So congratulations to Virgin. It would be hard to find a more comprehensive endorsement of Sir Richard Branson’s entrepreneurial empire from marketers than their verdict in our first top employer survey.
To summarise the results, Virgin came top in six out of the ten sectors in which marketers were quizzed: finance, IT, consumer durables, leisure, transport and media owners. In addition, it was the number one company among those working in sectors where it does not operate; top choice for women; and most popular right across the age groups (apart from 54- to 64-year olds). As one wag put it, Branson has only to open up shop in his uncharted sectors in order to attract a stampede of top marketing talent.
There is little likelihood of the Virgin achievement being replicated, however. For pinpointing the precise qualities that set it apart is no easy task. To begin with, Virgin is not exactly a company, but a series of loosely federated companies whose only easily definable unitary feature is the energy and personality of their founder – Branson himself. True, the image of Branson certainly sets the tone, in a rolled-up sleeves, per ardua ad astra, open-necked sort of way.
But beyond a devolved, entrepreneurial culture lies the infinite elasticity of the Virgin brand, which certainly manages to convey youthful dynamism, but whose essential appeal is probably as the ultimate challenger: in such David and Goliath arenas as, for instance, air travel, financial services and mobile phones. Buy into Virgin, in other words, and you buy into the idea that marketing, in skilful hands, can leverage almost anything, even in the most unpromising of markets.
No doubt a little of this stardust is also sprinkled over marketers’ second overall choice, Innocent Drinks. Younger than Virgin (it was founded in 1998), it exudes youthful dynamism, but also has a good, solid record of creating quality products. Indeed, it’s tempting to see in the overall trend of the results a preference among marketers for the higher risk, creative and new over the established track-record (and no doubt corporate benefits) of the traditional blue-chips; Procter & Gamble being a notable exception to the rule.
Exceptionally Tesco, which boasts the iconic industry figures of Tim Mason and Sir Terry Leahy, does not quite make it to the top of this particular league table – a reminder, perhaps, that supreme corporate success has a small discount if it involves working in the hard, narrow world of retail.
Also worth noting is the high rating given the BBC, whereas ITV fails even to make an appearance on the screen – an ironic reminder that marketers and advertisers are not necessarily the same thing.
And finally cars. Honda UK car marketing director Simon Thompson may well feel an ambivalent pleasure in seeing his job highlighted as one of the most desirable among hardened cynics in the motor industry. Outside the charmed automotive circle, however, German bling still reigns supreme, with BMW and Porsche both making it into the top 20.
Stuart Smith, editor