It should never be too early to appoint a marketer

Calling the Hilco press office last week to check whether it planned to appoint a senior marketer now the deal to acquire HMV is complete, I was offered a rather worrying response: “Too early to say”.

Russell Parsons

In fairness to the spokeswoman, it might be there are plans afoot to hire a marketing heavyweight to help steer HMV’s comeback that she is unaware of. What is clear, however, is a marketer has not been drafted in as part of the already announced leadership team – an omission that will hamper the beleaguered retailer in its journey back from the brink.

The restructuring firm bought 141 HMV and nine Fopp stores out of administration last week in a deal said to be worth £50m. The chain’s new owners immediately set about dismantling the key strategic decision of the chain’s previous management by handing the space given over to tablets and other devices back to music and film.

Hilco has some form in turning the HMV brand around. A similar decision to take the Canadian business it bought in 2011 back to its entertainment roots has so far paid off. It returned to profit last year and is now growing sales.

The UK and Canadian markets, however, are very different. Downloading, streaming and use of the likes of Amazon and iTunes – both huge factors in the ravaging of HMV’s sales and ultimate administration in the UK – are less prominent in Canada than here. Also, despite sales of CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays still accounting for almost three quarters of all entertainment products sold, the long-term trend towards digital is undeniable.

These are huge challenges that cannot be successfully met without the voice of the customer at the top table. In other words, a marketer. Of the executive team brought in to work with what remains of HMV’s management, only Ian Topping as the former chief executive of Steinhoff Group, the company behind furniture chain Harvey’s, has direct B2C experience.

The saviours of companies that have fallen into administration are adept at addressing the structural difficulties that caused the problems in the first place. They are supremely skilled at recognising the opportunities for profit by selling assets.

What needs to be added is the unique voice a marketer offers. In a world where consumer habits are changing at a pace, driven by ever evolving technology, it is essential that perspective is added alongside financial and legal insight.

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