Preconceptions can often be so wrong. Rarely more so than with my
expectations of Beth Barry, Ogilvy & Mather's former executive planning
director who has just made the leap to the design world with Coley
Porter Bell. When she walked into the room, I was expecting to meet a
rather prim and proper middle-England woman, who thought that sampling
was just a statistical technique. Part of the "blue stocking" brigade,
as a friend of mine once rather cruelly called them.
On the contrary, I came across an effervescent bundle of energy - very
difficult to stop talking, full of ideas and a mind racing far ahead,
hopping from one subject to another.
Most of all, though, Barry's passion for good advertising appeared to
Cilla Snowball, who worked with her at O&M ten years ago, says: "Beth is
a passionate planner. Passionate about great advertising, passionate
about her work, passionate about quality, and passionate about her
Russell Seekins, another former colleague, adds: "She's smart, warm and
genuinely interested." The word no-one leaves out when talking about
Barry is energy. Despite having worked in the business for a
comparatively long time, her enthusiasm remains undimmed.
This infectious enthusiasm for advertising must, at least in part,
explain why there is a Barry clan, of almost Delaney-esque proportions,
on the London advertising scene (her brother-in-law used to run FCB, her
son is a copywriter at Lowe Lintas and her daughter is a planner with
So advertising appears to be in the blood. Apart from making rather
predictable Sunday lunchtime conversation, it has clearly helped Barry
to stand out from the crowd in her chosen discipline.
Some planners believe that donning black 501s and paying lip-service to
last year's Pencils will give them carte-blanche to lord it around the
creative department. Obviously, finding some common ground with a bunch
of twentysomethings is important. But real connection comes not from
knowing which is the latest bottled lager, but rather through an
enthusiasm for, and a knowledge of, good ads. This is Barry's
"I will miss the advertising," she says genuinely, "although probably
not as much as I would have done a few years ago." She maintains that
people in this country no longer look forward to ads in commercial
breaks. "I put this down to the dotcom bubble. Advertising has become
much more hard-nosed and less clever."
By contrast, she sees design as being in a fitter state: "Witness the
Apple Mac or London Eye. These are both examples of great design that
can really stir the emotions."
She sees planning in the design world as still in its infancy, with
relatively few brand experts. "There's a lot of bullshit in design," she
says. "This unnecessarily over-complicates issues, and can result in
claims for brands that can be far too grandiose."
So, if that's the case, why has she moved across to this field? She
obviously sees it as a new challenge. Also, because design is so
relatively unpopulated by planners, she'll be operating on a
comparatively empty canvas and be able to make a strong impact.
But what about the environment in the design world? A former colleague
says: "Beth could be wickedly indiscreet. There's a bit of the giggling
schoolgirl inside her. She would often bring dull meetings to life,
because she couldn't help saying exactly what she was thinking." While
her family ties should satisfy her hunger for news and gossip, will the
daily working atmosphere be sufficiently irreverent for her?
Barry came into mainstream advertising 14 years ago. "Planning is like
heroin," she offers. "Imagine I'm going to offer you heroin for the
first time. You either take it and feel totally stoned, or you lay off
it completely. There's no halfway house. Planning is the same. It's an
all-or-nothing type of thing. And after you've been doing it for a
while, you're hooked."
This all-consuming attitude toward planning, apart from clearly being
the key to her success, is why she worries from time to time about her
daughter: "It can swallow you up and make you lose perspective on life,
and with the very odd hours that go with a planner's life, that can be
She doesn't seem to have so much concern for her son, whose life is
slightly more structured. What she does have is a firm belief that he
has helped her appreciate creativity more.
"While I may have brought him up to people-watch a bit more closely, I
have learned so much more from him about advertising," she says. "I am
definitely a better planner because of him."
When you bear in mind this attitude, it is not surprising to hear that
most people who've worked with her regard her as a collaborator. There
is little room for demarcation in Barry's book.
If anyone can help establish planning principles in practice in the
design world, then it will have to be someone such as Barry, who
displays such a confident and non-territorial approach.