LYNN MCCARTHY: APOSTLE OF PR-LED INTEGRATION
Interview by Dominic Mills
Lynn McCarthy discovered early in her working life an ability to find the sweet spot which lies where PR and advertising converge.
It made a significant difference to her client, P&G-owned detergent brand Ariel, in 2001 and 2004 during the highly successful ‘Championship Whites’ campaign - which featured Tim Henman, John McEnroe and Jonathan Ross - and since then she has been a committed ‘integrationist’. In fact, it has been the lodestar by which she has navigated her career.
Integration is of course the holy grail for many clients, which is why it is espoused so vigorously by agencies of all shapes and sizes. It remains, however, difficult to achieve.
But McCarthy’s career, and her success with brands as varied as Peroni, Walls Ice Cream, EDF Energy and ADT Home Security, proves it can be done.
Silk and steel meets ambition
There’s no silver bullet, believes McCarthy, but the key is to pull in all stakeholders – both in the agency or agencies and in multiple client departments – behind one big brand idea. ‘A great brand idea,’ she says, ‘is one that flies through every aspect of the brand, regardless of the channel or the location.’
This, everybody knows, is much easier said than done, with arguments over budgets or turf wars. It needs someone who combines the demeanour of the diplomat – ‘someone described my ability to pour oil on troubled waters as being like a “client whisperer”,’ McCarthy notes – with stubbornness and courage, as well as an ability to think big. One might call this mixing silk and steel with ambition.
A great brand idea is one that flies through every aspect of the brand, regardless of the channel or the location.
Traditional thinking has it that big brand ideas are the responsibility and property of the creative agency, but McCarthy disputes this. Indeed, she argues that in the current age, PR can often take the lead.
This is down to the increasing importance for brands to find a purpose beyond simple sales or awareness metrics. ‘Giving brands meaning gives you a far broader canvas to paint on than, say, a simple product demonstration or celebrity endorsement. And PR is best placed to tell purpose-led brand stories, which can then be reinforced or amplified by other channels or disciplines,’ she says.
More than that, she maintains, given the proliferation of channels and platforms, campaigns need some glue to hold them together. ‘PR is that glue and, because it links to media and social media where the gap between talk and action can be exposed, it keeps all the other parts of the campaign honest.’
Lynn is a director like no other I've ever worked with. She has a unique way of maximising every brief to deliver results and value way beyond expectations.
She can cut through to the core of the brief and deliver innovative thinking and has impressive new business conversion.
As a manager she knows when to challenge and when to support. She has always got your back but provides the space for you to grow into. I still draw upon the skills Lynn taught me everyday and she has helped shape my career in a way I am eternally grateful for. She recognises talent and is an excellent judge of character. I couldn't recommend her more highly.
Jane Bellard, Founder, Grapeviners.
Fun vs serious
But brand purpose doesn’t always have to be serious or expressed seriously. Sometimes it can be fun.
Working in-house as integrated campaigns director at EDF Energy between 2010 and 2012, McCarthy corralled a widely disparate group of agencies – including, no less, advertising, PR, social media, experiential and media – and internal departments behind the utility’s ‘Energy of the Nation’ sponsorship of the London Olympics, merging it spectacularly with EDF’s ongoing sponsorship of the London Eye.
Every night during the Games, the ‘energy of the nation’ was measured via social media and then brought to life via an MIT-curated light show on the London Eye.
‘No one cares too much about their energy supplier,’ says McCarthy, ‘and at the same time, beating all the clutter and noise of the Olympics is hard.’ But the campaign certainly worked, making EDF the standout domestic sponsor, reaching 26 million consumers and giving it 95 per cent brand attribution.
At the more serious end of the scale, McCarthy cites an integrated campaign through the Red Brick Road (RBR) agency, where she was until recently head of PR and social media, for ADT burglar alarms. ‘The ads were selling burglar alarms,’ she says, ‘but we really wanted a way to add some heart to the campaign, and to show that, as well as protecting householders, we cared about and understood the long-lasting effects of a burglary. We wanted to show that ADT could “walk the walk” too.’
The answer was a three-year CSR partnership with the charity Victim Support, helping householders deal with their experiences and developing support policies.
(British) strawberry fields forever
In talking about McCarthy’s career, however, it would be remiss to ignore her key role both in promoting the British strawberry and her ongoing efforts to protect it in the wake of Brexit.
Thanks to a properly integrated PR and advertising campaign by RBR over several years on behalf of the soft-fruit farmers’ collective British Summer Fruits, the great British strawberry has displaced the banana as the top-selling fruit in the UK. Indeed, over the past decade, sales of British summer fruits have doubled to £1.2 billion – and they’re now year-round, not just during the ‘Wimbledon’ months.
I would have no hesitation in recommending Lynn McCarthy. Lynn has led the account for British Summer Fruits Ltd, of which I am Chairman, for four years. During that time she has produced some excellent creative campaigns which have produced well over industry standard ROI results. At all time she has kept within budget and been aware of the client's needs. In addition to the creative side of the account, she has advised us on other major industry issues both wisely and effectively, representing us at very senior levels with trade and Government bodies.
Laurence Olins, Chairman, British Summer Fruits.
But Brexit has cast a shadow over the industry, and now McCarthy’s focus has turned from consumer promotion to lobbying government and MPs to demonstrate the industry’s dependence on seasonal workers, 95 per cent of whom are from the EU. ‘There’s a huge amount at stake,’ says McCarthy, ‘and to get our message over, we need to appeal to both hearts and heads.’
It’s exactly the sort of challenge made for someone who combines silk, steel and the ability to think big.
She is currently offering pro-bono communications support for Group Captain Mark Manwaring's attempt to break the world speed record for solo circumnavigation flights in a C-1-B aircraft - one of the initiatives marking the hundredth anniversary of the Royal Air Force in 2018.
Daley Thompson CBE and Claudia Winkleman supporting the ‘Energy of a Nation’ campaign.