By Alasdair Reid, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 15 August 2003 12:00AM
What on earth is going on down at Chime Communications? You can make one high-profile signing almost by accident; make two and people might start to assume you really mean business.
Back in April, Chime scored a widely acknowledged coup when it hired Sue Farr, the former director of public service marketing at the BBC, as the chairman of its advertising and marketing services division. As such, she became the boss of a handful of companies, including Teamspirit, Roose & Partners, the Will Pond-Jones Collective, Heresy, the AMD Group and the latter's media specialist brand, Pure Media.
Not a group of outfits to set your pulse racing - and Chime was perhaps not the sort of place you'd expect someone the calibre of Farr to fetch up. Although critics have often suspected that her career is the triumph of glamour and presentation over substance (it still rankles in some quarters that she continues to get credit for the "Perfect Day" commercial produced by her BBC colleague Jane Frost), Farr is clearly no lightweight.
She's most famous for her periods at the BBC; at Thames Television, where she was the director of corporate communications; and at UK Gold, where she was the marketing director on the station's launch.
But she also has an agency track record too, most notably as the new-business director at WCRS.
So at first glance, Chime doesn't really seem to be her sort of place.
After all, it has been going through a rough patch financially - Farr joined days after its chairman, Lord Bell, revealed the full horror of what he was moved to admit had been a "very poor year" and it had already been forced to sell the jewel in its modest crown, its stake in HHCL & Partners.
That's why last week's move was doubly, perhaps triply surprising - Farr revealed that Chime's latest senior recruit is Simon King, who joins Pure Media as its joint managing director. He shares the top job with Petra Osborne, who is a founding partner of the company. King, an ex-Lowe and Carat planning chief, already knows all about Pure, having worked with it in his previous role as a media strategist at HHCL.
But still. Isn't this the equivalent of a footballer stepping down a division? King was previously most known for his contribution to the Channel 5 launch strategy, Spice Girls and all. At Pure, his client list will include Fairview Homes, MX Spicer Haart, Autoglass, GNER, Friends Provident International and Ladbrokes. Its biggest claim is that it is the UK's leading property media specialist.
But does Chime have ambitions to make a bigger mark on the UK media specialist sector? King says the full extent of the Pure Media roadmap will begin to unfold over the next few months. "Working at HHCL, I really got to know the team and they are great to work with. Growth potential is a big part of what I'm doing here," he says.
It's a fair-sized team too (25 in all). While at HHCL, King apparently took his involvement beyond the normal course of duty, penning strategy papers on how the operation could evolve. Pure has now asked him to implement these ideas.
On the other hand, isn't this a poor time to pick to be embarking on a challenging new project like this? The recession that made such a big dent in the Chime accounts has a fair way to run as yet - even the optimists admit that. Is King's move a big risk? "I honestly don't believe there's a perfect time for anything. HHCL, for instance, launched off the back of the 1990-91 recession," King responds.
But there are other daunting factors too. How can any marketing services company hope to grow a full-service media business in an era when consolidation is such a dominant factor? Doesn't that severely limit what's possible?
Not necessarily, King says. "There will always be space for smaller operators offering a high-quality service. Obviously, it's true that our offering will not be targeted at global brands. We won't be winning global accounts. I think it's safe to say, given my background, that we would look at taking on planning-only tasks, but we haven't formulated the full positioning yet."
Farr underlines that. The positioning and strategy of all of Chime's advertising sector companies has been under review since her arrival. "A year ago, Chime restructured the company into three sectors: public relations; research and advertising and marketing services. We've been talking to everyone concerned and we're at the stage where we will soon be ready to unveil our strategy. As part of that we've obviously looked very closely at whether we should have a media company as part of the group - and if so, what kind of company it should be and what we should do with it," she states.
And Farr argues that the make-up of the Chime Group as a whole makes it especially important that it is able to offer media expertise. She concludes: "It would be strange if Chime, given that it is the only group (in the UK advertising sector) that isn't advertising dominated, wasn't able to offer a media planning perspective to clients whether they've asked for it or not.
"Obviously we have no intention of developing a Zenith or a Carat. Instead, we can develop strength in depth in various specialist market sectors, especially the ones that we already have - property, motors and financial services. And persuading Simon to join us will obviously do no harm at all in helping to build Pure's presence."
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk