Chris McCafferty | Innovator 25 EMEA 2021

Chris McCafferty

Group CEO



Create a culture of permission. Disable 'copy and paste' thinking. And enjoy it: innovation is a real privilege."

Chris McCafferty is living proof that innovation doesn’t stop when you’ve reached the most senior levels of the PR industry. Indeed, as group CEO of MSL UK for the past two years, he’s brought his extensive experience to bear in a role where he has already transformed the profile and reputation of a brand that, it’s fair to say, had not latterly been seen as one of the most progressive agencies in the highly competitive UK PR market. After being a director at Red Consultancy, moving to senior in-house comms positions at MSN and MySpace at the cusp of the digital and social media revolution and then becoming a director of Shine, McCafferty founded Kaper in 2010. The agency, owned by Karmarama, was ahead of its time in sitting at the intersection of traditional and digital PR, creative, experiential and content creation, working with the likes of Unilever, Vauxhall Motors, MasterCard, Huffington Post and Time Out. McCafferty was part of the team that sold the business to Accenture in 2016 and became MD of Accenture Interactive’s Experience Agency before moving to MSL. At the Publicis agency, his major innovation has been launching Belief Stack, a data-driven insights tool that helps brands better understand the deeply-held beliefs and values of their audiences as defined by social psychologists. The tool is being used with clients including Puma, for which MSL UK has evaluated what drives its global audiences’ connection with sustainability, giving a richness of insight that takes the agency beyond the industry norm.

How would you describe the communications/PR industry's level of innovation compared to other marketing disciplines?
More innovative.

Do you think the global pandemic has made the industry more innovative? If you would like, please elaborate on your response.

Where is the PR industry's greatest opportunity for taking the lead on innovation?
The true innovation challenge is to tie together the creative idea and content with other integrated strands, informed by actionable data in modern, progressive working environments built on true equity, diversity and inclusion.

Who most influences how innovative a brand's engagement is?
Often it's the audience. Give them the platform and the content to play with and get out of the way.

How do you define innovation?
Newness. A new idea. A new platform. A new way of working. A new operating model. A new product. Change, progress, opportunity.

What is the most innovative comms/marketing initiative you've seen in the last 12 months?
I thought the Cannes Lions PR Grand Prix 'Contract for Change' was astonishing. Was it an operational idea, a marketing idea, a sales idea, a PR idea? Who cares. Phenomenal innovation

In your opinion, what brands and/or agencies are most innovative around PR and marketing?
Africa agency in Sao Paolo. I like IKEA's branded approach to corporate reputation. Jacinta Ardern continues to innovate and redefine what it means to be an empathetic leader.

Describe a moment in your career that you would consider 'innovative.'
Launching the new MSL Belief Stack in 2021, a data platform that allows us to unearth the deeply held beliefs of audiences. Most clients are awash with "How" and "What" insights. MSL Belief Stack helps us understand the "Why".

Who do you admire for his/her approach to innovation? 
Ben Silcox, chief data officer at Publicis Groupe UK is next level. I understand 30% of what he says.

How do you get out of a creativity rut?
Go somewhere else. Often physically. Sometimes just in inspiration terms. Change the input to change the output.

What advice would you give to the PR industry around embracing innovation?
Create a culture of permission. Disable 'copy and paste' thinking. And enjoy it: innovation is a real privilege.

What would you be doing if you weren't doing your current job?
Packing my bags to go to Australia to open the batting in the Ashes. Maybe.

Which book/movie/TV show/podcast/playlist/other cultural source has helped you get through this year or provided inspiration?
My cousin Richard Beard's book 'Sad Little Men' about the failings of the English private school system and the flawed leaders it creates is brilliant. Sam Conniff always makes me think.

What's your favourite time of day and why?
0630, first coffee of the day in hand, imagining what's next.