Craig Inglis has been knowingly undersold

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On the same day media personality Janet Street-Porter used her Daily Mail column to call for John Lewis to sack marketing director Craig Inglis, Inglis was named as the Marketing Society’s 2011 ’marketer of the year’. Inglis triumphed ahead of heavyweight business figures such as Aviva CMO Amanda Mackenzie and O2 marketing director Sally Cowdry.

Clearly Inglis holds the respect of his industry colleagues, and rightly so. His contribution to John Lewis’ success since being promoted to director of marketing in February 2010 has been vital. He has added muscle and experience to a team that has been responsible for some of the best (and most lauded) advertising of the past year.

But while Inglis’ spectacular relaunch of the Never Knowingly Undersold proposition garnered headlines, what John Lewis’ customers and Street-Porter will not have witnessed is one of the UK’s most talented business people being quietly effective. His overhaul of marketing strategy has already delivered from both a commercial and brand perspective with sales and profits both up. But Inglis feels his job is not yet done. Hence his honest and insightful appraisal of his next challenge in a recent interview with Marketing Week which got picked up, misconstrued and belched out by a string of national newspapers last week.

John Lewis' Christmas campaign
John Lewis’ Christmas campaign

What none of the writers bothered to do was research anything for themselves. One put a rather lazy call in to me to see if we could give him the tape of the interview; a request I declined. If they had researched their articles instead of merely reading our story and adding their own assumptions into the mix, they may have paused before filing for fear of looking foolish.

Inglis described the work John Lewis is undertaking to protect itself from being seen as “beige” or “fuddy-duddy”. He made a frank admission that the much loved and trusted retailer is “15 years behind Tesco” in terms of data and customer knowledge. As Ruth Mortimer says in her excellent column, who isn’t?

Inglis, however, is refusing to accept the status quo and is doing something about it. He created a new head of CRM and insight role in an effort to place the customer at the heart of John Lewis’ marketing strategy. Meanwhile, instead of boasting that John Lewis is 15 years ahead of Tesco and the rest in terms of customer service, brand trust, product quality or range, Inglis preferred to focus on new challenges as opposed to past achievements. His words last week made both him and John Lewis look intelligent, dynamic and ’up for the fight’.

Janet Street-Porter may have chosen to misunderstand Inglis’s hunger to improve every part of John Lewis’ business and brand, but it is this that his peers celebrated about him this week.

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