Chris McCafferty has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. During his time with the agency, The Red Consultancy won a host of PRWeek Awards including agency of the year. He headed up comms during a period of rapid growth at MSN and became the 11th employee to join MySpace, launching it across Europe. He must now be hoping to take this lucky streak with him to his new agency Kaper, which he has set up with advertising agency Karmarama.
There are obvious advantages to having access to the planning, strategy and creative departments of an ad agency. As McCafferty says, it helps to shake market perception that PR agencies do not have strategic or creative insight. But he has little patience with the PR industry's long-term inferiority complex towards advertising agencies. 'Stop talking about earning a place at the board table and go and do it. It's not the advertising agency at the board table, it's good work. It doesn't matter if it's a bunch of schoolkids who do the work, it's the idea and the execution that matter. Get over it,' he says, before leaning back and smiling: 'I am an opinionated old sod.'
McCafferty is quick to point out that Kaper is not a specialist digital agency. He believes the competition among marketing disciplines over digital shows it has the power to unite belowand above-the-line work. But despite his years at MSN and social networking site MySpace, he is surprisingly loyal to traditional methods.
'I am a huge believer in the power of the press release. People who say traditional media have had their day haven't got it right. The most influential people for many companies are still the correspondents on nationals who follow the sector,' he says.
He dismisses many of the current approaches to digital as 'tokenistic' and believes there is a shelf life for digital agencies. 'As digital matures and becomes mainstream, I start to wonder why you need a separate digital agency. The idea of a TV, radio or magazine agency is nonsense.'
McCafferty, 37, began his career in advertising sales, 'flogging recruitment ads to hospitals,' which he believes was invaluable training for life as a PRO. 'You learn not to take no for an answer. But when they gave me a Ford Mondeo and a coat hanger, I realised it wasn't for me,' he says.
Instead he went to night school at the London School of Journalism to study PR. 'I'm one of those rare people who has actually chosen a career in PR,' he says. Red MD Andrew Baiden remembers McCafferty's interview: 'When I interviewed him he demonstrated strong selling skills. This became allied to an all-round PR repertoire, making him a force in any room.'
Nine years later, after a brief spell at Weber Shandwick, McCafferty found himself back at Red working on the MSN account. He decided he should try working in-house, and persuaded MSN's MD to make PR a more strategic part of the business. 'I'm a far better agency person for being in-house because I understand the pressures, and what you need to prove the efficacy of what you're doing,' he says.
Hugh Davies, corporate affairs director at 3 Mobile and former head of PR at Microsoft, worked with McCafferty during his time at MSN and says he is one of those rare people who has worked effectively in-house and agency side: 'He's a great listener, picks up on insights, can understand what the issues are and build a programme around them. He's smart, personable and is a quietly determined character. He delivers the goods. If anyone gets the balance between PR, marketing, social media, what clients think they should do and what they want to do, it's him.'
In 2006, as MSN traffic and Hotmail declined in favour of social media, McCafferty jumped ship to MySpace. For the next year he ended up flying all over Europe to launch the site in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Holland. 'It was an easy job. We were the biggest story in town. It was a booming business and everyone wanted to hear about it,' he says. Users grew from two or three million in Europe to 25 million. When MySpace growth began to plateau, and he ended up in hospital physically exhausted, he left to join Shine Communications, where he won clients LastMinute.com, Volvic, Indesit and worked on eBay.
McCafferty is a passionate cook and a proud Essex man. 'I've more pairs of white trainers than I care to admit,' he quips. But despite fulfilling his long-standing ambition to run his own agency, he says the biggest change for him in the past 18 months is that he has become a family man. At the time of the interview he was also about to be married and become a step-dad. For McCafferty, these are exciting times.
Chris Mccafferty's turning points
- What was your biggest career break?
Escaping advertising sales and getting into PR at The Red Consultancy was my first break.
I was at Red at a very exciting time; we were growing fast, doing good work and winning awards. My second break was landing the MySpace gig and launching the site across Europe. That was a career defining moment.
- Did you have a notable mentor?
Both Mike Morgan and Andrew Baiden at Red taught me a huge amount in the early days and continue to provide advice. Latterly, Simon Thompson, who is now at Apple.
- What advice would you give to anyone climbing the career ladder?
Challenge yourself. Get out of your comfort zone. Try new things. Enjoy experimenting.
- What qualities do you prize in new recruits?
Curiosity. The nous to ask why, to get to grips with a problem and to get beyond the obvious, because that's where the story is. Also creativity, diligence, honesty and the drive to do bloody good work.
2010: Founder and MD, Kaper
2008: Director, Shine Communications
2006: European director of comms, MySpace and Fox Interactive Media
2005: Head of PR and corporate affairs, MSN UK
1999: Divisional director, The Red Consultancy
1998: Consultant, Weber Shandwick
1996: Assistant account executive, The Red Consultancy
1994: Advertising sales executive, Reed Business Publishing