For senior marketers, experience brings knowledge and, as they climb the career ladder, increased responsibility for marketing and business strategy. Whereas a junior marketer today might touch only targeted digital campaigns for most of their early career, any marketing director, CMO or CEO of a mass-market consumer brand will need to broaden their responsibilities to cover high-profile and high-budget TV investments, for example.
They therefore need a thorough understanding of the medium – expertise that was commonplace 10 years ago but is not as prevalent among today’s marketers. So how important is it to constantly improve your marketing knowledge over the years and how important is understanding the TV advertising market today?
Marketing Week asked three top brand executives from a marketing background – Birds Eye UK general manager Steve Challouma, Eve Sleep CEO Cheryl Calverley and Nationwide director of advertising and media Paul Hibbs – for their advice.
How has the marketing knowledge you need evolved as you’ve risen up the ranks?
Cheryl Calverley (CC): As I’ve gone through my career I’ve realised you need good media mix knowledge and strong media agency partners with excellent strategists and planners. You learn from others about why you need an above-the-line plan and a performance plan and how you use different budgets to build a brand and activate sales. Ultimately you learn to be clearer about your marketing and business objectives and what every part of your media mix is trying to do, from TV to PR.
Steve Challouma (SC): The foundations of marketing haven’t changed but what has altered are the conditions in which marketers work. This is around the amount of regulation, data, the media environment and issues around sustainability. Consumers have become more sophisticated because they have so much more choice. This has a big implication on how you promote your products compared to years ago.
Paul Hibbs (PH): The fundamentals of marketing have not changed but things are more complex. How people consume media has altered a lot. I have been at Nationwide most of my career; first in product marketing then in sponsorship, when the brand secured the England football team deal in 1998. I have had to become commercial as well as PR-focused. When I moved into brand and advertising there were only two commercial TV stations, ITV and Channel 4, and TV has been on our radar for as long as I can remember. You can still get millions [of people watching] the big shows so TV is still an important part of the story.
As you have progressed from junior practitioner to leading the marketing strategy, what shifts in media expertise have been required?
PH: I have become more of an expert at deciding on the right media mix because media is tracked and measured in different ways. It is still hard to unpick each medium and I have realised how important it is to work with trusted agency partners to help our brand. Using multiple media is the most effective way to drive campaign awareness so we rarely use one channel. TV will be the primary one but you need expertise to know what to support that with.
CC: I was Unilever-trained, where it was all about the ‘five Ps’ of marketing and understanding strategy – particularly around promotion. You learn about investment in products and channel and fundamentally your proposition as a brand. How the media mix hangs together is part of your training from day one. As you become more senior you spend more time around promotion and become an expert in understanding which tactics to deploy to hit your promotion targets.
SC: You need to understand the building blocks of consumer behaviour and know who is buying your products. You need media expertise to analyse market information and know what your competitors are doing. Things do shift, but even when leading strategy you still need to use fundamental tools to analyse ROI and performance without being overwhelmed by it all.
How central has TV been in executing your marketing strategies since you took on senior roles?
SC: It’s always been the bedrock for me. TV is the ballast of any communication plan, especially for the kind of brands Birds Eye sells, which are present in 85% of UK households. TV remains the most proven, reliable media channel to achieve a broad and deep reach. It generates an emotional connection with consumers.
PH: In the 17 years I’ve been managing advertising at Nationwide, TV has been our primary medium of choice. Nothing beats it for brand-building. It is also critical for us to be able to drive short-term sales, so we use TV to make other channels work harder. During lockdown the tone of our TV campaigns has had to reflect the mood of the nation.
CC: Sometimes there is no rational explanation of why a TV ad works well. It really comes down to knowing your customers. Some brands I’ve worked on such as the AA have been on TV for most of people’s lives and that develops a level of trust.
What key knowledge about TV and media buying do you think junior practitioners often miss out on?
