One globe-trotting marketer on never getting ‘too comfortable’

Anna Chokina has worked in Russia, America and the UK at world-renowned brands including P&G, L’Oreal and PepsiCo, but last year took on her first truly global role as vice-president of global face care and personal care at Avon.

Anna Chokina is truly a global marketer, having worked for Procter & Gamble, L’Oréal and PepsiCo across Russia, the UK and the US.

She was born and raised in Moscow and for the first three years of her career worked in direct marketing. However, she soon realised she wanted to be “part of the decision-making process” and so decided to move client-side in 2003.

Having never worked for brands before, Chokina felt she needed “a proper education in marketing to help me transition”, so took a year out and moved to the US to enrol in business school.

After graduating, Chokina spent the next decade at P&G. She started out in Russia working on two feminine care brands, before seeking a move to the US when her husband was relocated, where she took on the $500m Tampax brand. Chokina then moved to London for the first time where she swapped strategy for tactics to take on a shopper marketing role, which she says was surprisingly rewarding.

After two years in London, Chokina went on maternity leave with her first child. On returning she was offered the newly created role of business leader for the company’s pet care business. She describes the role as “a mini general manager for any given category but without the bottom line”.

Chokina had asked her manager at the time if she could come back four days a week but was told she couldn’t. While she says she loved her 10 years at P&G and “doesn’t have a bad word to say about the company”, this was the one occasion she felt frustrated. “Now, knowing what the job was, I would have managed to do it four days a week and it would have been a better choice for me, at least for the first six months after coming back from maternity leave,” she says.

After proving herself in pet care, Chokina was moved to feminine care and healthcare – one of P&G’s biggest categories. “It was the same role and scope but the business was about 20 times bigger,” she says. P&G’s feminine care business had a 70% market share and was a sizeable part of P&G’s overall business so it meant she got a lot of senior management attention. One benefit of that was her team was made up of the top talent, but this brought with it a “different dynamic”.

“It stretched me as a manager because I had to find ways of growing these amazing, capable people and help them find new challenges to make their work exciting, so it was a very different managerial challenge. But the business challenges were also greater and there was more scrutiny from top management. It taught me to work differently and to lead by influencing not by doing.”

Chokina left P&G after 10 years as she felt there was no scope for promotion to the next level, which would have been marketing director. She was approached by PepsiCo and ended up moving back to Russia to take on the marketing director role for its snacks business. Her husband was already working between London and Moscow and they decided it would be good experience for their son to experience the culture.

However, while the transition from P&G to PepsiCo was smooth, she realised she was “too comfortable”.

“Because the business leader positions at P&G were so big it wasn’t the promotion I was expecting from a capability standpoint. It wasn’t difficult or stretching enough for me. I wasn’t learning as much,” she says.

After nearly five years in Russia, Chokina decided to move back to the UK as she realised she no longer “shared the same values as my country”.

Despite being a well-travelled marketer working for some of the world’s biggest brands, Chokina had yet to take on a truly global role. So when the opportunity at Avon came up she jumped at the chance to manage a global team for the first time, all the more exciting, she says, as the brand looks to “bring the business model into the 21st century”.

First step on the ladder

Procter & Gamble, assistant brand manager, Discreet Eastern Europe, 2003 – 2004

P&G femcare

“I was very lucky to have the best training you could get in marketing at that particular time. I think nowadays digitally-led companies and small businesses [might have something different to offer] but at the time it was the best you could get. I started in Moscow as an assistant brand manager on one of the femcare products and loved it.

“But then my husband had to move to New York to work with Deutsche Bank. I told them, I’m very sorry, I love P&G but I have to resign because I need to move to the US for personal reasons. But they said why don’t you consider some of the teams stateside? I was amazed because I’d only been at the company for a year and I felt that was just a huge step on their part to have such faith in me and offer me something like this.

Developing new products

P&G, senior assistant brand manager, Tampax North America, 2004 – 2006 

“My job was to lead on two major innovations for the brand. It was my first experience of development from zero to launch: so the concept, then the product, then the advertising.

“Being in Cincinnati where P&G’s global headquarters is also allowed me to tap into some of the best talent and some of the best coaches and mentors and capabilities the company had. But having done it for three years it was a bit exhausting having to travel from Cincinnati to New York every weekend, so both myself and husband decided to look for cities where both Deutsche Bank and P&G had offices and London was one option.”

Building relationships

P&G, customer team marketing manager, 2006 – 2008

“I went from the upstream all the way to the downstream, and I remember thinking: I love my job in Cinncinnati – it’s so strategic, so amazing – how interesting can shopper marketing be? It’s just tactical work with retailers, it’s not going to be fun. But I was so wrong. I really loved it. When you develop a new skill that you didn’t think you even needed, that’s when it’s the most rewarding.

