Once upon a time, when she was at Procter & Gamble, Ann Francke successfully launched Madonna as the new face of Max Factor. Her attempt, as strategic marketing director, to give Boots a facelift has been rather less successful. So much so that she was squeezed out this week, only nine months after joining the company from Masterfoods. Why?
The short answer is that she didn’t understand enough about retail, at a time when knowledge of the ‘detail in retail’ is critical to Boots’ survival. But there also seems to have been an issue about her judgement.
In one way, at least, Francke was a victim of circumstance. She was an appointee of the old regime: the outgoing duumvirate of chairman John McGrath and chief executive Steve Russell. Anyone in that position might wish to tread carefully, for fear of upsetting her new chief executive. Note, as well, that Francke was in a weaker position than her predecessor, Barry Clare – who was a main board director, whereas she merely sat on the executive committee of Boots the Chemist.
Instead of exercising caution, however, one of the first things Francke did was to announce a high-profile marketing services review. Or rather – and this was one of her mistakes – failed to announce she was calling a review. Instead, she denied to the incumbent agency network WPP (most of the work is handled by J Walter Thompson) that a review was under way, while drawing up a list of London’s best-known agencies.
As the senior and incoming marketing executive, Francke had every right to be critical of the previous marketing services arrangements; it was part of her job. But the situation was badly handled. After persistent denials in the press, the news broke that Abbott Mead Vickers.BBDO, Mother and Publicis were indeed to compete with JWT for the business.
Even had the review been handled more tactfully, its timing – before the new chief executive had been installed – is highly questionable. It seemed to suggest, rather arrogantly, that the man in question would know little and care less about marketing. If so, that was a very mistaken assumption. Richard Baker, chief operating officer of Asda, had a wide portfolio of experience at the supermarket chain, which included a period as marketing director.
It’s true, of course, that Baker has more on his mind than the issue of who should handle Boots’ advertising account. Strategically, Boots is being assailed on all sides. It has made mistakes abroad, its Wellbeing and Pure Beauty initiatives were a disaster; it is being squeezed by the supermarkets, and pressured by the City to make higher profits. Baker has decided that only radical surgery will begin to sort out the problems: and his first target has been the Boots bureaucracy. Earlier this week he was reported as having ‘searched high and low in head office and not found a retailer yet’. An ominous portent, as it turned out, for the new-look Mars- and P&G-bred marketing department.
Astonishingly, the review is to continue post-purge. Good news, perhaps, for Asda expert and Publicis Groupe chief operating officer Rick Bendel, who has taken a modest pride in the advancement of his former ‘protégé’, Baker.
News, page 9 and 11