Sue Farr

Strategic and Business Development Director, Chime Communications PLC

Ben Somerset-How

Client Director


Tom Holmes talks to Sue Farr, currently leading Chime’s strategic and business development programme. The Chime Group helps clients create, manage, monitor and market their businesses, brands and reputation both in the UK and internationally. Sue has been a member of the Management Team of Chime since 2003.

creativebrief: How are the agencies in Chime’s Advertising and Marketing Services Division performing?

Sue Farr: Well, we’ve recently released our 2011 H1 numbers and I’m pleased to say that the VCCP Group reported strong growth, up 24% year-on-year.

It’s been a particularly good year for new business with recent wins including easyJet, Carling, Dairy Crest, Barclays, Eurostar, Diageo and L’Oreal.

creativebrief: What trends do you observe in the current marketplace? Any predictions?

Sue Farr: As always, business follows the talent. Chime remains an entrepreneurial culture and I think we’re brilliant at attracting and retaining great people and great people win business. It’s sort of as simple as that!

We’re also particularly good at working across agencies and divisions; 65% of our clients work with more than one of our businesses and this trend is increasing.

Clients want teams who work well together to fix stuff – and that’s what we do. I increasingly put together cross-Chime teams in response to pitch briefs.

creativebrief: What is the particular focus of your agencies? What sectors of industry is Chime interested in?

Sue Farr: We believe that in terms of expertise and motivation small is beautiful. So there are over 50 companies in the Chime Group, each of which is focussed around a particular area of expertise.

The companies are clustered into 4 key divisions; Advertising and Marketing Services (The VCCP Group), PR (The Bell Pottinger Group), Sports Marketing (Fasttrack and Essentially) and Research.

Between them these Divisions cover all aspects of the marcomms mix and all business sectors too. So, no need to look anywhere other than Chime!

It’s also worth noting that 50% of our income now comes from our international businesses.

creativebrief: What qualities do you need for agency new business development these days?

Sue Farr: One of Chris Satterthwaite’s favourite quotes is from Solomon “Grant me oh Lord a listening heart.” Enough said….

creativebrief: What are your plans for the future?

Sue Farr: Well, we’re continuing to invest in new areas, hence recent acquisitions in Sports Marketing, Healthcare and Digital.

Our international operations continue to show strong growth. We are continuing to expand into disciplines and geographies in which we either don’t operate or where we’re under-represented. And as I mentioned earlier, investing in people is always pretty near the top of our agenda.

creativebrief: Before Chime, you were best known as Director of Marketing at the BBC and were credited with introducing marketing into the Corporation. What was it like working for the BBC?

Sue Farr: Wonderful, infuriating, exciting, exhausting!

Seriously I was the first professional marketer to join the BBC and for many programme makers at that time, marketing was some sort of expensive black art to either be avoided or stamped out!

When I left, 7 years later, the discipline was firmly established across all the BBC’s Public Services, we had launched new networks and services such as Radio 5 Live and

Most importantly of all, the Controllers were passionate about the marketing of their channels.

creativebrief: Do you think the BBC has an understanding of the role of marketing?

Sue Farr: It does now. The BBC operates in a ferociously competitive arena, the days of monopoly and duopoly are long gone.

The BBC has a duty to understand its Licence Fee payers and provide them with a range of channels and services that justify the public service remit. If marketing can help programme makers do that, then it’s always going to be a welcome weapon in the armoury.

It’s fair to say that I began a process which was then ably taken forward by Andy Duncan and Tim Davie.

That Tim is now heading up all the BBC’s Audio Services demonstrate that marketing is now seen as central within the BBC.

creativebrief: What are your most proud of achieving during your time at the BBC?

Sue Farr: On one level, the achievements centred around delivering the marketing strategies behind all the BBC’s channels and services. On another, I’m particularly proud of some of the launches including; Radio 5 Live, the relaunch of Radio One and the launch of all the BBC’s digital services. We also designed a structure that properly brought together all the BBC’s marketing and communications in one place.

By the time I left the BBC’s marketing operation was 400 strong and featured some highly talented individuals, many of whom have gone on to great things. For example Andria Vidler, now CEO, UK and Ireland at EMI. Gaille at Fallon, Andrew Whyte, Director of Communications at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

And last but not least I’m immensely proud of personally devising and launching Proms-in-the-Park!!

creativebrief: And before that as Marketing Director of UK Gold and Director of Corporate Communications Thames Television?

Sue Farr: Plan A at Thames was to keep the franchise. When Carlton Communications outbid us, it was time for Plan B. Which was to partner with BBC Worldwide and get a new satellite channel off the ground in six months flat. Well, we did it and from the day it launched in November 1992 UK Gold surpassed all of its targets. Result!

creativebrief: You had a stint as Director of Communications at Vauxhall, what was that like?

Sue Farr: Yes, I did a 6 month interim role and loved it. It’s a fascinating industry which (like many others) has its own norms, its own language, its own challenges.

The key is that new cars are 7 years in development from concept to production. So, the then Chairman of Vauxhall, the wonderful Kevin Wale (who now runs General Motors in China), knew that he would have some marvellous new cars to launch. However, at that time, the Vauxhall reputation was extremely poor and within the company, marketing and public relations were at war with one another.

My role was to develop a totally integrated marcomms strategy, to build the internal resource and to enable a step change in reputation. It was a rewarding time…

creativebrief: What do you think is missing from the industry now?

Sue Farr: Confidence and belief in the magic that is brilliant marketing. The power of an Aleksandr, or a Perfect Day… should never be underestimated.

The economy is depressing but arguable that’s when creativity is even more important. Personally I’d prefer to see experienced marketers stay longer in their roles and take more responsibility for driving their brands. I’d like to see more agency folk with client side experience and vice versa.

And, let’s stop inter – agency wrangling. No-one benefits, it’s no fun, lets have the disciplines working harmoniously together. The clients will love us for it, our lives will be enriched and most importantly of all the brands will flourish.

creativebrief: Looking to the future, what is your next big challenge?

Sue Farr: Watch this space. I’ve moved into a plural life with two Non Exec roles which I love. I hope to add to that, whilst continuing to enjoy every day at Chime!

A bit about Sue…

Sue Farr has been a member of the Management Team of Chime since 2003 and is currently leading Chime’s strategic and business development programme.

Prior to joining Chime she was European Managing Director of Golin/Harris, an IPG owned public relations group where she ran several businesses across Europe. Most of Sue’s client-side career has been spent in broadcasting; firstly as Director of Corporate Communications for Thames Television plc (1990-1993), which saw her launch UK Gold, and subsequently as Director of Marketing for the BBC (1993-2000), where she was responsible for marketing strategy, planning and implementation across all the BBC’s public service brands.

A director of The Marketing Society since 1984, Sue was the first woman Chair in 1991-1992. She was a non-executive director of New Look plc from 1994 until 1996 and was Chairman of The Marketing Group of Great Britain from 1999 to 2001.

Sue was voted the Advertising Woman of the Year in 1997, a WACL Woman of Achievement in 1998 and was awarded The Marketing Society ‘Grand Prix’ in 1998.