Robin Terrell’s ascension to the top marketing job signals new priorities for Tesco

Tesco’s latest management shake-up, which sees multichannel director Robin Terrell take over as marketing boss and former CMO Matt Atkinson leave, is of course prompted by the accounting scandal. However, is it also about chief executive Dave Lewis trying to draw a line under the company’s recent problems and simplify the UK management structure so it can react more quickly to changes in the grocery market.

Terrell is taking on overall responsibility for marketing in a new role as head of customer. Atkinson is leaving less than 6 months after he changed roles from marketing boss to chief creative officer – a strategic but barely defined product and development role.

Terrell joined Tesco in February 2013 from House of Fraser where he was the executive director of multichannel and international. He previously held ecommerce roles at both John Lewis and Amazon.

While part of his role would have been marketing-related in terms of how Tesco portrayed its brand via online and mobile channels, he is not a traditional marketer. In fact his route to the top marketing job is similar in many ways to that of his predecessor Jill Easterbrook who has spent 13 years in a number of roles at Tesco, none of which were directly marketing related.

Analysts, however, have reacted positively to the news. Shore Capital analyst Clive Black says his appointment is a “good move” because it puts Terrell back into his area of expertise around retail and ecommerce strategy.

“Terrell’s appoint is a further sign that Dave Lewis is getting through his long ‘to do’ list.”

Clive Black, Shore capital catalyst

“Terrell’s appointment is a further sign that Dave Lewis is getting through his long ‘to do’ list. [This is a] good day in the recovery of Tesco,” he adds.

Black says the reshuffle is also a sign that Tesco is becoming “learner, lower cost, more agile and faster”. Along with Atkinson, David Hobbs, the group’s business and strategy planning director is leaving with Benny Higgins taking on responsibility for group strategy alongside his role at Tesco Bank.

Tesco, he adds, needs “simplification in its operations in-store, the supply chain and the customer offer.”

Lewis has spoken previously about how the Tesco brand has lost its way and needs to reconnect with customers and Stephen Springham, retail analyst at Planet Retail, believes Terrell’s appointment will help.

He adds: “One of the things Tesco has to address is where the brand sits and what it stands for, that is fundamental to everything and remains an issue. The appointment of Terrell reinforces that thinking,” he says.

Sarah Vizard viewpoint 2

The appointment of a man with a background in ecommerce rather than marketing suggests that, for Tesco, it is customer knowledge and insight that is important rather than advertising. While the brand campaigns will be critical in communicating the changes happening at Tesco, the priority is to get the customer proposition right.

That should help address consumer perceptions of the brand. According to YouGov’s BrandIndex Tesco’s brand has nosedived, with the supermarket sitting at the bottom of a list of grocers across a whole range of metrics.

To turn that around requires someone with an insight into shoppers and their behaviour. Terrell has that from his time running multichannel, an area of the business where Tesco remains miles ahead of its competition.

Tesco still has traditional marketing expertise in Sharry Crammond, Tracey Clements and Neil Adams who, as far as we know, continue to head up its three marketing divisions. They can provide support in whatever changes Terrell decides are necessary to the Tesco brand and how it is portrayed.

His appointment does not suggest that marketing is becoming any less important to Tesco, just that the skills needed to do it are changing.

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