Interim marketers – cost effective or a threat to the brand?

The departure of MFI marketing director Paul Jackson (MW last week), who previously worked for the retailer on an interim basis, and the permanent appointment of interim chief marketing officer Frank Rovekamp at Vodafone highlight the dilemmas facing companies who have to choose between hiring dedicated and stopgap marketers.

Companies are increasingly turning to interim marketing chiefs to lead their marketing departments rather than rushing to appoint someone to the role on a full-time basis. But some observers think the rapid changes in personnel have a damaging effect on the direction and identity of a brand. They argue that long-term partnerships, such as the 15-year association between Simon Thompson and Honda that inspired a series of award-winning advertising campaigns, are more productive because they allow for a long-term vision.

According to Louise Wall, group development director at headhunting firm Kendall Tarrant, the practice of employing interim marketing directors is becoming more widespread because clients believe somebody with a good track record can transfer their skills to the company in the short term at a reasonable cost. But Wall believes this growing trend is worrying, and says the market would be better served by “a degree of consistency for real impact”.

She thinks the trend is rooted in companies’ need to make cuts to resources, turning to the marketing department first. Wall adds: “Consistency leads to responsibility, affinity and accountability, and a realistic knowledge of how a firm works and what can be achieved.”

Another source argues that a company’s dilemma when using a marketing director on an interim basis is whether the business retains ownership of the brand. The source adds that brand affinity is likely to be affected by a string of consultants over a short period of time and says: “Certain individuals are brilliant at going in and changing things but others are not so effective.”

Rob Rees, currently working for Barclays Insurance, has previously held interim posts at Scottish Widows, Campbell’s Food, Orange and Vodafone. Rees refutes the claim that brands lose out by employing consultants and interim marketing directors, and says: “If anything, I am more committed to the brand. I’m paid to manage the business and not my career, making me immune to politics or the temptation of a quick fix to satisfy the board. It’s the purest form of marketing there is.”

Rees says he loves marketing but his enjoyment of his job when he was a full-time marketing director was tainted by the amount of time spent in meetings. Despite saying he would not rule out accepting “the right” full-time job if it was offered, Rees adds: “Working like this helps keep me sharp and current, and the different situations one is thrown into make for a better marketer. I’ve handled start-ups, acquisitions, branding projects and am now very skilled in a way I wouldn’t be if I’d spent 15 years marketing a single product.”

Rees argues that an interim marketing director can represent strong, sustainable value to a client. “I aim to leave a team capable of continuing good practice,” he says.

But get appointment strategy wrong, and the business will suffer. Another interim marketing director warns: “Some clients have made horrific decisions on replacing me and brought in somebody permanent who is only interested in stamping his mark on the job. Everything I’ve worked on has been destroyed to the detriment of the brand, just because the new guy thought all he had to do was make an expensive ad.”

Mark Choueke

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