Chris MacLeod, Marketing Director, TFL

As the world’s attention focuses on London, on the eve of the Olympics Tom Holmes talks to Chris MacLeod, Marketing Director of Transport for London.

Tom Holmes

Founder & Chairman



As the world’s attention focuses on London, on the eve of the Olympics Tom Holmes talks to Chris MacLeod, Marketing Director of Transport for London.

Chris was recruited to TfL in 2006 and is a former marketing director of Papa John’s. He also has agency experience as a former Chief Executive of CDP and managing partner at McCann Erickson.


Creativebrief: Chris, as Marketing Director of Transport for London (TfL) what is your primary focus?

Chris MacLeod: It’s very broad ranging role; Tube trains to Cycling, Oyster cards to Road Safety. In essence I try ensure we put the customer at the center of everything we do and help them use our services in the most relevant ways to get around London and make the most out of what the city has to offer.

Creativebrief: Your career has spanned TfL, Collet Dickenson Pearce, Laing Henry, Saatchi & Saatchi and Leagas Delaney, what have been the high points?

Chris MacLeod: Memories, memories…..

I have always said I learnt about advertising at Leagas Delaney, about the business of advertising at Saatchi and about running a business at Laing Henry. And it was a privilege to have worked at such a legendary agency as Collett’s.

Creativebrief: Along the way, have there been individual marketers who particularly impressed and inspired you?

Chris MacLeod: I think it would be unfair to ‘name names’. Over the years I have been lucky enough to have worked with some of the best people in both Advertising and Marketing and I have tried to learn something from all of them – mainly the good stuff!

I think the trick is to remain open to new ideas – you can learn something from most people.

Creativebrief: You are a former Chairman of the Marketing Society, and currently head the Fellows Group, can you tell me what you most appreciate about this organisation and the members it attracts?

Chris MacLeod: I like the idea of working with others to set the standards for Marketing generally, promoting the latest thinking and providing resources for all Marketers particularly those up and coming. And personally it is stimulating to be around such a great bunch of the best marketing talent and I get a lot from that.

Creativebrief: What work have you done recently makes you the most proud?

Chris MacLeod: A result of our broad remit is that we have a large and varied output. I am obviously biased but I think we manage to achieve a very high standard with all our outputs – thanks to very dedicated and committed staff and excellent supplier partners.

Recent highlights are our work on Teens Road safety – an important issue matched by very powerful creative (and a recent Marketing Awards winner) and our campaign around the Tube Upgrade Plan – a very hard working programme which features a high level of integration everything from ads through to emails and  films highlighting the work we are doing, line by line.

Creativebrief: What are the main challenges for TfL over the next 12 months?

Chris MacLeod: We have recently completed a major re-organisation which has included the development of a new integrated Marketing function to work across all our businesses – bedding that in and developing a new strategic marketing plan are key challenges.

We have to do this whilst continuing to support a high standard of operational delivery across all our services – many of which, such as the Tube, are also undergoing major change and investment programmes themselves.

And then of course there are the Olympic and Paralympics Games…

Creativebrief: Can you tell us about ‘Get Ahead of the Games’ activity and what you plan to achieve?

Chris MacLeod: It’s simple really. We have invested a huge amount in improving and increasing transport capacity in advance of the Games. But every Games always experiences a huge demand for transport. So at certain times and certain places across the public transport and roads network in London during the Games there will be major ‘hotspots’ – places where there is likely to be crowding and congestion. What we need to do to make everything to go smoothly is to get people who are not going to the Games to travel differently at those times. This might mean travelling in different ways, at different times or travelling less or working from home if that is possible. For businesses it could include how they manage staff, freight and deliveries.

Everyday will be different and we need to encourage people to plan ahead, to not get caught out or to ‘chance it’ with their transport and travel plans. So in conjunction with the ODA and the main UK transport providers we are mounting a major multi-media campaign which aims to establishes this issue and then provide people, including businesses, with information and support for dealing with it.

Creativebrief: How do you see the media landscape unfolding in the next 5 years?

Chris MacLeod: Big question. For us it will involve the increasing use of digital channels and providing information directly to all our customers, not just at home but also on the move. Wi-Fi on the Tube is a big step in that direction. More ‘personalisation’ and making our businesses easier to work with, again driven by technological developments and digital channels is important too.

Creativebrief: Do you prefer to use an ‘integrated’ agency approach or specialist agencies by individual discipline?

Chris MacLeod: I don’t have hard and fast views on this. ‘Integration’ is one of those topics that has been flogged to death. What you need are agencies which take an open ‘media neutral’ approach to the Marketing problem, whatever it might be. A lot claim to do that, very few do in practice.

Creativebrief: When choosing agencies were you ever influenced by awards?

Chris MacLeod: No. But a general track record of creative and business achievement and excellence can be a good guide to their future performance.

Creativebrief: How often do you look at new agencies or review your roster?

Chris MacLeod: As a public body we have pretty set timings and processes for this. Main agency contracts usually run from 3 to 5 years and are determined through competitive reviews. But we can obviously change our arrangements at any time if requirements – or agency performance – warrant it.

Creativebrief: How do you monitor and stay-in-touch with the agency market to ensure you work with the best?

Chris MacLeod: I try and keep up with the journals and talk with peers and colleagues. But our Procurement approach really puts the onus on agencies to come forward when we have a tender. 

Creativebrief: Which agencies do you think are ‘hot’ right now?

Chris MacLeod: Again I think it would be unfair to single out particular agencies – and we are obviously pretty happy with our current arrangements! I am not sure how important that rather nebulous concept is to us; there are a lot of great agencies out there and the important thing is to have agencies which meet our complex and demanding needs – and that might not be the ones which are ‘fashionable’ at any point in time.


Creativebrief: Do you/have you used intermediaries in the past? What are your observations?

Chris MacLeod: I have used them in the past and they can be useful in giving additional insights into what is available, when looking into new areas and specialisms and for specific projects.

Creativebrief: Would you ever consider awarding an agency business without a pitch? What would they have to do / demonstrate?

Chris MacLeod: We probably would not do that at TfL because of our Procurement guidelines. But we would give new projects to existing roster agencies if that was appropriate.

In general it would depend on the situation.

Creativebrief: What are your top tips to agencies when presenting credentials to you?

Chris MacLeod: As always, it’s about the basics: Keep it simple, get to the point. Talk about us not you. Do your homework – and listen.

Creativebrief: What was the most impressive agency presentation you have ever seen?

Chris MacLeod: Still waiting...