Marketers face uncertain future as takeovers take off

From Hovis to Benson & Hedges and Jaffa Cakes to Liverpool Football Club, the ownership of some of the UK’s most famous brand names is changing.

From Hovis to Benson & Hedges and Jaffa Cakes to Liverpool Football Club, the ownership of some of the UK’s most famous brand names is changing.

But the tidal wave of mergers and acquisitions washing over British businesses this winter threatens to leave a trail of devastation in its wake, marooning many top marketing staff while others surf to new heights.

Premier Foods’ £1.2bn swoop on RHM last week – which threatens £85m in cost cuts – has left question marks hanging over marketing jobs. Premier may look to merge RHM’s Bread Bakeries and Manor Bakeries into one unit. The marketing directors of each division, ex-SAB Miller marketer Tim Dewey and former Quaker executive Jill Caseberry respectively, would have to compete for one post.

Structural changes Meanwhile, Premier could merge RHM’s Culinary Brands – including Sharwoods, Robertson’s jam and Bisto – into its own portfolio. How this would affect the RHM division’s marketing director Mark Doorbar is unclear. Then again, it is possible Premier’s commercial director Howard Beveridge is looking at a complete restructure of Premier’s team.

One source says that cuts come first at the senior levels: “Sometimes it pays to be at a slightly lower level without your head above the parapet.” The wave of M&As in recent months is driven by “petrodollars” – the recycling of money paid to oil-producing countries – swilling round the global economy and a financial frenzy created by cheap borrowing.

In utilities, Scottish Power has been bought by Spain’s Iberdrola but marketing director Gerry Magee is expected to keep his role. Thames Water was bought by Australia’s Macquarie Bank last week, though sales and marketing director Julie Wallis left before the deal was completed. Unlike trade mergers, there is no clash of roles in cross border and financial takeovers. But cost cuts are likely and marketing is an easy area to prune.

Eyes on the ball Meanwhile, football clubs continue to attract foreign millions. Dubai International Capital – which has already bought Madame Tussauds and Travelodge – is in talks with Liverpool. West Ham was recently purchased by an Icelandic consortium, which promptly sacked manager Alan Pardew, and Manchester United marketing director Peter Draper left soon after the club was bought by Malcolm Glazer.

The latest in a long line of British consumer brand sell-offs comes with B&H, Silk Cut and Old Holborn owner Gallaher’s admission last week that it has been approached as a takeover target, with speculation falling on Japan Tobacco. Marketing directors will feel the ground shaking beneath their feet.

Companies once thought too big to buy have been caught up in the takeover fever. Prudential and even Unilever have fallen under the spotlight, as have Vodafone and BT.

The effects of takeovers sometimes take time to be felt. Last week, brewer Inbev’s UK office lost portfolio brands director Kevan Mallinder and innovations chief Mandy Bobrowski, as revealed on marketingweek.co.uk. The move was designed to bring the UK into line with Inbev’s global structure, and ten more UK marketers are expected to leave. Many other UK marketers have left since the merger of Belgium’s Interbrew and Brazil’s AmBev in August 2005.

Devin Kelly, the company’s marketing director, says: “Businesses change, and when that happens, people have a choice about whether they stay or leave.” But not all marketers will have that choice as this unparalleled wave of acquisitions scythes through the nation’s marketing departments.

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