Cynthia Bell, Senior Planner at Propaganda, was announced as the Young Consultant of the Year at the 2015 MCA Awards. She spoke to the Young MCA about the awards process and gave an insight into her work.
Congratulations on being named the MCA’s Young Consultant of the Year. What originally made you want to apply and how did you find the awards process?
Propaganda put me forward for the award. I had been at Propaganda for 18 months and they felt I that I should be recognised for what I’d achieved, which for me, was an honour in itself. Two consultants from Propaganda had previously won an MCA award, including our Planning Director, so I had a lot to live up to.
I had expected the interview questions to be primarily project focussed but the interviewers were keen to get to know me – my approach, my views, attitude and work ethic. And the awards night was fantastic. There was a great buzz in the venue and it was great to see different companies congratulating one another.
How did you get into consulting?
After completing a Masters in English Literature, I worked in the creative industry for a few years. Then I worked in a brand consultancy and knew that I’d found the right role for me. I wanted to be challenged, and the emphasis on strategy, insight development, research and creative analysis suited me perfectly. I joined Propaganda, went straight into planning, and haven’t looked back since.
Ann Summers is probably one of your more high profile clients. Can you tell us a bit about your work for them?
I have always admired Ann Summers – they single handedly created the high street pleasure sector with the sole aim of sexually empowering women. They have 140 stores across the UK and £100m turnover but in recent years they’d lost their way. Footfall had dropped and competitors were stealing market share.
Ann Summers had started out with a clear purpose in 1970, but didn’t know what their role for women should be today. To find this out, I knew that women and men would need to talk openly to me about sex. So I designed a research programme to encourage this. And I discovered that the role for Ann Summers has changed – women don’t need to be sexually empowered, what they want, is for Ann Summers to enhance their sexual experiences. In the words of a focus group participant, they want Ann Summers to “hot it up!”
Insights from the research drove the creative development of the Ann Summers brand and have been articulated across a series of campaigns. This has transformed their business, doubling turnover and returning the business to profit for the first time in 18 months.
Your work for ReFood has also been highlighted. Can you tell us a bit about that?
ReFood recycles food waste and transforms it, through a process called anaerobic digestion, into a renewable energy source, which is sold to the National Grid. The business was set for expansion, but it also had an Achilles heel that blocked the long-term sustainability of the business. Digestate, a by-product of the process cost ReFood a small fortune in disposal. Digestate is an excellent fertiliser, but was seen as a waste product by the agricultural industry, so ReFood paid farmers to apply their digestate to land.
Whilst carrying out Propaganda’s Brand Discovery process I spoke to a huge array of agricultural experts – farmers, agronomists, academics and scientists. My strategy was game-changing: transform digestate into a first-to-market, branded and 100% sustainable fertiliser, thereby transforming a business cost into a source of sustainable revenue. And I discovered an innovative technology company, that is currently working with us to realise this ambition.
You work directly with business owners and stakeholders. How have you handled advising people who are much more senior than you?
I could be 18 or 80 – it’s what I have to say that matters. And I’m confident in the advice I give because it’s supported by the rigor of our Brand Discovery process. At Propaganda, our proposition is “we give our clients courage”. And after gaining in-depth insight from our clients’ businesses, their markets and their audiences, I can be certain that our recommendations will help the businesses we work with achieve their goals.
What are your ambitions going forward?
I love helping to transform our client’s businesses. So I want to continue growing in experience and working across a variety of sectors.
What message would you give to someone starting his or her career in consultancy?
Give it your all. Discipline and focus are fundamental in consultancy.
Find mentors you can learn from. Be creative. And, importantly, when you’re working on projects, don’t get caught up in the process – always remember the end game.