‘Bringing in digital specialists dumbs down rest of organisation’ – Unilever’s John Goldstone on upskilling

Unilever vice president of brand building for foods and ice cream, John Goldstone, has said it is more important to invest in digitally upskilling a company’s employees from the bottom up rather than bringing in specialists who can “dumb down” the rest of an organisation.

Image credit: Eliot Mannoia ‏@eMannoia

Goldstone’s comments came during a panel session at Advertising Week Europe which set out a vision of what best-in-class consumer engagement looks like in 2025.

To ready itself for a future underpinned by digital, Goldstone said Unilever has spent two years upskilling tens of thousands of its employees across the business.

“The big famous brands that we try to create are dependent on reaching a lot of people with relevant messages. And digital channels are the way to do that,” he said. “It’s an interesting conundrum; it is possible to buy in specialists but in a way that can dumb down the rest of the organisation.”

He added: “We made the choice to really raise the floor and upskill everybody in digital capabilities. It’s a big changes for us.”

Meanwhile, Microsoft chief marketing officer Philipa Snare said the company has taken a “freestyle” approach to building a more digitally enabled organisation.

“We want people to drive their own development and we’ll facilitate them in that. If I think about what we want in that talent box, it’s about volunteers rather than victims. We want people that will come into the building and figure out how to make Microsoft better and deliver the best possible experiences.”

Joining Goldstone and Snare on the panel was Google UK's director of branding, David Black. He lauded the tech giant’s creative programme, Squared, which sees it partner with tech companies and agencies to offer individuals who want to upskill the right courses.

The session, led by the IPA, looked at key areas of developemnt for brands across customer experience, brand communications, innovation and talent.

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