Debenhams is hiring former British Airway marketer Abi Comber as its new CMO as it looks to turnaround its struggling business.
Comber will begin her role as the retailer’s top marketer tomorrow (7 January) as the brand invests in marketing to help solve its financial woes. She replaces interim marketing boss Erin Brookes, who took over in September after Richard Cristofoli was forced out after eight years in the retailer’s top marketing job.
Brookes will remain at the business as chief restructuring officer. She is part of the ‘senior turnaround team’ and is on secondment from her role as managing director and head of retail at turnaround specialist Alvarez & Marsal.
Comber has spent the majority of her career at BA, working her way up to become the airline’s global head of brands and marketing. She has worked across partnerships, sponsorship and community relations and led on BA’s sponsorship of the Great Britain 2012 Olympic and Paralympic teams.
Comber left BA in May 2018 and has since been working as a consultant on turnaround plans.
Debenhams CEO, Stefaan Vansteenkiste, says: “[Comber’s] track record speaks for itself and her experience and understanding of customer engagement and developing digital service initiatives will be particularly important as we continue to work on transforming Debenhams into a business that can compete effectively in the rapidly-changing retail environment.”
In September, Debenhams launched a £3m marketing campaign that it hoped would help boost long-term consideration and love for the brand.
Comber comments: “With 19 million customers in the UK in stores and online, the opportunity to play an important part in developing Debenhams’ customer proposition for the next decade is really exciting. I am delighted to be joining Stefaan and the team to help build a successful future for one of the UK’s best-known retail businesses.”
Debenhams is currently undergoing a widespread restructure that will, as part of a company voluntary arrangement (CVA), see 50 of its 165 stores close and 1,200 staff lose their jobs. It began the closures as the beginning of this year with 19 stores in locations in including Manchester, Birmingham and London.
Debenham’s is part of a long list of struggling high street retailers, including House of Fraser, which are failing to keep up with the changing nature of the high street. A combination of rising rents and a shift to online has led retail spaces to become less profitable; while more cautious spending amid a downturn in consumer confidence has led to a decline in spending in areas including fashion.