Four years can be a lifetime in marketing, so the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers’ (ISBA) appointment of Mike Hughes as its next director-general may have been greeted with the comment “Mike who?” from younger marketers.
For a while, though, Hughes was one of the best-known British marketers – although some of the reasons for his fame are likely to be painful memories for him today.
On the positive side are the good times at two of the world’s greatest brands. As marketing director for Coca-Cola UK in the early 1980s, he oversaw the launch of Diet Coke here. In the 1990s, as managing director of Guinness Brewing GB, he handled the launch of Guinness Draught in cans, using the revolutionary “widget” to create a foamy head similar to the one on a pint of Guinness.
On the negative side will be his experience at HP Bulmer, the British cider company that used to own Strongbow. Hughes was appointed chief executive in 1998 with a brief to transform the family-controlled company, moving it out of cider and into other sectors of the drinks industry, while building international operations.
But he resigned in 2002 after Bulmer ran into financial problems, with the failure of high-profile product launches – including Brazilian-themed ready-to-drink Bambao, and the two-colour widget-based RTD Storm – and the discovery of a £3m “black hole” in its accounts relating to trade marketing budgets.
Insiders said at the time that Hughes was not responsible for the shortfall and suggested it had been concealed from him. But he had obviously fallen out with the Bulmer family, who had driven the aggressive and risky expansion plans.
Since resigning from Bulmer in September 2002, Hughes has been working in digital media, first as European managing director of Adstream UK and then as non-executive chairman of new media marketing services group Infinite Thinking.
Arguably, though, failure is a great teacher, so his experiences at Bulmer could be of benefit in his new position. And, had he succeeded at Bulmer as well as Coke and Guinness, he would probably not have been interested in the ISBA job.
It is because of his successful high-level marketing and management experience that ISBA’s selection panel chose him. Although his experience of lobbying UK and European governments, on behalf of Guinness and Bulmer, and his more recent exposure to digital media may well have helped.
One ISBA insider says: “The alcohol industry has always been tuned in to making its case with government, so that’s going to be useful. ISBA also wanted someone with recent marketing director and digital experience.”
ISBA has been closely involved in discussions with government over the future of alcohol marketing, as well as so-called “junk food” in general, and marketing to children in particular.
New media regulation
One folder in Hughes’ in-tray when he takes over from outgoing director-general Malcolm Earnshaw in the spring is likely to deal with the European Union’s attempts to regulate TV and new media through the Audio Visual Media Services Directive.
Another TV-related issue will be relationships between the UK’s biggest advertisers and ITV, which is still hugely important even though audiences are continuing to fragment.
By all accounts, Hughes should prove to be a sound choice for ISBA: he has the experience – and something to prove.