My Media Day: Donald Campbell, chief executive, MG ALBA

DONALD Campbell is chief executive of MG ALBA, one of the partners in the Gaelic language TV channel, BBC ALBA.

He submitted this on Tuesday, September 25.

What exactly is it you do?

I run MG ALBA, an organisation set up by statute and funded by the Scottish Government, whose job is to bring Gaelic programmes to the TV screens of people in Scotland.

We are in a partnership with the BBC to operate BBC ALBA and I chair the joint management board of the channel.

Our two other projects are FilmG, a Gaelic short film competition which won Best Cultural Event 2012 at the Scottish Event Awards, and the LearnGaelic website, which we deliver in partnership with others.

I am also chairman of the Celtic Media Festival and a member of the Skillset Scotland Advisory Board.

I split my time between Glasgow, Stornoway and other parts of Scotland or the UK.

What did your working day today or yesterday comprise?

Each day is different, but yesterday was all about being with people, listening and settling on priorities.

Yesterday, I arrived reasonably early at the BBC in Pacific Quay, where we have our Glasgow base, and on the way in bumped into one of our sports commentators. It was an unexpected pleasure and the conversation gave me food for thought throughout the day.

By 10am, I had considered views and opinions about my proposal for a Memorandum of Understanding with a Gaelic language partner agency. And, pleasingly, I had managed to take the next step forward by communicating clearly and succinctly (I hope) with our board.

I say ‘pleasingly’, because writing in Gaelic can be a pleasure in itself, such is the richness of the vocabulary and the variety of the idiom. But I was determined to keep up the tempo and meet my self-imposed deadline.

The rest of the day was spent mostly away from the desk, with colleagues.

First up was an hour-and-a-half working session on the development needs of the still-young BBC ALBA. We are absolutely delighted with how BBC ALBA is doing, but we can’t be complacent. Even on a standstill budget we want to maintain the momentum and the direction of travel.

The other two in the room, who know a thing or two about organisational improvement, made sure they worked me hard. I needed to prepare for a big meeting and needed to narrow down options and priorities, and that is what they helped me do.

Energised and encouraged, I then got an update from our HR adviser over a sandwich and coffee at lunch. We spent part of the time considering what would be an appropriate level of organisational commitment to the Investors in People programme, and we reached a conclusion on that.

The canteen at the BBC in Glasgow is a great place to meet people and the break after the morning’s work was a welcome one.

I have learned over the years that we continually have to work hard to build good teamwork especially when colleagues are in different office locations, such as Stornoway, Skye, Glasgow and Inverness. We don’t always get it right, particularly when we lapse into over-reliance on emails. For us, if we can’t be face-to-face, it’s much better to have frequent but short Skype conference calls, with email follow-up if necessary. It encourages participation and collaboration, and it keeps energy levels high.

I had all this at the back of my mind when we held two working sessions with colleagues in the afternoon.

The first was in person and by conference call between Glasgow and Stornoway. Colleagues provided status updates on web and communications projects and we unblocked log-jams and agreed next steps.

The next session was a regular weekly meeting with my colleague who supports the work of the management team and the board. She brought me up to speed with work and diary commitments for the next two months and we re-jigged our calendars to ensure we meet deadlines. I put one or two things on our ‘to-do’ list and I received some valuable feedback about the relative merits of debate as against argument.

In between those sessions, I spent 20 minutes at my desk with the Celtic Media Festival producer, finalising award categories for next year’s festival in Swansea and signing off on a couple of things.

I left the office about 5.15pm, which is the earliest that has happened for some time, and when I got home spent about half an hour catching up on email traffic.

Today,  I was up at 5am to get the 7am flight to Stornoway, where I will be working until Thursday. The day so far has not been as structured as yesterday, as it was spent at the desk, on the phone and in conversations with colleagues as we caught up on issues and started the cycle of writing next year’s business plan and budget.

How different or similar was it to your average working day when you started in post?

There is no comparison.

The biggest difference back then was that we were going from a standing start into unchartered territory. Regardless of the difficulties we encountered, the ‘prize’ of ALBA was always drawing us forward. There were eight of us when I started and our priority was to bring us and the BBC into partnership for the creation of a Gaelic TV channel. Agreeing it took one year. Delivering it took another.

We also refreshed our image and brand in 2008, calling ourselves MG ALBA. short for ‘Gaelic Media Scotland’. We went on a recruitment drive and with an expanded staff count of almost 30 took operational responsibilities for the new channel’s supply chain: commissioning, scheduling and promoting programmes; media management and technical quality control; providing production, broadcast and comms services to our programme-makers; and producing about 100 hours per year of ‘junctions’ – continuity and trails, by and large.

The team is still excited, optimistic and willing to put in the long hours. The rapid start-up phase has passed, though, and the focus is on ensuring that a young channel that is growing in maturity also retains its spirit of entrepreneurship.

ALBA was four years old on September 19. About 500,000 people watch every week.

How do you see the job evolving?

The job is about management and leadership, and they are very different challenges.

In the set-up phase, the job was all about leadership. Then, as the channel developed and patterns became established, it became critically important to ensure that management and accountability were of the highest order.

Now we are into the next phase, where we need to maintain our standards of management, but where leadership in driving forward, a development strategy is paramount.

What gives you most job satisfaction?

Jack Welch – the famous head of General Electric – compared the job of CEO to that of the gardener who digs, plants, waters, feeds, weeds and prunes.

For me, it is about ensuring that the conditions are as right as they can be for our three offerings of BBC ALBA, FilmG and LearnGaelic to succeed.

The most satisfaction for me comes when I see Gaelic-speaking individuals around me, who are colleagues or who are participants in Gaelic media, growing in leadership and self-confidence.

Invariably, it will be as a result of their own hard work and exemplary attitude, but to have played a small part in providing the opportunity is its own reward.