Growing pains at The Body Shop?

The Body Shop board director Jilly Forster could be forgiven for having something of an identity crisis. In one year she’s gone from director of communications to director of marketing strategy. Now she finds herself manager of corporate style.

In the same year The Body Shop has gone through a similar identity transformation, attempting to change from a company which treats conventional marketing as anathema to one which embraces it wholeheartedly.

This process it seems, has not been without problems. Especially since it involves a shift from a strong, personality-led campaigning style in the shape of chief executive Anita Roddick.

The retailer is seeking a new marketing director (MW June 30). It is effectively a new position taking charge of a planned 20-strong department ranging from PR to creative services. Chairman Gordon Roddick has temporarily moved in to fill the role while the company continues its search.

But The Body Shop has the appearance of a company without a clear sense of direction in its marketing.

The pressure to change has come from a number of areas. Most obviously, size. What was once a single shop in Brighton is now an operation of more than 1,200 outlets across the world with 3,300 employees. And the company plans to continue that expansion.

But its US operation, now numbering 250 shops, has lost money, with sales down in the first three months of this year by eight per cent. Retail analyst Alison Hitch suggests that the company went into the US too quickly: “I suspect it has not taken the time and not looked closely enough at the changes it would have to make.”

The share price wasn’t helped by the wave of bad publicity which hit the company last year, marring its Green credentials. This undermined its traditional reliance on PR for promotion. The share price fell from 263p in May last year to 109p in June following allegations that its “trade not aid” policy was exploitative.

Although recent results, which showed a rise in worldwide sales in the first quarter of this year pushed the share price up 3p to 131p, overall growth excluding new stores was flat.

A steady increase in me-too competition in the UK has also dented The Body Shop. The US retail chain The Bath and Body Works launched five of its Green-fronted shops over here at the end of last year. It has a similar approach but stops short of the campaigning spirit behind The Body Shop’s image.

Gordon Roddick has already made it clear that things will change. He recently announced a spend of between 5m and 33m on new product development and store design this year.

Though he has made a specific commitment to changing marketing and retailing, Roddick says it’s impossible to view the restructuring of the marketing function alone, since “we have been restructuring the whole business”. The only real concrete move has been to double the UK marketing budget to 3.5m for this year.

But since a conventional marketing structure didn’t exist before last year, the company had to bite the bullet with the establishment of a new marketing department last summer.

It is still aiming to be 20-strong, as originally planned last year and includes creative services, public relations, retail development and seven product marketing managers, the majority of which have already been appointed. “We feel we now have the structure we need for the future,” says a company spokesman.

Another part of the process is dealing with a new animal – an ad agency. Its “global communications consultant”, ad agency Chiat/Day, also appointed at the end of last year, is working on new media projects – a move away from its heavy reliance on PR. But there are continuing rumours that they will part company.

Most recently, they have run interactive TV commercials on cable channel Videotron in the UK. Gordon Roddick reserves judgement on the experiment, saying that “the results have not been dramatic enough to endure a headlong rush into TV advertising”.

In the US, The Body Shop is on the brink of appointing an agency, with a similar brief to the UK agency. This underlines its newly discovered commitment to advertising. It has an estimated spend of $10m (6.45m) and has been involved with TV infomercials. But Roddick rules out the prospect of future national TV campaigns. “On very thinly spread shops – only 250 here [UK] or about the same number in the US – it looks as if the economics of a national TV ad campaign won’t add up,” he says.

Whether using conventional marketing or not, the company evidently feels it must tweak its ultra-Green image. Jon Turner, head of global design in the company’s creative services area, said in a recent interview that “people see The Body Shop as tree-hugging ladies in LauraAshley clothes”. It’s an image he is addressing: “The spirit is that we’re moving and growing up and the imagery is there to get us taken seriously as a product.”

The tree-hugging image is one that has been cultivated assiduously by the company. Chief executive Anita Roddick is undoubtedly one of the UK’s communications gurus, with a personal style that has been a tour de force in getting across the eco-friendly message. But with expansion and competitive pressure, analysts wonder whether that message is effective enough to persuade consumers who just want a nice product.

The communications ethos is, however, intrinsic to the company. As Gordon Roddick says: “The marketing function has always been at board level.” It’s only in the last year that it’s actually been given the label “marketing strategy director”, in the person of Forster. Significantly it is a post which has already come in for a rethink.

It is also unclear what exactly Forster’s new role will be. “Forster will continue to focus on company values and campaigning issues. The change in her job title reflects this much better,” claims the company spokesman.However, this appears to overlap with Anita Roddick’s own role. Last July, three new directors were appointed to the board, with one reason given as allowing Roddick to move back from being group managing director to chief executive so she could concentrate on corporate style, among other things.

One of her roles as chief executive officer is to head a division, created at the same time, called Values and Visions. As one insider puts it: “Anita is corporate style.”

Meanwhile, the communications department, now placed within the marketing function, has had a few of its own confusions. A new communications director, Gwen Gober, left in March, after just six months. Head of UK PR Shaun Whatling followed two weeks ago citing a lack of a more active approach. “While The Body Shop is getting its act together, communications remain primarily reactive, despite the best efforts of staff to develop some structure.”

With Forster’s move to corporate style, a division that will also come under the marketing department, the hunt is on for a heavyweight who can take on and establish him or herself in the role of marketing director, with a seat on the board. Sources suggest that the company has been looking for some time. The successful candidate will have his or her work cut out.

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