Tight ship keeps Coke on top of the world

Every night, before he went to bed, the then UK marketing director for Coca-Cola, George Bradt, used to phone Sergio Zyman, Coke’s senior vice-president and chief marketing officer. Just to let him know how he was getting on.

Zyman is renowned for his hands-on approach, but a company must have strong structures to keep such an approach under control. And if Zyman were to move on – and there have long been rumours that he is ready to leave – Coke has to make sure it has the structure in place to cope with his departure and changes.

That goes some way to explaining the recent spate of European and UK appointments, including the first advertising and media manager to co-ordinate Coke’s 49m UK media spend and a new European marketing director.

Zyman has had an enormous impact on the company structure in other ways: it’s his aim to make Coke a marketing-driven company, while the rest of the Coke management concentrates on distribution to make sure that a bottle of Coke is always “within arm’s reach of desire”, as former Coke president Robert Woodruff memorably put it.

Zyman knows that while Coke is buying and building bottling plants across the world, and pouring money into emerging markets like China and India, mature and highly competitive markets like Europe need a different approach. They need the smartest marketing people around.

Certainly Coke seems to have been tightening its grip on the European marketing since last autumn when it was surprised by the sudden departure of David Wheldon. He was, briefly, its director of marketing in “greater Europe” but left before really starting the job.

Wheldon had been worldwide director of advertising for Coke since 1993 and his appointment to the marketing role was thought to be a desperate ploy on the part of Zyman to keep him at Coke, since it was known that he wanted to return to the UK and the agency world. In the event he quit to become president of Pepsi’s advertising agency BBDO.

His greater Europe role at Coke seemed to be a hurried one and certainly his responsibilities were by no means clear. He was taking up a post vacant for some months and Coke’s description of his job was that he would “co-ordinate” marketing and encourage best practice in the region.

Wheldon’s last position has not been filled and instead another dormant marketing role has been resurrected. In March, Jeremy Schwartz joined from cosmetics company L’Oréal (MW March 21) to become Coke’s north-west Europe marketing director. This role had remained vacant since Coca-Cola Great Britain and Ireland re-entered the organisational fold of Coke north-west Europe at the end of 1995.

Schwartz’s brief is to ensure best practice in marketing activity across the UK, Ireland, Benelux countries and France. He will work alongside the marketing directors in each of these countries to improve co-ordination of marketing strategy – though at the time of his appointment the parameters of his job had yet to be finalised.

And in January, just before Schwartz joined, Coke appointed Chris Banks, who was recruited from IDV’s Scotch whisky division Justerini & Brooks, to act as regional manager for Coca-Cola Great Britain. Banks’ appointment brought the UK into line with other European countries.

Both Banks and Schwartz report directly to Gavin Darby, president of Coca-Cola north-west Europe.

On a national scale, it has created an advertising and media management role for the UK which will be filled by Kester Fielding, who moves across from Coke’s media agency Universal McCann. Fielding reports to UK marketing director Jan Hall, who replaced Bradt last year.

These new appointments are designed to ensure Coke retains its supremacy in Europe – volumes in the greater Europe region rose by 11 per cent in the first quarter of the year, which was more than expected – and keep one of Coke’s oldest markets one of its most competitive.

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