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Being bold when you’ve got nothing to lose – BHS’ defiant marketing boss on the future of the brand

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By Jennifer Faull, Deputy Editor

May 11, 2016 | 3 min read

Beleaguered BHS may be attracting bids for the bulk of its business – its prime store sites are proving a tempting proposition for the likes of Ikea and Sports Direct, according to reports – but question marks remain over the future of the brand. If it were to survive then its marketing boss believes his discipline should be at the forefront to return it to former glories.

Marketing boss Tony Holdway - who's only been in the job since last December - concedes that it’s an easy point to make as it nears the end of the road. It’s been surprised by the outpour of support for the brand in the wake of its entry into administration and bold #SaveBHS guerrilla campaign (developed entirely in-house on a shoestring budget), which sees the union flag beamed onto London landmarks.

“No one wants [the brand] to whither,” Holdway told The Drum yesterday (10 May), adding the guerrilla campaign is also about “supporting its employees” – some 11,000 people that may soon find themselves out of a job.

Ironically, the marketing of late has been the brand’s most successful in recent times, with in-store and online sales both up post-administration he claimed although it's difficult to tell what's attributable to the #SaveBHS campaign given it's so early into the run (it plans to take it North and beam it onto familiar landmarks).

So why wasn’t this rebellious, do or die spirit shown last year when, arguably, it could have changed the fatal course BHS was on?

Holdway believes that part of the reason his brand is on the brink of collapse is directly due to a lack of investment. Unshackled by not having nothing to lose, BHS’ bold move suggests what could have been had a boardroom hampered by debt, including a pension of deficit of £571m, been able to back its marketing, brand and customer experience efforts more.

Compared to its peers BHS’ debt had rendered it unable to keep pace with shifting consumer tastes and ultimately rendered it irrelevant among many shoppers.

“What BHS needs going forwards is investment in key areas and a five to ten-year plan as we head into multi-channel,” said Holdway of what he would do should the brand remain in-tact in the event it’s sold. “The retail landscape has changed massively and making sure BHS is fit for purpose should be the focus going forward…. Marketing can be extremely effective in driving BHS going forward.”

According to reports, five bids were submitted ahead of a 5pm deadline yesterday (10 May), though it seems more likely that the potential suitors want some if not all of the chain’s 164 stores.

It’s seems then that BHS is a long way off from Holdway and his fellow execs being given the chance to transform this outpouring of support and nostalgia for brand BHS into continued sales though a till.

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