My Life In Media: Cilla Snowball

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The Independent Online

Cilla Snowball, 46, is chairman of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, the largest advertising agency in Britain. The former waitress survived initial rejection by AMV before going on to run the firm responsible for accounts such as Guinness, Sainsbury's, The Economist, the BBC, Walkers and BT. She is married and has two sons, 16 and 14, and a daughter, 11.

Cilla Snowball, 46, is chairman of Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, the largest advertising agency in Britain. The former waitress survived initial rejection by AMV before going on to run the firm responsible for accounts such as Guinness, Sainsbury's, The Economist, the BBC, Walkers and BT. She is married and has two sons, 16 and 14, and a daughter, 11.

So what inspired you to start a career in the media?

I left university with a love of all things creative and with an interest in business. A career in advertising seemed to combine both and provide good grad traineeships.

When you were 15 years old, what was the family newspaper and did you read it?

We got the Telegraph. It flopped on the doormat in the morning and looked too impenetrable to get my head round, so no, I didn't read it, except in June to check the Wimbledon order of play.

And what were your favourite TV and radio programmes?

As the youngest of three kids, it was all music and comedy viewing. Top of the Pops was a must-view every week (I think Pan's People were still around then and I wanted to look like Babs). Not the Nine O'clock News and Fawlty Towers - comedy was fresh and engaging at the time. Radio was non-stop: very loud Radio 1 - Kenny Everett et al, and the chart show on a Sunday - and at night Radio Luxembourg. Maybe it was the precursor to my iPod habit.

What's the first media you turn to in the morning?

The Times gets delivered at the crack of dawn and I always flick through fast before my sons hog it for the sports. I drive in to the Today programme. It sets the agenda and gets my brain going.

Do you consult any media sources during the working day?

Online daily news bulletins; weekly media supplements - The Indy, the FT and The Guardian; and trade press such as Marketing, Marketing Week and Campaign. I get press cuttings on our clients first thing and stop to read the Evening Standard in my PA's office in the early evening.

What is the best thing about your job?

Chairing a great company with a wonderful team and amazing clients. It's a joy and a genuine privilege to create work that can transform brands, businesses and behaviour.

And the worst?

Accepting defeat on new business pitches. I'm a bad loser.

What's the proudest achievement in your working life?

Getting a job and then being promoted at AMV.

And your most embarrassing moment?

Asking a VIP Shell client in Ogilvy reception if he was my cab driver. He had a sense of humour and laughed. I was horrified and have never done anything worse.

At home, what do you tune in to?

Radio 4 constantly, especially at weekends.

What is your Sunday paper? And do you have a favourite magazine?

The Sunday Times, with the time to read it properly. I love The Economist (they're a client), but am also an avid Vogue and In Style junkie.

Name the career ambition you want to realise before you retire.

Work-life balance. I could do with an extra day in the week.

If you didn't work in the media, what would you do?

Run a restaurant serving home-grown, local, seasonal produce. Ideally by the sea; somewhere gorgeous. That's a long term ambition and I need to brush up on my cooking considerably.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

Helen Boaden, director of BBC News, and Helen Alexander, chief executive of The Economist. Both clients are smart, sparky women with big brains, big hearts and wicked laughs; both incredibly decent and modest.

Interview by Oliver Duff

CV

1981: Graduates from Birmingham University and joins Allen Brady & Marsh as a trainee.

1983: Moves to Ogilvy & Mather, where she manages accounts for Rowntree and Lever Brothers and runs new business.

1992: Joins Abbott Mead Vickers as the agency's first new business director. She becomes head of client service in 1994, managing director in 1999 and then chief executive in 2002.

2003: She is forced to apologise when the agency breaches an industry code restricting adverts aimed at children, for its "pester mum" Wotsits ad.

2004: AMV.BBDO comes first in the Marketing Week client-satisfaction survey, wins an IPA Effectiveness Gold Award for its work on tobacco control and celebrates 20 years of working with The Economist (the average agency-client relationship lasts four years). She is appointed chairman in November and made non-executive director of Macmillan Cancer Relief. She is also a non-executive director of PR agency Fishburn Hedges.

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