Inside the sports fashion group launching a brand building academy to unleash cross-functional creativity

The company behind Speedo, Berghaus and Ellesse hopes to tap into the collective brainpower stored up across its organisation with the launch of its dedicated brand building academy.

Pentland Brands Sunderland
The Pentland Brands office in Sunderland.

Pentland Brands is launching an in-house brand building academy focused on growing its portfolio of brands by harnessing the cross-functional talent across its 1,700 strong global workforce.

The family-owned British business behind brands such as Speedo, Mitre, Ellesse and Berghaus, will offer employees access to new development workshops, toolkits and events, designed to develop a connected approach that makes brand building the responsibility of every employee, regardless of function.

The academy – known as ‘Brand Building the Pentland Way’ – will be rolled out across the entire portfolio and is the brainchild of Pentland’s brand development team. Speaking to Marketing Week, brand development director Simon Grove explains that Pentland made a conscious decision not to call the initiative a ‘marketing academy’ in order to expand the project’s scope and make it relevant to the whole organisation.

“Brand building can often be seen as the domain of marketing teams, but actually what we believe here is that it’s that collective brainpower, the creativity, those cross functional teams coming together that gives us the edge and that’s where we get the true value,” says Grove.

“The core principle we’re putting into place is that the accountability of brand building is for all of us and what that does is it joins people up, so everyone has a really good understanding and a consistent way of working that enables those people to flex and move across to different roles, different brands, different functions.”

Grove explains that it would have been easy for Pentland to roll out a traditional marketing academy or send people off to a classroom, but ultimately that just results in “a few people knowing more stuff”. He argues that what’s needed is a common approach based on real-life brand challenges.

Starting out by defining Pentland’s brand building philosophy, the team then wanted to ensure that the capability programme focused on putting the customer experience at the heart of each brand.

Rather than analysing customer journeys in terms of how they relate to a particular function, such as online or in-store, the approach is to look at the holistic experience across the portfolio and the categories each brand operates in.

READ MORE: Why one sportswear group is hiring 60 marketers to fuel its growth drive

The focus will be on bringing the right people together at the right moment based on the business cycle, meaning a typical workshop could include people from finance, supply chain, marketing, sales, planning, product teams, innovation and digital. The cross functional teams will move quickly from the theory to live action examples, working on real challenges affecting their brands.

“I think it gives us a much more powerful opportunity to be genuinely meaningful to consumers by thinking that way and it also acts as the glue that knits our functions together,” says Grove.

“Things are moving on so fast we could get trapped in this theoretical world and actually we have to be very agile in our approach and how we roll things out. We need to see results quickly, so therefore after the training we need live action to come from it.”

Pentland Brands Ellesse
Pentland employees working across the Ellesse fashion sportswear brand.

Learning in a customer-centric way

While the academy is focused on creating consistent ways of working across Pentland’s different brands, it is also a statement of intent about the company’s commitment to helping its employees build long-term careers within the organisation.

The launch of ‘Brand Building the Pentland Way’ represents culmination of a major recruitment drive to fill 100 roles across its marketing, product and sales functions, which kicked off earlier this year.

As part of the recruitment process, Pentland Brands aimed to hire 50 to 60 people for roles in marketing, spanning brand management, digital, user experience, optimisation, analytics, product design, innovation and creative roles, as well as within Pentland’s internal agency. Grove explains that the new intake will benefit greatly from the launch of the new academy.

“We’ve got a lot of great people now landed in new positions and we want to be a business that’s really easy to work with and within. We want to be really clear on how we join up as teams,” he says.

“We have a critical mass of people on board now and it’s about giving them the platform to do what they do best, which is unleash their creativity, passion and skills in building brands.”

The recruitment drive comes at the end of a two and a half year programme designed to help Pentland Brands’ consumer organisation transition into a portfolio business, which has involved rationalising the number of sites the business operates across the UK.

Pentland Brands London
The Pentland Brands headquarters in Finchley, North London.

Sportswear brands Canterbury of New Zealand and Mitre relocated to Pentland’s Nottingham office, a hub for swimwear brand Speedo, while outerwear brand Berghaus continues to be run out of Sunderland. The rest of Pentland’s portfolio operates from its head office in Finchley, North London.

Leveraging the scale of the wider Pentland portfolio to grow each separate brand has been a key focus over the past three years for global marketing director, Sean Hastings.

It is his firm belief that unlocking the potential of brands can only be achieved by unlocking the potential of people, which is why the brand building academy has such an important role to play.

“It means working in consistent ways, giving people access to be able to move around and develop their careers in different disciplines and different brands in different countries. Those are really important ways of developing people and helps them develop the brands,” Hastings suggests.

“It also breaks down some of the silos, because as consumers we just see a brand, we experience a brand, we don’t care how the business is set up. So the business needs to think of that entire brand experience, not in its individual silos. So a big part of programme is around thinking more in the mindset of the consumer first and then how the business is organised second.”

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