The Secret Marketer

Our ‘man on the inside’ provides a view from the top of the marketing tree

I had a great deal of sympathy with Sir Stuart Rose and Steve Sharp when they expressed their annoyance with a group of guests at The Marketing Society’s anniversary dinner who were openly critical of Marks & Spencer and its marketing (MW last week).

As Rose pointed out, such digs are most likely to come from those marketers who are not used to managing businesses with the breadth and complexity of his. I suspect that he is absolutely right. I know a few senior marketers who work in retail and I have to say I rate them far more highly than their counterparts in corporate FMCG.

In my experience, retail marketers are able to operate at far greater speed and are more motivated by the profit and loss than the chattering classes at marketing dinners. They are rarely stuck in never-ending, flip-chart-laden workshops, pouring over their brand pyramids. Instead, they are reviewing last week’s sales and margin results.

“Top retail marketers talk the language of business; far too many FMCG staffers simply spout the waffle of marketing”

Top retail marketers talk the language of business; far too many FMCG staffers simply spout the waffle of marketing. We should remember this when we complain (as we all do) that marketing does not command the voice it deserves in the boardroom.

Having sat through my fair share of industry functions, I have always been struck by the arrogance of some FMCG lifers. I tend to find the worst culprits reside in those so-called elite marketing academies of Procter & Gamble, Unilever and similar organisations.

Don’t get me wrong, there has been and will continue to be some huge talent that emerges from such companies, but more often than not, the best talent is smart enough to leave the mothership before it is too late, proving themselves elsewhere.

Among those that stay forever, some tend to develop a misguided belief that they are among the international community’s elite business managers. They are wrong. The skill of running a divisional marketing department is very different to that which is required to run a successful business. Rose and Sharp are concerned with the latter, which is perhaps why they made it to board level in the first place.

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