PLAYER PROFILE: McCaffery makes light work of setting stogie ads apart

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Sheila mccaffery's six volumes of personal journals detailing the themes, menus and decor behind her more than 700 dinner parties are awaiting a publisher. But Ms. McCaffery, who plans and cooks for the frequent dinners she hosts in her Greenwich, Conn., home, is not the typical Martha Stewart type. To her, the best finale to a successful dinner party is a good stogie.

For the last decade, the 54-year-old partner-creative director at McCaffery Ratner Gottlieb & Lane, New York -- the agency she formed with her husband, Bill, in 1979 as William McCaffery Inc. -- has been the creative force behind General Cigar Holdings, whose top-selling brands include No. 1 Macanudo. The cigarmaker's $7 million to $10 million yearly ad budget represents close to 10% of the agency's $100 million in billings.

Ms. McCaffery is also focusing on bringing new business to the 49-person agency, which currently has 12 accounts, including CompuBank.com, Nature's Best and Pennsylvania Power & Light.

DEPENDS ON MOOD

But her oldest client is General Cigar. Cigar choice "depends on how you feel or what mood you're in," she said. "It's definitely like a fragrance or the color of your lipstick or eye wear."

Her recognition of the changing cigar industry makes her an asset to General Cigar, said David Danziger, the company's exec VP-sales and marketing. The tremendous growth in the premium cigar market from 1994 to 1997 began to slow in the last few years, he said, heightening market competition. "A lot of the underlying assumptions that were relevant in '95, '96 and '97 have changed, and often you see advertising partners that are unable to see the change coming or unable to respond and to react to it," he said. Ms. McCaffery "helped us make a very important transition but still keep the key elements in there."

CHANGING DIRECTION

When the agency pitched and won the cigar account in 1990, Ms. McCaffery said, she "changed the entire direction of their advertising" by implementing a broader lifestyle approach. "It was very male-focused in terms of the moment, and very expected -- golf and fishing oriented."

Ms. McCaffery "has been able to create a personality for each brand, make them creative and exciting, and stay on strategy," said agency Chairman Sam Ratner. "If you look through the major cigar magazines, you'll see that there are 50 pages of other cigar ads that are all alike. Hers are not. She does not do formula work."

Ms. McCaffery said she believes creating a convincing campaign comes from truly understanding the product. For the cigar account, that meant lighting up a new habit. "I'm not going to sell something that I haven't done my homework about or I don't feel good about," she said. Although she never smoked a cigar before the agency landed the business, she now claims Partagus as her favorite.

Her newest work for General Cigar is her first corporate campaign for the company, being launched this fall in Cigar Aficionado with an eight-page insert/poster focusing on the heritage of the cigar masters behind the company's key brands. The tagline: "Only great cigar masters can make great cigars."

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