I hate doing it. Truly I do. Because to focus on the physical can
be quite an insult for a successful professional woman. But as any
bald-headed, beer-bellied, barrel-chested bloke who has had his physical
attributes paraded in this slot will testify, this isn’t a sex
Anyway, let’s face it, with Sue Farr the physical is impossible to
So we might as well get it out of the way right now. In the
male-dominated worlds of advertising and media, where paunches and
thinning hair rule the boardroom, Sue Farr is a bit of a goddess.
It’s not just the slim figure, the expensive coiffure, the floaty
scarves, exquisite suits and a general demeanour guaranteed to make the
rest of us feel slightly soiled. It’s also the poise and the elegance -
rare commodities indeed in media. And what she looks like does colour
the way Farr is viewed; no amount of Perfect Days or scaled professional
heights will change that.
So there you have it. Sue Farr is a very attractive lady. But since I
have another couple of columns to fill, it’s a bloody good job there is
a bit more to say about her. Not least that the woman has just been
given a shiny new promotion and one guaranteed to thrust her further
into the spotlight.
Farr has been handed responsibility for a new BBC division designed to
market its public service role. On the face of it, this seems like a
mere inch up the corporate ladder from her old rung of marketing and
communications director for BBC Broadcast.
But with the BBC’s entire public service status increasingly in
question, the importance of her new role must not be underestimated.
Farr will now head a revamped and expanded BBC marketing force -
beautifully entitled Shared Service in true Birtspeak style - which will
operate across all of the BBC’s publicly funded activities. Marketing
the core brand, promoting pan-BBC digital activity and co-ordinating
audience research all now fall to Farr and her team.
’The new arrangements will mean more effective, bigger-picture, holistic
brand communications,’ Farr explains. ’There is a real opportunity to
continue integrating marketing right across the BBC and the aim is to
deliver a cohesive message from the core brand and right across the
Commercial rivals, of course, baulk at the idea of a well-marketed BBC
using the licence fee to promote its wares and snaffle audiences from
the commercial sector. Farr points out that there is a real need to show
the public what their money is being spent on. ’We’re just completing a
virtuous circle,’ she says. ’We are privileged to have the licence fee
but we have to say to people ’this is what your money is paying for’.
People are really positive that the BBC is talking to them
Some observers have seen the promotion as a triumph for Farr in an
internal battle for power against Jane Frost, the head of BBC corporate
marketing. Farr’s talent for empire-building, riding corporate politics
and, of course, damn good marketing initiatives have sent Frost spinning
to the sidelines, they say. Robin Wight, the chairman of WCRS, where
Farr was new-business director in the 80s, says he’s never been
surprised by Farr’s success at the BBC. ’In that political quagmire she
has the sensitivity and skill to contribute to enormous strategic issues
while coping with the various internal warring factions.’
But it wouldn’t be the first time she has played the corporate game and
won hands down. One former colleague describes Farr breezing in to
Thames Television in a brand new Mercedes and proceeding to sweep
through the company, building her own power-base, winning the ear of the
people who mattered and finding influential champions who have remained
loyal through the years.
The worst that is said about Farr is that she’s not the world’s greatest
marketer herself, that her skills lie more in knowing how to pick the
right team and engender in them an often fierce loyalty - and in knowing
how to bask in the glory of their work.
’I am incredibly proud of being able to attract and build a brilliant
team and the fact that these people want to come and work with me is
wonderful. But they wouldn’t want to come and work with me if they
didn’t think I had a damn fine marketing brain,’ Farr insists. She
would, of course, but then Robin Wight points out: ’On top of those
lovely legs sits a true Yorkshire brain.’ In fact, Wight definitely
deserves the last word for his description of Farr as ’a knee-buckling
combination of charm, glamour and intelligence’.
THE FARR FILE
1986: WCRS, new-business director
1990: Thames TV, corporate communications director
1992: UK Gold, marketing director
1993: BBC Radio, head of marketing
1996: BBC Broadcast, director of marketing
1999: BBC, director of public service marketing.