Success begins with first impressions

Gain credibility at a new company by listening, learning, planning ahead and building strong relations in the first three months.

Above: Bupa’s marketing and strategy director had individual meetings with all 150 people in his team in his first three months

There is only one opportunity to make a first impression and that could not be more true than in the top echelons of brand marketing, where a reputation can be determined within a few short weeks of joining a company. 

Marketers looking to bring something new to the table and demonstrate their value need to be in touch, in tune and switched on like never before.

“Any job is a continuous learning process, but this is never truer than in those first three or four months,” says Sally Cowdry, who joined lottery operator Camelot as marketing and consumer director last year. “For employees joining a new organisation, it’s a steep learning curve and you can’t be thin-skinned if you want to be the best.”

Savvy marketers go into those first few months at a company ascertaining who the most important stakeholders are internally and working out what the competitive set looks like externally. This is the time to build strong and effective relationships with key stakeholders.

After 13 years at O2, Cowdry left her role as marketing and consumer director to head up marketing at Camelot and made a significant effort to understand the history of her new organisation. “I came from a business that had many similarities in terms of scale and being part of people’s everyday lives, but I was entering a new consumer market, a new culture, different ways of working,” she explains. “I knew I needed to get under the skin of all of those things before landing on any fixed thoughts about how I could help provide leadership and build on the commercial plans that were already in progress.”

You may have been successful in a previous role but it does not mean that those behaviours and learnings will translate to success in a new one

Cowdry’s strategy for obtaining a better understanding quickly and effectively involved talking to people at Camelot, as well as its agencies, and asking for campaign details from the past 18 years – what did and did not work, and what she could do differently in the future.

“I was confident I had a lot to bring to the role – it was just a case of being patient and listening first before diving in,” she recalls. “I attended the European Lotteries Annual Conference in my first month at the company, which was a fantastic chance to meet industry experts and get a wider perspective on the challenges and opportunities facing the lottery industry as a whole.”

Language and communication

As a new leader in a business, you have to be conscious about transmitting the message of what you believe to be important. Every organisation has its own words and phrases and employees feel comfortable when they hear them. So finding the phrasing around issues such as the action after a meeting, or how to react to a crisis, is subtly powerful.

“Some cultures talk formally about the minutes of a meeting; others would talk about action steps,” says Jenny Ashmore, chief marketing officer at energy supplier SSE. “One organisation I worked for would always talk about a ‘burning platform’ – an articulation of what it took to generate the energy for change.”

As a newcomer, it is important to work out how you integrate, lead and capture people’s hearts and minds, and language is important in setting the right calm, well-informed tone from the outset.

Consulting widely and listening is also vital. Ashmore, who joined SSE last August, believes that to communicate effectively it is crucial to “extrovert your personality”. She explains: “When you go somewhere new, nobody knows you and wherever you are on the extrovert-introvert scale you have to really become an extrovert and show what you care about,” she says. “Making all-important human connections in those opening days or weeks builds a foundation of trust.”

SSE’s chief marketing officer Jenny Ashmore says it is important to make human connections in the first few weeks in order to build a foundation of trust

Sports gambling thrives on intense real-time marketing, so you have to be able to think on your feet, act fast and decisively, and perform efficiently. Ottokar Rosenberger, global sports marketing director at betting exchange Betfair since February 2013, believes that introducing yourself with a robust execution builds trust quickly when you start a new role. In his first few months, he was charged with restructuring the marketing department to be ready for the challenges ahead. That meant integrating the recently acquired online bookmaker Blue Square into the business, launching the brand’s new Sportsbook and handling the biggest marketing campaign of the year around the Cheltenham racing festival.

“My approach had to answer to the business needs, which meant focusing on the execution first and working out the strategy later,” he says.

Personal touch

Saj Arshad, marketing and strategy director at Bupa, believes any new employee can come armed with enthusiasm and ideas but until they get in the door and see how their team, the wider department and the organisation as a whole operates, they will not be able to get a proper sense of the challenges and opportunities.

Arshad’s ‘first 100 days’ strategy at Bupa was based on three areas: customers, propositions and people. He responded to the needs of customers by working in one of the brand’s care homes with a care worker, and also spent a day on the phones in a call centre.

Hiscox sets out what is expected from new staff on its intranet

He gained commercial understanding of Bupa’s place in the market by making sure he fully understood the propositions – how it is positioned, what its competitive set is and how pricing works. In order to get the most from the 150 people in his team, he set up one-to-one meetings in his first three months. Each member was asked: ‘What works well?, What isn’t working? and What advice do you have for me?’

