard, as a partnership or marriage. Like a marriage, striving for engagement, respect and loyalty is absolutely critical for a company to survive and grow.

For Bake Off, the proof will be in the pudding. Roll on Season 8.

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