Click here to read the cover feature: a profile of Camillo Pane, Reckitt Benckiser’s UK chief
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MW: The healthcare business has been brought together with the household and personal care business, which you already had responsibility for. Now that you’re in charge of all these areas, what do you feel has been the most visible effect of bringing these businesses together?
Camillo Pane (CP): Marketers can spot game changers. The healthcare business hadn’t seen any game changers among its brands for a while. Now we have brought that team together with the personal care and household teams, it is learning quickly that there is the same need to search for new ideas and game changers.
MW: What was behind the idea to combine the two businesses?
CP: [Chief executive] Bart Becht decided it was the time to see if we could combine the two UK businesses and grow our opportunities.
It had become quite visible that managing the two units separately meant we were missing some synergies, learnings and best practice. For example, why would you have two teams working with Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda? There were some things we would do in common, such as buying media, but now we can be faster and share best practice.
These are two different industries growing at different pace from one another but essentially we are both communicating to the same customers as one another and we weren’t taking advantage.
MW: Has it paid off? And did you have to lose a lot of your people?
CP: We embarked on the mission to get everyone under one roof and did quite well. It wasn’t easy for everybody because of the question of whether they wanted to physically relocate. We kept more than 60% of our people. That showed a great loyalty to the company. It showed that people understood why we were doing it and believed in the idea. But yes, we still needed a fairly heavy recruitment drive.
MW: What sort of people do you look for in new recruits?
CP: Because people are expected to take early responsibility and can’t hide, there is no long learning curve here. When I conduct interviews I try to look for that adrenalin, the energy, a passion in their eyes to drive things forward fast. To love what they are doing. With accountability and freedom comes a potential downside if you are not the right person, the pace can be too much for a lot of people.
MW: You spent much of your career as a marketer before going into general management. Have the skills you learned as a brand manager helped you in your current role?
CP: At RB, our marketers are well trained in all sorts of areas, including financial skills. Our marketing spend is heavy but it also has to be effective and efficient. Yes, we are bold in making decisions on bringing new products to market and investing heavily in them but we are also bold in taking products off the market or taking advertising off the air if we feel something isn’t working.
It is in the DNA of our marketers to be always looking for results. They understand what is good for the business which means they must be clear and focused. Some companies see it as a risk from a financial point of view to bring marketers to the top. In fact, we see it as an advantage and not a risk. It’s an opportunity.
MW: RB was recently fined £10m for marketing rigging in relation to the Gaviscon brand. Has this been settled now?
CP: We clearly believed that we were acting within the law at the time. We have co-operated with the OFT from the beginning and are pleased to have settled.
MW: We heard recently from several non-marketing board directors that the marketers they’ve worked with simply haven’t understood the wider needs of the business. How do you ensure this is not the case at RB?
CP: We foster close relationships between sales and marketing. We send marketers to join their sales colleagues when they go and meet retail buyers. They bring that extra consumer insight to the meeting and I think the retail customers appreciate that.
MW: You saw the recession as an opportunity to increase investment as opposed to decrease it. Why?
CP: It all starts with belief in our brands. Bart says we are obsessed with brands and that’s true, we want to communicate the difference between ours and the rest all the time. So when we saw the recession coming we saw it as an opportunity.
While we put some programmes in to save cost to offset the extra input costs we would face, marketing was not an area where we looked for savings. We were the third biggest TV advertiser in the UK last year. When you consider the size of the company, that is quite astonishing. And if the Government cuts [advertising] spending we might become the second after P&G.