EE’s former CMO on why big brands ‘aren’t set up for innovation’

Pippa Dunn left her role as the marketing boss at EE to set up her own company, Broody, that works with startups and believes more marketers should consider whether corporate life is right for them.

It’s fair to say that Pippa Dunn has had an interesting career — she started out in law, leaving to become a theatre production manager before turning to marketing with roles at Coca-Cola and EE, where she eventually became CMO.

However, after EE was bought by BT, Dunn left. And the next chapter of her career has seen her move into the startup world.

She has set up Broody – a business that helps startups “creatively and commercially”. And she says she is the happiest she has ever been. “I just can’t stop smiling. I am just so so happy,” she tells Marketing Week.

“I think there will be more and more marketers who will come out of corporate life, and if they have that drive and entrepreneurial spirit they see it’s a really good place to be.”

Dunn set up Broody in March  last year and partnered with agency Mother to foster new companies in exchange for equity in the business.

Dunn explains: “It’s a combination of creativity and commerciality. One part is around brand communication and positioning and routes to market and the other side is looking at their business model and generating growth.

“It works well for them and for us because we back ourselves and our ability to generate long-term returns.”

READ MORE: Product innovation or marketing strategy: What comes first?

Broody works with Mother on a flexible basis, using the creative teams where necessary and Dunn is clear the agency has been key to Broody’s success. She says: “I am incredibly lucky working with Mother because otherwise everything would’ve taken much longer.”

Currently, Broody is working with laundry capsule subscription service Smol, a skincare brand for nurses called Nursem and a card game Dodgy Dogs.

Smol was the first startup it worked with and Broody is focusing on its communications to build up its customer base. Dunn says it is already seeing significant success.

“SMOL is going really really well. I couldn’t be happier. We had an agreed business plan which had some pretty stretching 12-month objectives and we managed to smash through all of those in the first three months,” she says.

While Dunn won’t go into details, she notes a “very high response and retention rate” as a key indicator of its success, comparing it to Dollar Shave Club.

READ MORE: Dollar Shave Club’s secret to marketing success: ‘Bite down on a human truth and don’t let go’

She explains: “If you think of the washing category, it has pretty much been the same for as long as I can remember and I suspect even as long as my mother can remember. It’s being held by a bunch of incumbents so there really is an opportunity to say OK we can do this differently.”

What is Broody looking for in a startup? Dunn explains: “Ideas we really like and have got capability to exit, and people. People are extremely important: do we believe them? Do we like them? Do we want to spend time with them?

“Also, can we make a difference to these businesses because we just don’t want to be there to be making up the numbers. And do we believe that [the startup] will make the world, if not a better place, a more interesting place?”

READ MORE:Innovation means setting a trend, not just copying one 

Why big businesses can’t drive innovation

Dunn explains that fostering innovation is nearly impossible in big businesses. “When I was at EE I was responsible for all of the product development as well as running consumer P&L and one of the things that is endlessly fascinating is how difficult is inside a big corporate to really see innovation projects through. CEOs and CMOs often only stay for five years and so by their very nature big businesses aren’t set up for innovation.

“When are you’re in a big business you start with very good intentions and say, ‘we’re going to create new products and propositions’. But you go down that route and something happens within your business which means suddenly you need to make cuts. The first casualty is often the innovation projects because they will give you the least short-term return even though long-term they may be incredibly important.”

Make sure every so often you rethink what makes you happy and don’t be afraid to go for it. It’s really good fun.

Pippa Dunn, Broody

This in part informed her decision not to join an innovation team at a major business. “I genuinely wanted to do something myself rather than going within an innovation part of a larger corporation. I felt that it was way more interesting for me to do it myself,” she says.

Dunn believes her background in marketing has been invaluable, bringing key skills including resilience and creativity. However, she says that having a leaner team (there are just four people at Broody) has allowed her to tap into different skills.

She explains: “You never lose your core skills and your core skills get adapted whatever environment you’re in. As you go up through a big corporate, inevitably your role becomes more about setting leadership direction and managing people whereas now I am doing things and getting into the weeds of how you drive a business forward.”

She is adamant that she loved EE, saying “it was a brilliant, exciting place to work” but urges other marketers to consider leaving the safety of a big brand for the grit of startup life: “Make sure every so often you rethink what makes you happy and don’t be afraid to go for it. It’s really good fun.”