Sue Elms wants to be sure IM Futures makes it to the top.
It is the end of the interview and Sue Elms, Initiative Media board
member and managing director of the newly launched IM Futures (Campaign,
last week), has my pen. I want it back. We tussle over it.
‘I’m patient and I’ll wait - I don’t mind waiting. People don’t realise
that I’ll sit there and wait, fight my case and get what I want.’
To be honest, wanting the pen is understandable. It is one of those
Pilot Hi-Tecpoints which, as all pen aficionados know, rank among the
most stolen pens in the world. This time, however, there is no deal. I
keep the pen. Elms has nothing to be down about, she’s just made the
board and is one of the highest-profile women in her business.
This is not bad for a woman who left school at 16, before returning to
evening classes in Bridgend to be a hairdresser. She isn’t that keen to
tell the hairdressing story, but you get the impression that she could
be successful in whatever she chooses, a view backed up by colleagues
From Bridgend, Elms headed for London. She went to Kingston Polytechnic
to complete a business degree and later a postgraduate in marketing.
Elms says that at the time most of her fellow students were keen to work
for Lever Brothers - partly because it is based in Kingston - but also
because it’s a well-regarded company.
However, a cousin of Elms’s, who was already in the advertising
business, got her an interview at Leo Burnetts. From this she landed a
job in the research department. Elms could have ended up in planning or
account management because, as she admits, ‘I’m not a massive planner or
anything - I didn’t have it all mapped out’.
The common perception of those in research is of boffins who spend their
time being asked the unknown and replying with the unintelligible, all
of it achieved by sifting through vast amounts of data, and worrying
over a 2 per cent drift in Barb frequency. Not so, Elms says, and that
is part of the reason Initiative’s new global research and development
unit, IM Futures, is called what it is.
It is an effort to break the mould. ‘In the past, researchers have tried
to build a mystique around what they do when really it is all quite
simple. It is about turning a wad of numbers into something the
advertiser can understand and use,’ she says.
Mould-breaking is perfect for Elms. She is, as everyone seems to say,
one of a new breed of researchers, a breed that is as happy in the
spotlight as in the back room. Rosi Ware, managing director of Millward
Brown, says Elms has more of a strategic planning background and is one
of a generation who ‘will hopefully be running the industry in a few
Stephen White, a partner at Fairbrother White European Auditing and
Consulting and an ex-Lintas colleague of Elms’s, agrees. ‘There are not
many like her around. She is international and I think she has a long
way to go yet.’
These are compliments that will go down well with Elms, who clearly has
‘My first husband became a Jehovah’s Witness and thought any kind of
ambition was evil. But winning is a big thing for me and I am ambitious.
I am not one of those people who is up on every platform, but I’m only
35. Maybe by the time I’m 45 I will be on every platform,’ she laughs.
Few are surprised by Initiative’s latest move and the promotion of Elms.
Many see it as a richly deserved reward for one who has been devoted to
the agency, less a six-month foray at S. P. Consultants, since it was
But while she is ambitious, Phil Georgiadis, Initiative’s chief
executive, says she marries it with a knowledge of how to get the best
out of people.
It probably helps that Elms is not at all pretentious. Now a resident of
North London, she is down-to-earth and accessible. Given the choice,
she’d rather a few pints of Stella and a curry with her Geordie Publicis
copywriter husband, Jonathan Eley, and friends than a trip to the Ivy.
What they all seem to say is that Elms will go far. Mike Sommers, chief
executive of the marketing consultancy, Paradigm Agency, believes that,
if anything, Elms doesn’t realise how good she is.
Elms is driven and, as she says: ‘Researchers are incredibly insecure
because they’re always asked the unknown. It is very stressful, but I
enjoy finding things. It is what fascinates me.’
The Elms file
1983 Leo Burnett, research assistant
1986 Lintas, media research assistant
1989 Initiative Media London, research director
1992 IM Technologies, managing director
1994 S. P. Consultants, chief executive
1995 Initiative, International research director
1996 IM Worldwide, board member
1996 IM Futures, managing director
CAM # 29:11:96
MEDIA: PERSPECTIVE; Ignore the critics, Terry and Dani are just right
By DOMINIC MILLS
The Word with Terry Christian. Didn’t you just hate it? Well, yes I did
actually, and nor was I alone - certainly among the media movers and
shakers with whom such things come up in conversation. And didn’t
Channel 4 drop the Word because it was a dog’s breakfast, as was our
Terry (Dani wasn’t much better either), not to mention the fact that its
ratings plummeted? Well, yes it did, now you come to think of it.
Not surprisingly, the current topic of conversation runs along these
lines. Media bloke (and I paraphrase here) to trade journalist: ‘We know
the current trend is to get your ads to look like a programme, and wow,
everybody knows how successful ‘Miller Time’ was. Great, innovative
piece of media thinking. Booking the Pepsi thing into Baywatch is a good
idea since it draws the target audience. It’s advertising as event TV.
But if everybody hates Terry, Dani and the Word, and its audience was
falling, how come Pepsi is making three-minute ads based on it? And
anyway, Baywatch’s been dropped now, heh heh, so that’s blown that.’
Trade journalist to media bloke: ‘Yeah, well, right, you’ve got a point
there. Pepsi must be mad, or maybe Terry’s cheap.’
But is it? Might there just be a bit of method in its madness? It may be
fashionable to knock the Word, and good fun to give Pepsi a bit of a
kicking too, but hold on. Have you seen any of Terry’s three-minute
wonders? They’re good, not least because they do what the Word should
have done - i.e. squeeze the whole thing into three minutes.
More than that, however, whatever we may think of the Word, it pretty
much created a genre of programming. As a programme it may not have been
up to all that much outside the youth market, but it became a powerful
Even more to the point, this is not so much an ad, at least not in the
sense that ‘Miller Time’ was, but a promotion in which the mechanic is a
complicated numbers game. And promotions are a very different kettle of
fish - different as in ‘essentially very boring’ and ‘difficult to do’,
especially to the Pepsi target market. Don’t forget that this market, to
paraphrase the Pepsi Max ad, has ‘been there, tried that, done it last
week’. So wrapping it all up in a format they know and understand, and
then running ‘this is an advertisement’ on the screen is just the kind
of thing they like. It’s the sort of device that allows the audience to
think ‘we know you know we know it’s all a big game, but we’re enjoying
it anyway’. It also implies that Pepsi is a company that can laugh at
itself - a crucial quality to this audience and something that Coke
doesn’t really have and, of its other competitors, only Tango can lay
If Pepsi’s success - well, it would say that wouldn’t it, but it seems
to be working - shows other advertisers that you can be innovative with
promotions, then it’ll have done us all a favour.
Now all Pepsi has to do is get over the blue can fiasco.
This article was first published on Campaign