Profile: Louise Terry, group director, internal and external comms, L'Oreal UK and Ireland

L'Oreal's group comms director has been instrumental in proving the value of PR to senior management. Gemma O'Reilly reports.

Louise Terry
Louise Terry

The headquarters of L'Oreal UK, despite their west London roundabout location, are the average girl's dream.

Corporate comms boss Louise Terry's office houses hair salons, beauty studios and an array of luxury products on every available wall space. As Terry, 47, sits in the firm's cafe on the seventh floor, it is noticeable she is reaping the benefits of L'Oreal's care.

But Terry does not work in a completely frivolous environment; she is a serious PR practitioner facing the daily challenges of a firm that is rarely out of the news, including the L'Oreal family feud currently playing out in the French media.

In the UK, the company is basking in the media attention surrounding ambassador Cheryl Cole's role on the new series of X Factor, which kicked off last month.

The move to sign up Cole was unusual for the firm, which typically shies away from UK-only celebrities. However, Terry and her team's suggestion to recruit 'the darling of the nation', was the right move, claims Terry proudly.

But the collaboration has not been free from controversy. Last year L'Oreal was accused of misleading fans by failing to mention that Cole uses hair extensions in her L'Oreal TV advertisement.

'Cheryl wears hair extensions as that's her look,' explains Terry. 'It was one of the things we looked at before we signed her and we all felt it was a very well known fact. We also put a statement on the ad saying this, so we felt fairly happy that we were open about it. But clearly there's a school of thought that we weren't.'

The Cole scenario plays a part in a wider debate about ideals in advertising that has preoccupied political parties, women's groups and the media in recent years.

Terry says that while the debate is something L'Oreal takes very seriously, ideals about beauty have existed for centuries: 'Consumers like to see beautiful images. It's a human preoccupation - like it or not. Beauty companies didn't create that.'

However, she adds: 'Obviously there is a fine line between that and showing something that is false. And that is something of which we're mindful. We believe everybody wants to look like the best version of themselves they can be, and that makes them feel better. It's something we are looking to focus on in future campaigns and something PR can do a lot with - believing beauty boosts our self-esteem.'

L'Oreal has always been more comfortable talking about the individual brands within its extensive portfolio than itself, says Terry. The turning point came when Terry was drafted in to help with the acquisition of The Body Shop in 2006.

'There was a lot of criticism when Anita Roddick sold out to L'Oreal. And L'Oreal realised it needed to be more transparent in the UK. It had been slightly wary of comms before that. The good news was that we had lots of things to be open about.'

Terry discovered that L'Oreal had developed 'EpiSkin' - a viable alternative to animal testing. She organised a media trip out to the lab, which resulted in the device being recognised by the RSPCA.

While some would be daunted joining a firm that shied away from embracing PR, Terry already had experience of this. Upon joining her previous employer Coca-Cola in 1994, she was told to write a press release to promote an ad for Diet Coke that was launching the next day. 'I remember thinking, "Oh God, this is the worst mistake I've ever made". However, it did not stay that way for long. 'I'm a bit of an evangelist. I love changing people's minds and seeing when people realise what PR can deliver.'

Mother MD and former Coca-Cola marketing director Andy Medd is one of the converted: 'Louise was the first person to show me how powerful PR was in the mix. She managed to be simultaneously the most responsible and most maverick person on any team and made the most remarkable things appear in the media.'

Coca-Cola head of brand PR Joan O'Connor adds: 'Louise is not afraid to challenge the norm and ensure that PR is way up the agenda with senior management. She builds brands through PR and that allows her to apply a unique lens to how she approaches corporate comms.'

However, it is not just her pressured day job at L'Oreal that takes up Terry's time. She is also committed to children's charity Save the Children.

The 'third' part of her life, as Terry refers to it - her family - is clearly the most important. She juggles her job and charity work with being a mother of three. But her children do not mind. Terry's teenage daughter thinks her job is 'the best thing'.

Given the access Terry has to some much sought-after cosmetics, not many girls would disagree.

 

Louise Terry's turning points

- What was your biggest career break?

Moving from agency to in-house as head of PR at Coca-Cola. I loved being on the inside, being responsible for developing comms strategy at the source and the exposure to a wide range of issues and opportunities. Joining the board of Save the Children ten years ago was also a big career step and has been hugely valuable.

- Have you had a notable mentor?

I have worked with lots of talented people during my career. Wendy Mair at Hill & Knowlton has always been a voice of wisdom. It is inspiring to work with Alan Parker, having persuaded him to chair Save the Children. Lady Sylvia Jay, vice-chairman of L'Oreal, is a wonderful mentor.

- What advice would you give to someone climbing the career ladder?

Don't underestimate the impact that the most junior member of the team can have. If you have talent and work hard, you will be noticed. Have pride in what you do and take some risks.

- What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

Professionalism, enthusiasm, initiative and good humour are qualities that stand out in new recruits.

 

CV

2007 Group director, internal and external comms, L'Oreal UK and Ireland

2004 Consultant to L'Oreal

2001 Board director, Save the Children (deputy chair from 2005)

1998 Comms director, Coca-Cola Great Britain

1994 Head of PR, Coca-Cola

1991 Board director, Hill & Knowlton

1989 Account director, Hill & Knowlton

1986 Account executive, Biss Lancaster

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