S&N Profile

By The Drum, Administrator

October 20, 2005 | 13 min read

Tim Seager

Over the last two years, Scottish & Newcastle has undergone a reputed £50m restructure, during which its shareholders publicly scrutinised the millions the brewer has spent on marketing. But the spend holds up well under the microscope. The company has seen profits jump nine per cent, and although marketing spend comparatively has increased by 15 per cent, the company’s chief marketer’s desire to do ‘fewer things better’ has permeated through all levels of staff.

However 18 months ago, things were not so rosy, as Tim Seager, its UK marketing director will testify. “To start with you have to ask, ‘why was I brought in?’ ” he says. “I guess I was brought in because John Dunsmore – who has been hugely influential in the whole company – recognised that S&N probably haven’t worked at all at marketing their company and more importantly they weren’t pre-occupied with marketing to the consumer. If I had to categorise S&N they were an excellent trading company who were very good at trading liquid. They had a phenomenally good grasp of the beer industry, the sales industry and how to sell that. But they weren’t consumer-led.”

Seager brought to the company over 15 years of FMCG experience, including a strong grounding from Procter & Gamble. One of the first things he did was hire Paul Bartlett as UK consumer marketing director, another serious marketer with a background from Nestle, and between the two of them, they have stripped the marketing process at the brewer apart and restructured it.

“I’m sure it was also my natural good looks and charm,” Seager jokes when asked was it his FMCG background that pushed him to the front for the job. “But that was my mandate: ‘could you help bring to us some of the values of an FMCG consumer marketing profile and whatever you can add to that?’”

One of the key things they introduced was a marketing excellence programme, centralising activity and streamlining the processes. “When I arrived, there were quite a few more people in the marketing department than there are now and the marketing department has downsized quite a lot,” Seager says. “Before, there was a marketing department reporting into the commercial sales functions and what they call a consumer marketing department and a lot of people sort of hung between the two. When I came, there were 144 people in marketing, there’s 117 now. Of that 117, 64 per cent have changed roles. If I had to define it, consumer is the king and we have to really understand the consumer. Secondly, the main thing has been about ‘let’s do fewer things better’. It sounds so simple, but again, there were 278 live marketing projects 18 months ago, there are now 40. Now that’s probably still too many. We were very good at having a lot of brilliant individual talent that was running off in one direction and another, but no one was pulling it together.”

Bartlett introduced a focus on consumers. “The voice of the consumer is heard a lot more clearly in the business now than it was ever heard before,” he says. “The consumer leads so much of what the business does, it was very much trailing in their business model. It doesn’t feel like that now. It feels like a business where they understand who the end user is and what they want, and tailor their brands to meet their needs best. It sounds obvious, but it just wasn’t how the business was two years ago, even a year and a half ago.”

The first review of business was Strongbow, which saw Seager and Bartlett’s process of educating suppliers in ‘the S&N way’. “We put it in effect in last year, and between June and July, all the people in the consumer marketing department spent nine days out of the office learning – not the right way or the wrong way – our way of how we’re going to do marketing,” Seager says. “I’m not pretending it’s the best way, but if you’ve got one company and several agencies and you’ve got one way, I think that makes life a lot easier and that’s what we’ve done. This isn’t an S&N program, this is a ‘S&N + all the partners involved’ program. The feedback so far, and of course change is always resented, is ‘are you coming in from your Procter & Gamble background and saying we don’t know how to make good advertising?’. No, you guys have made some phenomenally great commercials. If you look at some of the fantastic John Smith’s work, and some of the exceptional Foster’s work, historically that’s great, but we didn’t always do it. And above all, we didn’t train the organisation to be able to do it; irrespective of what happens to the key driving people. If I get run over by a train tomorrow, Paul can carry on. If Paul gets run over by a train and I get run over by a train, someone else will be able to carry it on and that is, I guess, what we’re trying to do.”

Both Seager and Bartlett are keen to emphasise the importance of everyone being involved in marketing, in fact Bartlett’s driving this year’s Marketing Society of Scotland’s Marketing Excellence Awards – which Seager scooped the top award at last year. “What we’ve tried to do is make marketing not just 117 people but make marketing part of 7000 people’s jobs,” says Seager. “Before people would look at cost-savings and think why am I doing this? They would look at rationalisation of lines, and because it was all seen in a very fragmented way, people didn’t understand why it was important to cut costs here or why it was important to grow a small brand by 10 percent. What we’re doing is, we’re not trying to save it to put it in the bottom line, or to justify how we stay at the value for another year but actually this is real money that’s going back to drive net sales – therefore volume, therefore profitability – from the core business. And it’s working. And the power that success can have for an organisation when everyone feels that they’re part of it is phenomenal. What John’s team has done – and I’m part of that and Paul’s part of that – is make every individual employee understand that when they’re being asked to make tough choices themselves and when they’re been asked not to work on this but to work on that, is that they can see at the end of every month how that is enabling the organisation to focus more on those brands and deliver.

“What’s most frustrating is that people think that great management is far more than marketing and is very complex. It really is quite easy. If you can get everyone aligned around one or two things we have to deliver, and get everyone to see how what they do every day helps the organisation deliver that, they won’t just do it, they’ll feel bloody good about it, so they actually do more than you expect. That’s a management style, if you manage by results, is it the stick or the carrot? Do you say ‘we have to deliver this and if you don’t then you’re punished’ or do you say ‘aim for this’? A great quote from one of my very earliest bosses, was ‘give them more than they can do, they won’t do it all, but they’ll do more than you think they can do’. I genuinely think that’s what’s happening. From the guy operating a line, to a guy on a drey lorry, to the the guy out on the road selling our products, they all understand why they’re doing it.”

