If you are turning your washing machine down to 30 degrees, then you already know Roisin Donnelly, the Glasgow girl who, rather like Sir Alex Ferguson, has defied conventions of longevity by remaining at Procter and Gamble for over twenty years, masterminding this and many other familiar campaigns, rising to become director of corporate marketing with responsibility for the largest advertising budget in the UK. And like Sir Alex, in addition to having the magic touch that has seen 85% of her products as the leading brands in their sector, there is a part of her that remains forever Glasgow.
The UK’s marketer of the year will be back in Scotland on St Andrew’s Day to speak at the Marketing Society’s annual dinner on the topic Scotland’s Got Talent, to recognise the best in Scottish marketing.
“Scotland has earned its reputation of producing some of the strongest marketing talent,” she says. “I’m thrilled to be speaking and look forward to an evening with some of Scotland’s brightest marketing and business professionals.”
Donnelly will, no doubt, be sharing her outlook on what makes a successful marketer which, as she tells The Drum, is as much to do with attitude and approach, as creativity. “Our philosophy is that if you put the consumer at the heart of everything you do, and really understand the consumer and see him or her as your boss, then you’ll do well in developing your products and marketing and being successful with your retailers,” she says.
“Our whole company is marketing focused. Too many are run by finance people who care about the bottom-line, who care about the short term. I don’t think enough companies truly focus on the consumer. Everybody from the CEO down spends a lot of time walking in the shoes of the consumer, going to the homes of the consumers. Our whole approach to business is different. Other people talk about it but I don’t think they really walk the talk.”
In the maelstrom of brainstorming, product testing, virals and innovation through new media, it can be easy to lose sight of the point of view of the ultimate consumer, whom Donnelly believes are frequently undervalued in the marketing equation. She prefers to exercise a more personal touch.
“People think they are listening to the consumer in focus groups, but I hate focus groups. You get in ten women who don’t know each other; you watch them through a two way mirror. A lot of the time they are answering what they think you want to hear. You don’t get any level of depth, and I think you are better off spending ten hours with one woman in her home, walking with her in her life, and you’ll get much more richness from the data – understanding her hopes and dreams, her whole life.”
Roisin has been with Procter and Gamble since 1987, and head of marketing in the UK and Ireland for seven years. A remarkable tenure, given that the average time spent in such a role is a bare 14 months. She has developed brands as venerable and memorable as Wash n Go, Ariel and Herbal Essences. To be successful, she believes it is essential to interact and listen to the consumer, who is increasingly market savvy and knowledgeable about what they want.
“The consumer is the boss. They have more information at their fingertips today. They can research a product, they can see what other people who have tried it think about it, and because they have a lot of information they are much more demanding,” she says.
“They want brilliant products and brilliant value. With the explosion of information there is a real lack of trust. Studies show people are more likely to trust a stranger in a chatroom than a TV advert. So, it is more important than ever before that your consumer trusts you.”
Roisin has come a long way from her childhood in Glasgow, where she had a modest upbringing, staying close to home through her University years and holidaying only in the UK. Since then she has worked in places as diverse as Finland and California, visiting 49 of the 50 US states.
“The career advice I got, after they looked at my academic results was ‘law or medicine’. But I was quite creative and quite mathematical, and I wanted a business career where I could combine the two,”
“When I was a student I had never left the UK, and I didn’t travel as a child. Since then I have been around the world. I think I have learned a lot, but the world has changed too. My eldest daughter was born in California. Her outlook on the world is very different. It is important that we look at how people have changed and that can really help us predict the future.”
Her global perspective and international experience have given Donnelly an appreciation for the value of diversity, which she encourages within her team at Procter and Gamble.
“One of the best positions I’ve had was in California where there were a lot of women and racial minorities – it was the most creative place I have ever worked. My team now is very passionate and incredibly diverse too. We have 17 nationalities in the marketing team (19 if I count Scotland and Wales) and a lot of women and people of different ages. It’s important to be in touch with your consumer and to have different groups bringing ideas.”
Direct interaction with the people affected and influenced by the company’s product range appears to be a strong guiding principle in Donnelly’s work. She ensures she spends at least two days of every week out of her office engaging directly with consumers.
“If I sat in an office in Surrey and then went home I couldn’t do my job. It is really important to understand the pulse of the country, the pulse of the consumer. You can do a huge amount online but you won’t get the same depth as talking and listening to people. And listening is more important than talking.”
This has enabled her to gain a perspective of the varying needs of people across the UK and Europe, catering her marketing to the particular needs and expectations of each territory.
“In some categories, the Glasgow consumer is the same as the Liverpool or London consumer, or other people who live in big cities. We don’t have separate advertising campaigns in Scotland, and we don’t have a separate agency for Scotland. We have brands that are stronger in Scotland, and others that are stronger in the south,” she says.
Once a keen student debater, Donnelly has traded direct political engagement with something she is keen to impress upon consumers everywhere, as evidenced by the Ariel ‘Turn to 30’ campaign; individual action. She believes that each person taking their own steps can amount to powerful collective activity.
“As an individual, I am very conscious about energy. I walk to work whenever I can. I car-share. We have one car in the household, not a fleet. I am conscious there are a lot of things you can do as an individual to make a difference,” she says.
“I don’t aspire to be Prime Minister, but I think I can make a difference to my friends and family, and also to our consumers as well. It is really important in marketing today that you are ethically and socially conscious, and completely honest and transparent about what you can and cannot aspire to do.”
Donnelly takes this social responsibility seriously and is currently governor in a local special needs school. She also retains her links to Glasgow, sitting on the business committee of Glasgow University, “looking at what the strategy should be and where they should go in the future, in a changing, commercial world.”
The loss to politics is the evident gain of UK business, and despite all her achievements so far, there is no evidence of her energy diminishing.