Take career advice from Man Utd’s Moyes

“I love pressure, to manage such a big club as Manchester United is very good.” Bold words but not, alas, quite correct. They were spoken by Manuel Pellegrini, manager of Manchester City, after his team won the Carling Cup at the weekend.


It’s unlikely we’d hear that statement from the actual manager of Manchester United, David Moyes, at the moment. Moyes can’t be loving his job much. As his team’s losses add up – with the likes of Newcastle, Everton and even lowly Sunderland all enjoying victories against the once imperious Red Devils – the weight on his shoulders grows heavier. When United lost against Olympiakos last week in the Champions League, in a tie widely seen as the easiest of the round, Moyes’ face looked like it had been carved from the deepest, darkest granite and there was rain falling on it.

What a difference from the bright May afternoon last year when he was appointed. I was sitting in Singapore with a head hunter on the day that Moyes’ recruitment was announced and after our business was conducted he gestured to the screen showing the new Manchester United manager holding up a team shirt and smiling broadly to the media. “Fucked”, was my colleague’s only response before returning to his paperwork.

When I asked for an explanation, my friend was less cryptic. He explained there was no way that Moyes could be successful given what he had to manage, who he had to compete against and how high the expectations were. My friend had no inkling of the disastrous season to come, he was simply pointing out that whatever Moyes did, it would always be deemed unsuccessful when compared against his predecessor’s achievements and the expectations of a fan-base accustomed to decades of success.

The struggles of David Moyes offer brand managers a key insight into the fraught world of career planning. In your initial years in marketing the main goal is simply to get a job and get into the business. Five years on and it’s typical to aim for brands that add lustre to your resume and bolster your reputation as a marketer. A stint at Unilever or Apple, even if it is in a lowly position, can signal quality in the years ahead. But at some point – usually your late 30s – a good brand manager will get the chance to pick and choose for the first time. You will be offered the chance to manage a brand or, perhaps, a choice between several. It’s at this point that the current struggles of Moyes should be instructive.

First, look for a low bar. Moving to a successful brand that has already achieved a decade of consecutive growth is like seeking out a rod for your own back. The only way will be down. Look for a brand that has disappointed. Ideally it should have been managed by a complete moron who has recently been fired. That’s the kind of disastrous context where even a modicum of success will make you look good. Avoid following in the footsteps of someone as good, or worse, better than you.

Second, pick a dusty brand. A good brand manager not only uses their skills to create success, they use it to spot the right option in the first place. Aside from being managed by morons you are looking for a brand with still strong brand awareness but with fading associations, a strong heritage and a gradually ageing market base. Provided the category is still vibrant, you have all the makings of a brand that is ready for revitalisation and a recipe for short-term turnaround potential.

Finally, look at your competitive set. Everything is relative. Manchester United is screwed because they are crap but also because Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City are awesome this year. Even if you pick the right kind of brand previously managed by morons, facing Google or Procter & Gamble or private label will still ensure your failure. Look for arrogant, out-of-touch rivals with low brand equity.

It helps, of course, to be good at branding and to work hard. But as Moyes is currently demonstrating, talent and effort only get you so far.



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