It can be a struggle for marketers to receive acknowledgement from their own company for their efforts. Even rarer for their achievements to be celebrated beyond the world of business. This is unfair, believes David Wheldon, who was handed an OBE in the New Year Honours List for services to marketing and advertising.
“I think it [the OBE] is great, not only for me, it’s lovely for the profession too. It’s good news that marketing is being recognised in this way. That it is a worthwhile thing to be doing.”
Wheldon retired from his role as CMO of RBS Group (now NatWest Group) in January 2020 after a 30-year career that included stints at Coca-Cola, WPP, Vodafone and Barclays.
He was also involved in industry bodies such as the World Federation of Advertisers, where he was president for four years until 2019. During his tenure he led efforts to find collective responses to some of the industry’s biggest challenges.
Marketing does all sorts of things for society that aren’t acknowledged and it is often not taken as seriously as it should be.
And he has always been colourful in dissecting where marketers are going wrong. A 2016 speech at ISBA’s annual conference where he condemned marketers’ obsession with chasing trends at the expense of marketing fundamentals, is one particularly memorable intervention.
He is also an advocate for marketing and its contribution to business and society.
“I am fiercely proud of the marketing profession. Marketing does all sorts of things for society that aren’t acknowledged and it is often not taken as seriously as it should be,” he tells Marketing Week.
Wheldon points to public health campaigns such as the recent activity to bolster the vaccination programme, as well as campaigns that changed the fortunes of brands such as Audi’s ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ as examples of marketing’s transformational potential.
“[Marketing] has always been a force for good when done in the right way. And I think that’s going to be more important,” he says, highlighting the climate crisis, which he believes marketers can play a role in helping to tackle.
“The sustainability challenge in front of us is a communications challenge, helping people understand how important it is,” he adds.
For the moment, though, he is still enjoying the accolades that followed his OBE. He describes the reaction of his family to the award as “lovely”, especially from his sons “who have quite rightly spent their lives taking the piss out of me”.
He also welcomed the congratulations of people in the marketing profession, even though it was for past achievements.
“I have to remind myself that I’m not dead yet,” he jokes.
Marketing Week is looking at what marketing’s opportunity is to lead and how to realise it in a a series called ‘The Power to Transform’. The Festival of Marketing’s Transform event in March will provide further insight into how to realise marketing’s potential.