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Beth Barry


Every planner knows a good idea when he or she sees one. A good idea not only captures the essence of a brand but also acts as a springboard for creativity. If you find the right proposition the advertising (or whatever) almost writes itself. I can still remember a few of them (not my own I hasten to add) from forty plus years ago and long after I stopped working in the business. Their power sticks in the mind.

 

The problem is: such ideas are very difficult to come by. The best tend to be encapsulated in a short sentence or occasionally a single word. They are invariably arrived at, not as the result of painstaking data mining or logic, but rather through intuition. The process defies analysis. Certain planners are better at finding these pearls than others.

 

One such was my colleague and friend, Beth Barry.

 

I worked with Beth at Ogilvy (or Ogilvy & Mather as it was then called) for about ten years. We planned together from the late 1980’s through to the millennium, heading up the Planning Department for much of that time.

 

Beth arrived at Ogilvy as a kind of fifth columnist, being recruited by the Creative Department as their own ‘in-house’ researcher/planner; suggesting, though this was never voiced out loud, a certain lack of trust between the departments. Beth began by sitting in the Creative Department but after a few years moved to join the other planners, as Joint Head of Planning.

 

Beth possessed the very rare skill of being able to look at a lot of (or in fact sometimes very little) information, to alight on what was truly important and interesting, and then to craft an insight into a piece of prose that would, or at least could, inspire creative teams to develop good work. She had the ability to filter out all the history and politics and conventional wisdoms surrounding a brand and get to its soul.

 

That skill was and is invaluable.

 

I always remember talking to her about a particularly difficult problem concerning a service brand. All the brands in the sector were well known. They all did pretty much the same thing in the same way and were perceived by their customers as, individual contacts aside, identical. Beth thought for a day or two and then alighted on one word. This brand, she said, is about X (confidentiality prevents me saying more). Just that single word unlocked a whole new way of thinking about the brand. Anyone might have thought of it, but they didn’t and Beth did. And this was a feat she pulled off countless times.

 

Beth’s ability to identify good ideas quickly endeared her to those she worked with, clients as well as agency people. She provided a kind of certainty in a business in which, as we know, it is all too easy to lose oneself and flounder.

 

Where did Beth’s ability come from?

 

Who knows? If it was definable and transferable everyone would have had some.

 

I think part of it was the result of not being straitjacketed by the conventional education system. She hadn’t been taught that the only way to work was to argue a case from facts, like a lawyer. She was comfortable with trusting her intuition. Second, she was, in many cases, far closer to her audience than most planners or creatives. She understood the people she was trying to communicate with because she was often one of them.

 

Finally, she was brave. When she latched onto an idea that she believed in, Beth was prepared to defend it to the hilt, however vehemently it was attacked. And there again, her track record came to her aid. The more successes Beth had to her name, the less likely her colleagues were to doubt her.

 

Towards the end of the 1990’s our partnership in Planning was split up. Beth moved into a role somewhat higher in the organisation and I was placed in a comfortable, but rather nebulous niche to one side. At the end of our time, I remember writing an appraisal (probably now long shredded) of myself and Beth in which I warned the management of the agency that, although I was eminently expendable, in her they had a gold mine that they must on no account lose.

 

She was that good.


Lee Taylor


Details of the funeral are provided here.

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