Q&A: Rob Rees, interim marketing director

Rob Rees has made a career out of being an interim marketing director, often drafted in to help companies turn their businesses around.

rob rees

Marketing Week (MW): Do strategy U-turns ever work?

Rob Rees (RR): Yes, but if it is just done on the whim of the marketing director then it could fail miserably. Some people do it purely for their own career aspirations and if the board isn’t that marketing-literate they buy the bullshit. But then other times, there is a real need to do it because the strategy is starting to get tired and not working with consumers, or perhaps a brand is getting lower recall and needs to inject a fresh perspective

MW: How can marketing influence a switch in business strategy?

RR: Marketing can be instrumental in driving the innovation brief through the business. That is the hard bit. The easy bit is then turning that into marketing communication. Ultimately, marketing is responsible for being the voice of the consumer in the business and it should analyse what the opportunities are.

MW: How do you plan a successful U-turn?

RR: You have to have all the stakeholders aligned. For a lot of people, change is very uncomfortable. But if you haven’t got the top people on board, you are wasting your time. Make sure there is regular communication so people can see the progress you are making – the light at the end of the tunnel.

Sometimes you find people who are not fit for purpose and you try and redeploy them into other areas. Sometimes they are just not up for the new vision [of the company] and you have to move them on.

MW: Why have you made a career from turnarounds?

RR: Because I get bored by a role at a company that is growing by 3% a year, managing the status quo and the process. I like to be in situations where urgent action is needed. Some people come in, fire the agency, try to rebrand the company and then move on to the next role within 18 months – but that is not serving the business.

MW: How do you make sure the changes you’ve made to a business are stuck to after you leave?

RR: You have to take the executive board with you – it is not just about marketing, it is about the whole company. Any glib marketing director coming in trying to change things is not going to find it that easy because it is part of a broader strategic framework. Secondly, you do it through your team and make sure they are aligned with the new vision.

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