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John Lewis marketing boss Paula Nickolds departs before starting

Nickolds departs John Lewis

Paula Nickolds has exited the John Lewis Partnership just weeks before she was due to start as the first joint head of brand for John Lewis and Waitrose.

The plan for Nickolds, a veteran of the high street retailer having joined in 1995 and risen to become its first ever female managing director, was announced in October as part of a major restructure intended to get it back on solid footing.

It came as the company suffered a pre-tax loss amounting to nearly £26m in the six months to 27 July, compared with a profit of £800,000 in the same period a year before.

Under chairman Charlie Mayfield's vision to unite John Lewis and Waitrose with a simplified management structure, Nickolds was due to become executive director of brand in February, a role which would see her head up marketing, service and digital innovation.

However, it has now been announced that she will instead leave the department store chain that month after it suffered a further fall in profits.

"After some reflection on the responsibilities of her proposed new role, we have decided together that the implementation of the future partnership structure in February is the right time for her to move on,” the company said.

What this means for the future of its marketing division is unclear. At the time of the restructure announcement, representatives declined to comment on how Craig Inglis and Martin George, who hold responsibility for brand and marketing for John Lewis and Waitrose respectively under the ‘customer director’ titles, would be impacted by Nickolds' new role.

Anusha Couttigane, principal fashion analyst at Kantar, said that whoever takes the lead will need to rethink its long-running, and arguably tired, festive advertising strategy which has relied on blockbuster, tear-jerker creative to encourage shoppers into stores.

“John Lewis needs to continue evolving its digital marketing efforts. While the company’s Christmas mascot, the accident-prone dragon Excitable Edgar, was warmly received, the debut of the brand’s Christmas advert is simply not the event it once was,” Couttigane added.

“In the digital age of streaming and on-the-go entertainment, gone are the days of a prime-time TV debut going viral (historically during Downton Abbey or some other national favourite). The retailer needs to ensure it is positioning itself to reach its biggest opportunity customers through the right channels.”

But immediate thoughts have turned to quick recovery from the crucial Christmas period after sales fell by 1.8%. Bosses at the chain are considering whether to axe the partnership bonus payment to staff for the first time in 67 years.

“Overall, the future of the John Lewis Partnership remains uncertain, with the business going through a complete structural overhaul,” continued Couttigane.

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