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‘Be straightforward’: Remy Cointreau’s Americas chief on leadership during a crisis

Marketers taking on management roles should spend time understanding their brand’s business, says Ian McLernan.

With economies in flux amid the coronavirus crisis, marketing chiefs must provide straightforward leadership and hold true to their values, according to Ian McLernon, Remy Cointreau‘s president and chief executive for the Americas.

Speaking to The Drum‘s consulting editor Sonoo Singh during The Drum's Can-Do Festival, McLernon says: “There isn‘t a playbook in terms of how to navigate. We are learning, quite often day-by-day, in terms of how to navigate the situation, but at the end of the day we are human beings, and it is super important that we display empathy. As well as having empathy, you have to display empathy.”

“Sometimes it‘s very important to make sure we also listen, as much as we speak. When you are in a senior position, people look to you and expect you to speak. In my role, it's as important to listen as it is to speak.”

Explaining his leadership strategy during the crisis, McLernon explains he is drawing on experience gained from past roles with Coors, Moët Hennessy and Dior.

He recalls advice from a previous mentor: “Carrying the bag in sales will be the most important role in your career.“

“I think he was absolutely right, but when you're 21, you don‘t want to believe that. You want to be an associate brand manager, a brand manager, senior brand manager, marketing manager, and climb the ladder,” says McLernon.

“I feel it is very important that if you want to move into a general management role, you need to have the grinding of understanding that route to market. It is particularly important within the beverages business and even more important within luxury because the world of luxury is a retail business. It‘s not always wholesale.”

Marketers looking to take a step up into management should spend time understanding the businesses they work within in order to be able to communicate clearly to colleagues about the importance of marketing. This, McLernon says, will help relieve the perception that marketers only exist to create PowerPoint presentations or spend money.

“Marketing is fundamental to the foundations of a business, in the same way that you need finance to be able to conduct a transaction and you need legal to be able to make sure the contractual obligations take place. Marketing has a role, and I think in many countries or many firms it may have lost its way. My view is: do you need a chief marketing officer?” he explains.

“What you need is marketers who are be accountable. I‘ve been a great fan of what Procter & Gamble have done with brand managers who are responsible for profit and loss. When you are responsible for P&L and have a full 360-degree view of the business, you understand the impact of your actions and you understand the return on investment. There might be loads of jargon about pivoting, zero-based budgeting, et cetera, but when you've got a P&L, you‘re accountable.”

To foster accountability in businesses, McLernon advises marketers to ask to be given responsibility for profit and loss. This, he suggests, will help practitioners move closer to an organisation‘s commercial heart and avoid short-term errors.

McLernon spoke with The Drum's consulting editor Sonoo Singh as part of The Drum's Can-Do Festival, an online event celebrating the positive energy, innovation and creative thinking that can make the marketing community such a powerful force for good. You can watch the interview in full here.

Sign up to watch forthcoming sessions and see the full can do schedule here.

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