New brooms trying to sweep too clean

It is not always necessary for an incoming senior manager to throw the baby out with the bath-water to make their mark. Sometimes re-energising the existing set-up proves to be the real challenge, says Caroline Parry

Marketing directors have traditionally taken on the popular image of a swaggering buccaneer or change merchant, out to extract maximum fame from the job by firing and hiring ad agencies and launching new brands and products before moving on to the next conquest.

But some question how true to life this picture is, arguing that while new marketing directors often change agencies and bring in their own teams, the new brooms who bring in fundamental change are often chief executives or managing directors with a brief to breathe fresh life into a business.

Falling in to this latter group is Chris White who swept into the role of managing director of Nestlé Rowntree UK in December last year. He has already been hard at work cleaning up his agency roster by ejecting M&C Saatchi, restructuring the marketing team and reviewing the marketing strategy put in place by former marketing director Andrew Harrison, (MW February 12).

Kate Swann, the new chief executive at troubled high street retailer WH Smith, is also conducting a major review of her company in a bid to revive its flagging fortunes. She has already axed three executive roles and the UK managing director of retail, Beverley Hodson.

She is also reviewing supplier arrangements, including the media planning and buying account, held by Starcom Motive and the creative account, held by Abbott Mead Vickers. BDDO, which will not be repitching.

The scale and scope of such changes are determined by the specific circumstances behind the recruitment. A radical shake-up of a business is far more likely if its fortunes need to be turned around. That often calls for a new managing director or chief executive who then brings in new personnel lower down the food chain. These are also often themselves change agents.

Roy Hoolahan, managing director of marketing recruitment specialist Ball & Hoolahan, says there is pressure for a newly appointed senior manager at a major company to act decisively. Such action will often mean removing layers of staff and merging roles to create a leaner company. “When you make senior appointments they are part of the strategy and they may be agents for change.”

The agency world believes it’s a truism that a new marketing director means a review of advertising and media accounts and the restructuring of the marketing department.

But Stephen Holbrook, marketing director at Sara Lee Intimates-owned underwear brand Gossard, says that from a marketing perspective you rarely get the chance to make changes and bring in a new marketing strategy unless your predecessor has failed to make a mark and you have been brought in with a remit to do that.

Since arriving at Gossard and taking over from Shaeren McKenzie last summer, Holbrook has reviewed the company’s entire marketing strategy (MW July 31, 2003).

During her 18-month tenure, McKenzie made her own mark by sacking ad agency Partners BDDH within weeks of joining and appointing TBWA/London.

She later split with that agency and appointed WARL Change Behaviour instead. Holbrook is reviewing the company’s creative account again and has just moved its media planning and buying from PHD to Media Planning Group.

A marketer with a reputation as a new broom is Jeremy Dale, vice- president of brand marketing at Orange. He oversaw a review of the mobile phone operator’s £40m account shortly after joining in August 2002.

This resulted in the appointment of Mother, an agency he had appointed and worked with in his previous job as marketing director at ITV Digital.

As an outsider coming in it is easier to work out what changes need to be made. He says: “Often the first views and impressions are the best. You come in with a fresh pair of eyes and have an opportunity in the first month to see the things that are obvious, things you don’t see when you are embroiled.”

But that is not to say that sweeping away previous arrangements when joining a new company is without risks. When Ann Francke was made redundant from Boots last year, after just ten months as strategic marketing director, many thought she was paying the price for calling a hasty review of its advertising account before incoming chief executive Richard Baker had arrived. Francke dismisses this as “jumping to conclusions”.

She adds: “My departure was about a new chief executive coming in and structuring the business differently. It was about having a new structure at the top rather than personalities, performance or pitches. It is tempting to say my departure was down to the fact I threw a pitch, but that is just jumping to conclusions. The evidence that this view is wrong was that the pitch continued after I left.”

In the event, the business was awarded to Mother. “You have to be philosophical. New man, new broom is hardly an original story, though it is not nice if you are on the wrong end of the broom,” she adds.

Some in the industry believe that sweeping changes are often made by a new appointment to just help them make their mark. Rob Rees, an interim marketing specialist, believes that it is better in the long term to take a more considered approach.

He says: “New appointees have to be seen to make an impact, to hit the ground running. The easiest thing in the world is to fire a few people as it shows the corporate bosses what they want to see. Sometimes the challenge it to re-energise existing teams and agency relationships.”

Nick Smith, marketing director at British Gas, was appointed to shift the utility provider from its focus on new products to customer relationship management. Although he created a new team to support him when he arrived, he waited two years before bringing in Clemmow Hornby Inge to take over DDB London, then BMP DDB.

Smith believes that when starting in a new post it is necessary to strike a balance between making necessary changes and doing things for the sake of making a mark. However, he concedes that the tenure of marketing directors can be very short so making a big impact becomes a priority.

But another marketer warns that: “Some people always bring their quick fix bag and this can really undermine marketing as a profession.”

Additional reporting by David Benady

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