How one digital transformation expert has overhauled brands in charity, travel and beyond

The story of my CV: Transformation specialist Claire Hazle talks through the pivotal points of her career, from the moment her interest was piqued by the possibilities of digital to her current role overseeing marketing from her position on the board.

Claire Hazle has had a varied career spanning sectors from financial services to charity as she believes it gives her a broader understanding of marketing and a different perspective that she can take to each subsequent role.

“When I moved into charity, the learning I had from financial services was really useful as I’d picked up different skill sets. I like to work with people from different backgrounds and I think I’ve really gathered that from working in different industries,” she says.

One thread that does tie each job together is her love of going into a business and transforming it.

“I don’t like the phrase digital transformation because it’s misleading. It’s business transformation and it just happens to have digital at the heart of it,” she says. “Digital is the enabler of business transformation. People think digital transformation means getting a new website but it’s doesn’t. You might need a new website but it’s not the core of it. Digital transformation is about culture, business processes, business models and business strategy.”

READ MORE: What does ‘digital transformation’ really mean?

Real transformation, in Hazle’s experience, comes from strong leadership. “You need to have enlightened leaders in an organisation otherwise you can only go so far. If you’ve got that vision at the top of an organisation you have nothing standing in your way.”

She says Giles Hawke, CEO at Cosmos – which has recently rebranded from Cosmos Tours & Cruises – has that vision, and that coupled with the fact she is on the board of director has created an “open path” for transformation. “I look back now and think if only that was the situation in every organisation,” she says.

In previous roles Hazle says she has been forced to take on the role of an “annoying wasp”, pestering people until they start to think differently and embrace change. “There were a lot of healthy conversations and challenges along the way, which is great because it requires cultural transformation,” she says.

One thing, she feels hugely passionate about it the role of women in leadership.

“It’s something I’ve really fought for in my career and I now spend a lot of time coaching and mentoring all my staff. I’m very conscious that as a leader you need to set an example. I want people coming through the ranks – whether they’re male or female – to understand what’s possible and reach their potential. I think too many people, particularly women, limit themselves.”

Developing a love for the immediacy of digital

Ordnance Survey, web marketing manager (2004 – 2005)
Editorial copywriter (2001 – 2004)

“It was a real learning curve moving Ordnance Survey from a pure ecommerce model where the focus was shifting individual items to doing something more intangible.

“The information economy was just starting up at that time and the role really piqued my interest in the power of digital and the way it enables you to interact with people in such a different and immediate way.

“Ordering a paper map online or going into a shop became very out-dated. People wanted that information on their phone because they were going out for a walk then and there.

“You learn so much more quickly as a result. I became very frustrated with the delay in offline areas because I love the immediacy of digital and being able to be a real geek about it.”

Regulation can be frustrating but partnerships create opportunities

Friends Life (formerly Friends Provident), multi-channel marketing development manager (2009 – 2010)
E-marketing manager (2005 – 2009)

“Financial services was interesting but quite frustrating at times as it’s just so heavily regulated. From a digital point of view, financial services at that time was very risk averse. It was on the cusp but people didn’t necessarily see the opportunities.

“I started in a web role but ended up in a consultancy role, working with brands like John Lewis, Virgin Money and the AA to create co-branded and white-labelled sites for their customers. It’s commonplace now but at that time it was just starting up.

“There was a healthy tension because these brands have an established identity, guidelines and proposition but they’re operating in the heavily regulated financial services world.

“They would say ‘why can’t we change that word?’ and I would have to say, ‘here’s a whole long list of reasons why’. You might think it’s really normal to say customer instead of consumer but it’s not that simple.

“Getting that exposure to bigger brands at that point in my career was really important as it gave me an idea about where I wanted my career to go longer term.”

Getting the greatest return on investment

Cancer Research UK, senior national marketing manager (Aug 2011 – Nov 2011)
Senior online channels manager (2010 – 2011)

“This was a hugely rewarding but emotionally draining role. I was responsible for creating the website for Race for Life, which had the very hefty job of processing and managing the vast majority of race entries and sponsorship. There was a lot of technical integration with Just Giving as a fundraising platform and that’s where my interest in CRM came from.

“It enabled us to look at supporters’ journeys and capture that sense of emotion to get someone to sign up again and return their fundraising money – there’s a lot of people who, with no malice intended, forget to do so. Getting to people to fundraise online was really crucial

“Working at CRUK made me very conscious of how I spent money. It made me really evaluate every pound I was spending to ensure I would get the greatest return, which is a fantastic lesson for any marketer.

“Sometimes when you work for a big company you can get blasé about the budget, but in charity your budget comes from people’s donations so it does really make you think.”

READ MORE: Cancer Research UK on shifting to a masterbrand approach

Change opinions with insight

Carnival UK (P&O Cruises and Cunard), head of digital (2011 – 2014)

“Throughout my career I’ve always been that annoying wasp, the change agent everyone wants to ignore because it means doing things differently.

“The cruise industry suffered from thinking passengers over a certain age wouldn’t use digital. I was there to debunk that myth and the way I got people to think differently was through insight. No matter how much I bleat on about how great digital is, it’s always the data that will give people the evidence and reassurance they need that it’s the right thing to do.

“A lot of the problem was cultural, so I had to chip away at some of those long-held opinions about older people and their comfort with digital.

People don’t always have the same dedication to the cause

Marie Curie UK, head of digital (2014 – 2016)

“I joined Marie Curie as it was embarking on a three-year change programme but I manage to close it after two years. When I think back to what we achieved it’s a very proud time for me.

“There’s a fine balance between how far you can push an organisation and keep it within its comfort zone and after two years the charity had got to the point where it was comfortable with what it had delivered but there were other things it needed to change before the next phase could be done.

“It was a frustrating time too though. I spent a lot of time creating a centre of excellence for digital and then my staff got poached as salaries tend to be much lower in the charity sector so it’s very difficult to recruit and retain people. If you’re of a certain age and a big clothing brand comes along and offers you £50,000 more than you’re on, regardless of the wonderful work, we just couldn’t compete.

Breaking down silos

Cosmos UK, director of marketing and ecommerce (2016 – Present) 

“Rebranding to Cosmos and introducing a more modern brand proposition has been a cultural change for us as an organisation. I’ve been working with staff to get them to understand that a brand isn’t just your logo or your colour palette; it’s about who we are as a company.

“From a career point of view, I’ve had to get back into the guts of offline again because I’m responsible for offline and digital.

“It’s been great because I’ve had the chance to bring it all back together. When I was in purely digital roles I was always very conscious that, as much as you can work with others to integrate things, unless you’re looking after the whole shooting match you’re always going to have silos.”

“And even though I’ve still got pure digital roles in my team, overseeing the whole piece is much better because you get a more integrated approach to everything.