CV: Sue Farr Director of Marketing and Communications, BBC Broadcast
Monday 03 November 1997
I went to Reading University and did a degree in English and politics, graduating in 1977. I'd already decided I wanted to do marketing, so I saw a whole host of companies on the milk round and decided to join Northern Foods. After a six-month induction, I ended up working in the marketing department in Oldham, doing everything from working on new products to dealing with Sainsbury's when their deliveries went awry.
After two years, I got married, and as my husband, a chartered surveyor, was doing his training in London, I moved down there and got a job working for a marketing consultancy called KAE, which had clients such as Heinz and Mars. I mostly worked on FMCG business, and was there through a really buoyant phase. The drawback to consultancy, though, is that however right the recommendations, at the end of the day you can't make the clients act on them, which gets very frustrating.
Then an advertising agency, Dorlands, with whom we shared a client, HP Bulmer, called up one day in 1983 and said they were looking for account directors. Dorlands had a very solid client list, and so I took the job, and they gave me some big pieces of business - HP Bulmer, Cadbury, Express Eden Vale. Of course, I'd had no advertising training, but Dorlands was a big agency, and in the Eighties they'd got the time and resources to invest in people.
From there, in 1985, I went to another ad agency called Collett Dickenson Pearce to run their new business operation, which was very exciting. But one morning in 1986 there was a phone call from Robin Wight of the agency WCRS, who wanted to meet me, and he offered me the chance to set up their new business department. Professional career planners will tell you that it looks very bad on your CV if you leave a place after only a year, but I think if you're offered an extraordinary opportunity like that, you should take it.
And I didn't regret it. WCRS was a can-do place, mainly because of Robin. But the agency was thought of as a bit off the wall, and many big multinationals and government departments wouldn't put it on their pitch lists. Young and Rubicam had just done the first privatisation campaign, for British Gas, and that had really put them on the map, so I went into Robin one day and suggested we plan to get on the pitch list for the electricity privatisation in two years' time. We got on it, and we won it, and from then on, WCRS, though still thought of as creative and exciting, was big league.
Along the way, I had got involved with the Marketing Society, and was instrumental in setting up the Marketing Society Awards. At the end of the Eighties, we were looking for sponsors, and I approached Thames Television, who obliged. And, out of that relationship, I was offered a job, as Thames' first director of corporate communications, in 1990.
But in 1992, of course, Thames lost its franchise. Obviously, we'd got a Plan A and a Plan B in terms of communication - and, unfortunately, it was Plan B. But part of Plan B was for Thames and the BBC to get together to launch a new satellite channel, UK Gold, and I was asked to do the launch marketing for it. Then it was decided that UK Gold needed a chief executive, and I threw my hat into the ring - but in the end it came down to two people, and I didn't get it. To be perfectly blunt, it was the first job I'd wanted that I hadn't succeeded in getting, and it was a stumbling block for me.
What I did then was write to people, saying I wanted a new job. And, quite quickly, two or three things came up, one option being to join the BBC: Liz Forgan, managing director of what was then network radio, wanted to appoint a head of marketing and publicity.
Radio was becoming viciously competitive as a medium, but the BBC, as a monopoly, wasn't a marketing culture. So we restructured the department, recruiting marketing managers for the networks. The thing that I'm most thrilled about is the way that marketing and publicity have been integrated. We've been very successful, and the three things I'd pull out to demonstrate that are the repositioning of Radio 1, the launch of Radio 5 Live, and Proms in the Park, which I was responsible for launching in 1996.
Then, when the BBC restructured last year, BBC Broadcast was created, bringing together what was network radio, network television, regional broadcasting, local radio and television and education in one entity. And, late last year, it was announced that the BBC was going to hire its first director of marketing and communications, bringing together the press and the marketing for all those families in one place. I wanted that job very badly, went for it, and was appointed in February this year.
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