16 October, 2015

An irresistible learning opportunity

After studying Political Economy at the University of Birmingham, and getting his Masters in Marketing and International Management from Henley Business School, George was attracted to M&S by the power of its brand.

“M&S is an iconic, global brand. Who wouldn’t want to work for them? This, plus the fact you cover a lot of ground in a very short space of time, makes for an irresistible learning opportunity. There are so many avenues to explore here. I’m about a year into my 18-month programme. This consists of three-month rotations in different areas – the category brand team, digital marketing, product presentation, design studio; the list goes on. 

“Three months is not an awful lot of time to get to know an area – once you’re finding your feet, you get moved to a different area. It keeps you on your toes and you get to learn a great deal in a very concentrated period of time. When you move to a new team, you have to get to know them and understand the fundamentals and dynamics of how they work – but it’s all learning, so it’s all good. 

“You have to be resilient. You have to be quick to learn. You have to be ready to step outside of your comfort zone. And you have to like change. The breadth of exposure the rotations give you is invaluable; it helps you see the marketing function in the round. It’s about understanding how everything fits and works together. With a brand like M&S, that’s pretty special.

“When you’re in a company that’s the size of M&S, you really have to understand the processes by which things get done. In Marketing, you find yourself dealing with a lot of people in different teams with different objectives. If you want to get stuff done, you need to know the right steps to take and the best people to talk to. It takes a bit of getting used to but the various rotations are a big help in this respect. Not only does it enable you to network across the business; it also teaches the value of stakeholder management and how to influence.

“This experience was put to good use in one of my first big projects, launching the Sun Smart Sun Care range. Overseeing my own marketing campaign with its own budget was an exciting opportunity. It involved working alongside a variety of senior stakeholders and management in a very competitive area. Some brands can afford to pump millions and millions into promoting their products. So I had to think smart about how to engage our customers and position our products in a way that would meet their needs.

“We focused on education and protection. The sun cream market is quite scientific; acronyms like SDF, UVA, UVB etc., abound. So we produced a Point of Sale leaflet that explained these terms. Our core customer for the product is most likely to be female, probably with children, and would be likely to appreciate this kind of information. I also arranged a tie-in with a company that produced UVA-detecting wristbands which we gave away free when two products from the range were purchased. This was something that had never been done before. Our research showed parents were open to these kind of innovations; anything that helped make looking after their kids in the sun easier. 

“All in all, launching a new brand on a comparatively low budget was a great learning experience – the first of many.” 

Inside M&S