SC: There are three aspects they can miss out on. Firstly, they can be disconnected from their audience because they do not watch enough TV, which can lead to prejudices around television. It is part of their job to watch TV. The second thing is to master the technical side of TV. There are so many acronyms, for example, which you need to grasp to understand the buying process. The third aspect is understanding the complexity of the TV industry. Who owns what and who buys for whom? Juniors need confidence in all these areas.
PH: Largely this is about sharing your experience, which junior practitioners do not yet have. They are consuming media in a very different way than I was as a junior, and as senior marketers we need to remember that we do not always have the right answers. You often hear that young people do not watch TV but it is still our brand’s primary channel. I tell them if they want to reach out to mass numbers in our target market it should still be through TV, even if they see things as a digital world.
CC: I don’t think you need to be an expert in any one channel, you just need to understand how to use it tactically and brief your agency well. What you do need is good, old-fashioned insight into what your consumers are watching and enjoying when it comes to TV. Junior marketers must not be too focused on data and must spend time talking to real people so they understand their personal stories.
How much is commercial TV changing as a medium and what are the key developments you think marketers should keep abreast of?
PH: The telly in the corner will remain very important for some time, as most people still watch live and catch-up TV in their living room. Shows such as I’m A Celebrity, the soaps and live sport still attract big numbers. There has been a huge rise in subscribers to catch-up services such as ITV Hub during lockdown. The challenge for brands is knowing how much to invest in traditional linear TV and how much in on-demand. People have been talking for years about technology to let viewers skip through the ads but many people do not.
SC: More sophisticated tools mean more elaborate targeting and personalisation. The question is, how targeted should you be when using TV? Yes, understand the tech, but do not get seduced by it. We will also see more brand partnerships with internal teams at the TV companies. These teams help brands demonstrate their purpose to consumers when there is a lack of trust around social media.
CC: At Eve Sleep we are trying to build a brand, so for now TV is vital, whether linear or on-demand. We need to get a balance between lean-back entertainment – which makes people love a brand – and lean-forward, harder-working performance TV, telling people that ‘here is a new product’. The more engaging lean-back channels are going to have a big resurgence, as brands remember that the first job of TV advertising is to entertain.
How would you advocate ambitious marketers go about equipping themselves with the knowledge they need around TV and media?
SC: Build relationships with media agencies and the TV channel client teams. Read the trade press, look at who is winning awards to see what best practice looks like. The third tip is to ensure you build some experimentation into your plan. Marketing leaders want you to test things.
PH: Read, listen, question and be curious. You gain knowledge through experience but also from reading articles, taking courses, attending webinars and discussing the role of marketing on social media. Also, lean on your agency partners to give you a broader perspective about what works and what does not, because they are working with a wide range of clients across different sectors. I wasn’t brought up in a digital age and I’ve had so many people present to me about the next big thing I should be investing in. You need to know which ones to ignore.
CC: Every time I hear a marketer say they do not watch television I want to scream ‘and you don’t eat your products either?’. Watch TV, listen to the radio, read the newspapers because you cannot be a marketer or an advertiser if you are not observing advertising. If you don’t, how do you know if you are making good work? In what other industry can you do so much research for free? You should be watching advertising and thinking ‘that’s really interesting, why does it work?’.
How important is an understanding of TV advertising, buying and measurement to career success?
CC: This time it is a bit different for me because I am building a brand which is exciting. TV is fundamental to that, but so is understanding channel and pricing strategy. Over my career, TV has been a big tactic in my armoury, but just because it’s where most of the budget goes it will not necessarily be the biggest driver. Understand all the marketing tactics you are using.
PH: It is important but TV is just one cog in a bigger machine and, as marketers, we need to understand the contribution of all media. It is about knowing which media will be the most effective when working together. TV will continue to be the mainstay of most media plans if you want your business to grow, plus smaller businesses have access to TV now.
SC: The credibility of a marketer comes from being able to demonstrate the effectiveness of what you are doing. The more you understand it and can explain it to your peers, the better when it comes to career success.