Both admit they were frustrated that the company didn’t scoop any of the national awards at the Marketing Society.

“The reason we got behind The Marketing Society’s awards last year was really to try and get the team recognised for its work, and grow the expertise and work in Scotland,” says Bartlett. “What was the disappointment last year? That we didn’t get further. The success this year will be that we hopefully help people write good entries.”

A launch event for the awards is being held at S&N’s Edinburgh Gyle offices, to encourage people to write convincing case studies for their entries.

“One of the things we noticed last year is that a lot of people are not in the habit of writing for awards,” Bartlett says. “The quality of the composition let people down. There’s something in the culture that people don’t want to boast.”

Although the company’s marketing function is headquartered in Scotland, the company notably doesn’t use a Scottish agency for its high-profile advertising, although it does for smaller projects. Seager’s acceptance speech last year at the Marketing Society praised Scotland for its marketing talent, somewhat at odds with the company’s decision to use non-Scottish agencies. The subject attracts a cool tone from Seager when it’s brought up, but he answers in a non-defensive pragmatic way. “If you look at JFKS, they’ve only recently been pulled together as a marketing business,” he says. “The one that’s been put out to tender recently – Strongbow – was widely talked about in the marketing press and most of them got it wrong. When we put the tender out, we included one of the two biggest Scottish agencies that we could that wasn’t working for a direct competitor. They didn’t make it. What I said last year, and I still maintain now, is I think it’s an advantage being placed in Edinburgh because what we can offer is top-mark marketing opportunities for people who don’t want to work in the smog of London. I never said and I never will say that I proactively discriminate to give Scottish agencies work. We give a lot of agencies work, and we invited Scottish agencies to pitch. I will always go for who’s doing the best work. We did very deliberately include the only Scottish agency of the big two that we could into the pitch and they didn’t get through that pitch process.”

Bartlett’s quick to point out that the agency – The Union, for the record – made it on to the first shortlist through merit. “We looked at dozens of agencies,” he says. “We are a demanding client and we’ve got a relatively complex business so there are hurdles. At the end of that screening process, there was only one Scottish agency left out of eight, unfortunately it didn’t make the last five. It wasn’t added to the list because it was Scottish, it was there on merit.”

“Ninety per cent of our business is in Scotland,” says Seager. “If I look at my marketing spend, significantly more than half is not spent on advertising in any shape or form. We use local agencies for a lot of the bits that you guys will never get to see. Yes, The Union didn’t get to the final thing and that’s for them to look at why they didn’t. I will never proactively discriminate to be pro-Scottish.”

Seager and Bartlett have brought solid FMCG skills to the company and that’s evident from the work that the brewer has created. A focus on innovation has seen successful new launches such as Sirrus, a rival to Magners which launched three years ago; a super-chilled format of Foster’s and John Smith has extended its branding to link to horse-racing.

“We’re in an extraordinary industry, everytime someone makes the decision to buy and then taste Kronenbourg that’s the most powerful touchpoint we’ll have with those consumers,” Seager says. “Advertising isn’t marketing, advertising is part of marketing and arguably a strong part of marketing. The way that brands will win generically in any industry is if people genuinely feel that they are improving their lives by drinking Kronenbourg rather than AN Other, or Fosters rather than AN Other, then they will have an emotional attachment with that brand. I would like to seduce consumers, I would like to create a relationship, arguably, way before they come into the pub, where they think ‘I’m not going out for a beer, I’m going out for a Kronenbourg’. Is that FMCG thinking? It’s my thinking.”

His thinking as seen the company use more ambient marketing such as its ‘biggest round’ initiative. Over 100 brand ambassadors have been recruited to subtly introduce drinkers to S&N brands. “The brewing industry, and it’s a huge generalisation, the way they’ve tried to get sampling is almost ‘how many people can I reach’ and not worry about how you’re reaching them,” says Seager. “If I’m trying to interrupt a conversation, if you’re at the bar enjoying yourself, the last thing you want is to be interrupted and be given something which is unrepresentative of what the brand stands for and not representative of the quality. Plastic glass sampling with warm lager is just a no no. Why would that ever aspire to change what you drink? If you want to change someone’s behaviour you’ve got to make them stop, think, understand and recognise and get some kind of relationship going. Whether that’s the driest nappy ever or whether that’s a tampon that will give you the security to not worry about leaking, whether that’s the chocolate bar that will make you feel great. What the great FMCG companies have done – which I think the brewing industry haven’t done for a while – is to recognise that if you want this to be considered more than a labelled commodity you’ve got to give people an emotional reason to buy. I genuinely think through massive consumer understanding, which is a cliché because no one really understands what it means, you can deliver that. We’ve gone to the guts of a million consumers and we’ve interrupted their drinking experience, or we will have done by the end of the year. If they’re younger and they’re drinking a lager, our guys will go up and say ‘why are you drinking a lager? Why that one? Do you mind if I buy you a pint’. It’s a quality conversation. Is it hugely expensive? Yes. Will it pay out? Dunno. But have we had the guts to go out and try it? Yes.”

* The Marketing Society’s event is on Thursday 27th October. Tickets cost £60 for members and £80 for non-members. Winners from last year’s Marketing Excellence Awards will talk about how they constructed their case studies.

For more information: www.marketing-society.org.uk


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