“As part of the meetings, I got people to bring paper with their name written on, took a picture of them holding it and saved the photo into the contacts on my phone,” he recalls. “When they email me, their face pops up and that’s a great way 
of engaging and getting to know the team.”

Managing expectations

Before starting at Bupa, Arshad wrote a 100-day plan, which he reviewed with his boss, the HR director and other senior leaders. “I was keen to hit the ground running,” he says. “Big organisations are complex and there is a steep learning curve. This is a way of imposing structure on what you want out of the first three months rather than what the organisation wants from you.”

Senior executives are being judged more quickly than ever and the pressure has intensified for them to be up to the mark. Crucial to a leader’s success in the first 100 days is strategy and focus. Marketers need to fully understand the business they have entered and make their mark while accepting that they are still learning, a reality that can be challenging. Equally, it is important not only to work out focused objectives for the first 100 days but also what the long-term vision looks like.

Marketers cannot do this alone, however, and it is reasonable to expect a new employer to provide guidance on how to make the most positive impact in a new environment. At insurance specialist Hiscox, details of what is expected in the first 100 days are set out on the intranet.

Global brand director Annabel Venner has outlined five goals that should be achieved: accelerate learning by meeting people and having time to seek out opportunities; make great relationships, whether that is with your team, key stakeholders or key influencers; understand the company values and start living them; find somewhere to get a quick win, an easy thing that will build your credibility; and use the liberty of the first three months to ask the stupid questions you will not be able to ask further down the line.

“You may have been successful in a previous role but it does not mean that those behaviours and learnings will translate to success in the new one,” says Venner. “Think about what you might need to do to be successful, in particular consider what things you are doing that are different.”

Sponsored viewpoint


Neil Costello
Head of marketing, UK Life

I have been lucky enough to test my marketing skills in a number of roles and so have refined my thinking around the crucial first 100 days in a new job. I believe that the actions you put in place in the first three months will determine whether you are going to succeed.

The most important tools are to listen and learn. Listen to what every member of your team has to say and quickly learn where 
quick positive changes to a marketing plan or strategy can score you ’runs on the board’.

To be credible you have to understand that the teams you inherit have always been trying to do the right thing, so listening, building rapport and confidence with them are crucial. Connections and coalitions are most important and will lead to your success or failure. I refer to it as ‘creating momentum’ and ‘creating value’. You have to act quickly and systematically in order to find those nuggets that your predecessor didn’t necessarily put in place.

You need to draw on your leadership abilities to work out what those first 100 days look like. Take external references, such as Harvard Business Review’s ‘The First 90 Days’, and combine that with what you have learnt from mentors and your new stakeholders.

I would encourage finding an independent mentor, a person who can guide in decisions with teams and strategies. Taking time out to invest in yourself will reap long-term benefits.

Lauren Peel
Graduate trainee, marketing

I saw my first 100 days in three stages. The first month was about what we do as a business as well as the little things like what the different acronyms in the insurance industry mean – the things that people use every day and which you have never heard before. The second month was about showing what I had learnt, putting that to use and showing where I could add value. In the third month, it was about making myself indispensible.

I would advise new starters never to be afraid to ask for more work, especially in the first six weeks when you are in a limbo period.

People were happy to spend an hour with me explaining new processes and I was able to learn on the job. I also think it is important to use the time to network as much as you can.

When I didn’t have meetings or wasn’t busy I would contact people in different positions and request half an hour of their time to find out more about what they did. I made a lot of contacts in my first six weeks as result, but also got to find out what the wider business does.


Chris Clarke
Marketing manager
Mapa Spontex (cleaning 
products manufacturer)

Marketing Week (MW): How did you approach the first 100 days in your most recent role?

Chris Clarke (CC): The first task was to understand the competitor landscape and analyse the market data. I needed to know 
that I was the expert. I then got stuck into the consumer research. I didn’t want anything left to opinion, so I made sure I had the back-up of hard facts and sound consumer insights to help me influence at every stage of a new brand launch.

MW: Was there anything that went wrong?

CC: The weight of expectation felt heavy on my shoulders at times. With hindsight, there were decisions that I made that I would change, but even from the activity that I was disappointed with I could learn lessons and that is really key.

MW: Did you have a structure in place for how you established yourself during the first 100 days?

CC: In the first week, I produced a plan to help me focus and prioritise, and to share with my boss. In this way, he would know where my focus was for the next month based on the task he had given me. Straight away this instilled trust and confidence and set us on the right path from day one.

MW: What advice would you give to others embarking on new jobs?

CC: Don’t be afraid to have and express opinions. Employers should be looking towards new employees for new ideas, so pick the right moment to make suggestions and propose a different and better way of looking at or doing things.