DIARY: Profile: Sue Farr, Golin/Harris International - Global vision leads Farr to Golin Harris - Sue Farr transformed marketing at the BBC. Now she's taking on the world

The BBC's critics frequently accuse the Corporation of repeating its hits too often. Sue Farr, the former BBC public service marketing director who resigned last year after her role was downgraded in Greg Dyke's surgery on the Corporation's management, claims she is sick of people repeating the saga of her own departure.

The BBC's critics frequently accuse the Corporation of repeating its hits too often. Sue Farr, the former BBC public service marketing director who resigned last year after her role was downgraded in Greg Dyke's surgery on the Corporation's management, claims she is sick of people repeating the saga of her own departure.

We meet on the third day of her latest incarnation as EMEA managing director of Golin/ Harris International. At the end of an interview in which she has praised the 'extraordinary, wonderful' BBC at every opportunity, Farr urges us to remember that it was all a long time ago and too many words have already been spouted on the subject. The trouble is that she is to marketing at the BBC what Fanny Craddock is to BBC cookery programmes - a prototype.

When she started as head of marketing and publicity for BBC Radio in 1993, Farr was the first professional marketer in an organisation which had previously seen such work as, frankly, rather vulgar. Over the next three years, she dealt with the flak over the successful 'repositioning' of Radio One and the launch of Radio 5 Live (Radio Bloke to critics in its early days).

The latter half of her seven-year stint at the Corporation saw her responsible for marketing and communications across all its public service provision.

She was named advertising woman of the year in 1997 and accepted the Marketing Society's Grand Prix on behalf of the BBC in 1998.

So transformed was the image of marketing at the BBC that Dyke decided the person in charge of it should sit on the top managerial body, the executive committee. The trouble was he appointed not Farr but the high-flying Matthew Bannister to the post of director of marketing and communications last April. Within two months Farr was off to a summer of contemplation.

'It was a fantastic thing, finally putting marketing on the most senior management body at the BBC but I would be completely disingenuous if I didn't say I fully expected that would be my job. I think it is fair to say I think that the people in the department and the industry and in the BBC thought so too.'

Apart from anything else she sees it as inappropriate that such a post should be filled by someone with no marketing experience, however valuable that individual is.

She claims that having contemplated 'life, the universe and everything' during a millennial trip to New Zealand just weeks before Dyke's shock announcement, she had already decided she was ready for a move: 'It would be disingenuous of me to say that the way it happened was the way I would have chosen but it has worked out just fine.'

Perhaps it shows marketing people should not get metaphysical. After nine months considering offers, getting fit and extensive travel, Farr arrives at Golin/Harris eager to grow the EMEA arm of the Top 20 global agency. Having covered most of Europe during her sabbatical, she now seems set on acquiring Golin/Harris' Euro affiliates: 'It is quite rare to have an opportunity to join an established, successful business and be given the mandate and resources to build the brand worldwide.'

Describing her job as 'full of opportunities' she realises she is slipping into marketing cliche and adds 'but you'd expect me to say that'.

She claims her management style is inclusive and welcoming - 'the control and command style of management is dead, thank God' - and certainly former colleagues and subordinates back those claims. She prides herself on assembling and then motivating talented creative teams.

David Pattison, who worked with Farr at WCRS and had an agency-client relationship during her stint at the BBC, says: 'She is great at building teams and then makes you feel that you are working with her rather than for her.'

Andrew Whyte, BBC head of PR, says this recruitment skill is acknowledged throughout both the Beeb and the industry. Beyond that, he says, she is 'an instinctive communicator who also has a good strategic understanding.'

But there is steel beneath a physical appearance which moved one oddly besotted (female) hack to describe her as 'a goddess'. As I begin to raise the issue, she sees it coming: 'Oh no! The goddess bit. You just have to smile. You live with it.'

Asked if she would prefer a world where such observations were not made of successful, immaculately-groomed women, she says: 'That is a tricky question - I think we'll move on.'

When the photographer suggests she pose against her office wall, she agrees. But the charm evident for much of the interview disappears as she makes it clear: 'I've inherited this office and things like that artwork aren't my style so I don't want that to be in the photograph.'

Such concern for image: no wonder the woman has gone so far in this game.



HIGHLIGHTS

1990

Director of corporate communications, Thames Television

1999

Director of public service marketing, BBC

2000

EMEA managing director, Golin/Harris International.





Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.