“It was brilliant commercial experience for me. It’s as commercial as marketing ever gets. I was working with the sales teams on business plans for the retailers, helping to translate them into a win, both for us but also for the retailers.

A new challenge

P&G, business leader, pet care UK, 2008-2010

“[After being on maternity leave] I was asked to come back on pet care, which was a tiny category in P&G rankings, but the job was very big.

“We had a tiny share in the category, a 3% share in the grocery channel and 15% in the speciality channel, so we were just sandwiched between Nestlé and Mars. The category had been declining for five years straight and because it was a smaller category for P&G, talent-wise I did not have the high flyers in my team, to be honest.

When you develop a new skill that you didn’t think you even needed, that’s when marketing is the most rewarding.

“We decided we were going to be ruthless; we killed all of the initiatives except for two things, one was a specific campaign for cat food business IAMs and the other was a promotional strategy change from half price events to save a third. We were smart, and focused on these two key drivers. We put all the money there and it started to work. For the first time in five years we managed to grow share, so that was just brilliant. It was very difficult but very rewarding.”

Growing market share

P&G, business leader, femcare and personal healthcare UK, 2010 – 2013

“In femcare we had 70% market share so the stakes were high. There was one competitor with a 15% market share, which ran a half-price event during the recession in 2010, which we had to match. But we, of course, had to run half price on our 70% share, so not only did it cost us a lot it also devalued the category. The category started to decline in value terms and so retailers, rightly, came to us and said, ‘well P&G, you’re market leaders in this category, what are you going to do?’

“We developed quite an elaborate strategy to address this issue. We launched a tier-three brand that was designed to exactly address the needs of the consumers who bought the competitor brand. We tried to understand the main benefit consumers care about, and designed a product that beat the competition on that particular benefit but then we stripped out everything else.

“Then commercially, we decided to match what other brands were doing – even if they did 75% off we would match it. Profit wise we improved our position and our market share grew to 71% .

A smooth transition

PepsiCo, marketing director, snacks, 2013 – 2014

pepsi

“Russia is a huge market for PepsiCo, it’s actually bigger than the UK, and the snack portfolio is worth $800m. I thought, ‘this is my dream job, I’m going back to Moscow I’m going to see my mum and this is also a promotion’. Then I discovered I was pregnant, so before accepting I had a discussion with my hiring manager and he said, ‘do you know what, we want you for the long run so join now, go have your baby and then come back’. It made me think very highly of PepsiCo as a company and definitely increased my loyalty.

“I joined Pepsi and relocated to Moscow and it was just a very comfortable transition from P&G. The corporate culture was very welcoming. Talent-wise, the Pepsi team was brilliant, my team in PepsiCo Russia was just as talented as P&G, although maybe a little less developed. In Pepsi they invest more in training the higher you go as opposed to P&G where you get the most training when you’re at the bottom.”

Execution beats strategy

L’Oréal, general manager, L’Oréal Paris, 2014 – 2018

“L’Oréal is very aware that its corporate culture is different and as a result they don’t put some of their new hires in key positions in the job from day one. For three months I was shadowing a colleague in Italy, then Germany, then I was doing store checks in regional cities – nobody knew I would be joining.

“I really enjoyed working in beauty, it’s a very different business model to P&G and Pepsi but it expanded my management acumen because coming from P&G you know how to launch a brand, how to grow market share, what needs to be done to win in the market place, but actually L’Oréal does it completely differently and in most cases it wins over P&G.

“My key learning was execution beats strategy in beauty care.”

First global role

Avon, vice-president, global face care and personal care, 2018 – present

AvonCare Superfoods Honey

“During the recruitment process I met Jonathan Myers, our chief operating officer, and CEO Jan Zijderveld who joined from Unilever just over a year ago. They shared the new strategy and vision for Avon to become the future of social selling with me and I was just very energised by it.

“I’ve worked a little bit on turnaround projects but not to this scale. The scale is just mind-blowing. I’m being very gentle with the team because people are different with how they manage change.

“I would like for Avon to become a place for talent. I would like for people to want to come and work for Avon marketing because they see cool things happening from us, so that’s another big focus area for me.”

Anna Chokina’s CV

Avon
vice-president, global face care and personal care
2018-present

L’Oreal
general manager, L’Oreal Paris – Russia
2014-2018

PepsiCo
marketing director, snacks – Russia
2013-2014

Procter & Gamble
business leader, femcare and personal care UK
2010-2013

Procter & Gamble
business leader, pet care UK
2008-2010

Procter & Gamble
customer team marketing manager – Sainsbury’s, Superdrug, Boots – UK
2006-2008

Procter & Gamble
senior assistant brand manager, Tampax – North America
2004-2006

Procter & Gamble
assistant brand manager, discreet – Eastern Europe
2003-2004

EURO RSCG KLP
account director, Bounty Worldwide
2000-2001

Sibico International
exhibitions manager
1998-2000

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