Jan Gooding: ‘At life’s crossroads, you have to take a big leap forward’

Jan Gooding

Former Aviva, BT and British Gas marketer Jan Gooding was this week presented with The Drum’s coveted Lifetime Achievement Award. Despite the accolade, Gooding tells us that she has no “career high” from her near four decades in ad land…she’s still optimistic that’s to come.

Gooding’s life in advertising started in 1982 when she joined Ted Bates Advertising, the agency that inspired Mad Men, as an account exec. She spent a couple of years working on its whisky and cigarette brands before moving to Marshall Advertising to take the lead on its wine and cleaning supply clients.

Three years were then undertaken at BWBC Advertising, an indie agency born out of management a management buyout from Saatchi and Saatchi that she took equity in.

But in 1997, the inkling to do something bigger, bolder, came and so Gooding left the comfort of agency life in Soho to found a brand consultancy called Bluedoor. It had landed clients like BBC, BT, Channel 4, Diageo and Unilever and was delivering double-digit growth when Gooding’s feet became itchy once again

“I suppose in some ways I felt I'd outgrown advertising and wanted to work client-side in a marketing function. BT were one of my clients at Bluedoor and Amanda McKenzie (chief marketing officer at the time) invited me to stay on after a six-month secondment. It was a dramatic moment for me, it wasn't easy to leave the business I started,” she recalls.

“In life you have a lot of crossroads, and in those moments trying to do something that’s a big leap forward rather than an incremental progression. It felt like a now or never moment. I could do the easy thing and work in a successful business, there was nothing I was trying to escape, but it was an opportunity to develop.”

She spent two years at BT before the familiar voice of McKenzie – who had by that point left the telcomms giant – was on the other end of a call asking Gooding to join her at British Gas. A six-week assignment to lead the brand turned into a 10-month secondment.

In the time Gooding was at British Gas, McKenzie left for insurer Aviva and sure enough, as Gooding considered her next step her long-time colleague was knocking on her door once again.

“I said ‘third time lucky",” laughs Gooding. “It was the third time she'd tried to recruit me and we'd never worked together longer than a few months. I went in as the first-ever global marketing operations director.”

And there she stayed for a decade, firstly in the global opps role before becoming group brand director and eventually global inclusion director before departing in late 2018.

If there’s a common thread to Gooding’s career, aside from Amanda McKenzie, it has been the unrelenting ambition for not only self-improvement but ensuring that the marketers around her were given the opportunities to be the best they could be. The USP of Bluedoor was helping brand directors to be more creative and entrepreneurial, BT’s Marketing Academy was her handiwork and she created an Education function at Aviva.

“I've always described myself as a marketing practitioner. Marketing is in constant evolution and therefore you have to provide the framework and discipline to do it well for the brand you're working on in a way that makes the function respected,” she adds.

It leads to the questions of what the proudest moment in her career has been. She sites some initiatives – like the introduction of equal paternal leave – among some of her achievements but struggles to recall a “high”.

“It's very hard when you look back on a lifetime…,” she says. “People may feel like I'm at the end of my career but I still see road ahead and I'd like to feel like there are still things to come. So, I'm reluctant to name it because IT may be yet to happen.”

But as she steps into this next phase of her career – at present she’s chair on a number of boards including Pamco and Stonewall, president of the Market Research Society and partner at a consultancy “committed to bettering society” called Jericho – the legacy of her life in ad land is still being felt by many, especially those at Aviva.

As global inclusion director, she was given the huge responsibility of leading, managing and monitoring the company’s diversity strategy at a time when “diversity”, for many brands, meant a new tagline on an ad campaign.

It’s hard to say what the impact has been simply because the sheer scale of engaging 32,000 employees in 17 different markets to even engage with simple surveys meant that the very basic foundations are only now in place, two years after she started.

“When I left, we had the baseline figures, but people were still setting their targets. It’s a challenge, particularly around how you measure an inclusive culture and the identity of people who work here. It had to be sensitively collected,” she explains. “So, to that extent it takes a couple of years of just working out what you're going to measure and how and then get people to cooperate.”

As she looks at other businesses now facing the same hurdles, Gooding says she feels positive at the progress being slowly made.

“There are activist chief execs who are purposeful and interested in the working culture because they see that's where productive will flow. They're making great strides but we shouldn't kid ourselves, there are still huge numbers who think this is something to do with political correctness or human rights and equal opportunities. Which of course it is, but there are business benefits too,” she continues.

“What I find heartening is when I'm not asked to make a case [for diversity] but the practical steps to make something happen. There will be a tipping point in the next few years where we'll wonder why this was ever debated.”

You can watch Jan Gooding’s full acceptance speech at The Drum’s Marketing Awards below.

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