If marketers were military officers, Andrew Marsden would be a five-star general. His list of decorations is as long as his arm, having won his fair share of battles.
Marsden is category director of Britvic Soft Drinks, the British home of 15 major drinks brands including Pepsi, Tango and Robinson’s and a clutch of recent launches including J20 and Fruit Shoot. Of these 15, he says, 11 are brand leaders. It’s a very competitive market but a high-growth one at that.
While you might expect Marsden to be one of the old guard of marketing impressarios, he visibly baulked at the Financial Times’ description of him as a ‘veteran marketer’. Age is definately something that catches his attention.
‘It’s interesting,’ he says. ‘When you are young it is easy to differentiate between older age groups. But as an older person looking back it is a lot harder, because you don’t feel old, you don’t feel any different inside.’
Marsden oversees four broad areas at Britvic: brand management, category planning, innovation and consumer insight. These departments employ some 80 people, with about half of them in the brand management group, but he calculates there are probably more people working on the brands outside the business than inside the business. The brands are divided into the Robinson’s, Pepsi and Tango brand groups, plus a development group for newer brands.
The genial Yorkshireman is direct and to the point and expects clarity from others too. ‘I find it extraordinarily difficult to call a spade a digging implement,’ he says wryly. ‘I have an acute bullshit sensor.’
Just as important is his ability to communicate with people from a wide range of disciplines, whether they work in finance (his old role), design, advertising or R&D.
‘Successful marketing people have to have two brains: they have got to be able to understand and manage creativity and appreciate aesthetics, but they also have to be very hard-nosed, financially literate and very commercial, which is actually quite an unusual combination. That’s why there is great difficulty in getting good marketing people, because most people are much more comfortable with either of those headsets. Most normal people aren’t like that,’ Marsden explains.
True to the schizophrenia of his current profession, he switched to marketing at college, having started a financially-led business degree at Bradford University. He also renegotiated a sponsorship deal offered to him by the then British Steel to specialise in accountancy. So why the attraction?
‘I often say that marketing is institutionalised entrepreneurship,’ Marsden explains. ‘It’s as close as you really get to running your own business, other than running your own business. And because marketing departments tend to be in larger businesses, it gives you more scope.
‘That’s what really attracted me. It is absolutely the front end of business. It’s about wealth creation. It’s about creating new things and being ahead of the market. In recent years, marketing has not defended its role as the creator of shareholder value aggressively enough, because there aren’t many parts of any business that actually create new things, and so to that extent it is like being in a playpen,’ he says.
He joined Unilever during the ‘latter parts of its marketing heyday’ as a management trainee and stayed there for 15 years, though he can’t quite remember the dates, admitting, ‘I’m useless at remembering my own history’. Luckily, though, he has brought his CV (it turns out he was officially there from 1978-1992).
Marsden says that in those days the culture of an fmcg house was much more risk averse, and operations were less centralised.
After a three-year stint at a German household products firm, where he eventually became joint managing director – it was ‘a meteoric learning experience’ – he joined Groupe Danone’s HP Foods based in Market Harborough and then Enfield Town, (working with brands from Lea & Perrin’s, to HP Sauce and HP baked beans).
When he finally joined Britvic in 1997, his first task was to cut back the 60-odd roster by more than half. ‘Now it’s about a smaller number of long-term relationships,’ he says. Each brand group has a lead design group, such as Brandhouse WTS for Robinson’s, Coker Brand Design for Tango, plus Ziggurat and JKR (Pepsi is handled in Belgium). There are also relationships with a handful of others, including some which it uses purely for confidential new product development.
Innovation, in both business and marketing terms, has been key to Marsden’s work throughout his career, something that he attributes to an attitude of mind. You have to accept the new as interesting, or exciting, rather than as a chore, he explains.
‘Brand innovation, or product innovation, is the most visible part of an innovation programme, but to get there and to get a business that can both generate and manage ground-breaking ideas, and also manage the innovation process – all very different steps – requires innovative management as well. That’s an attitude of mind,’ he explains.
Marsden has certainly done his reading. ‘There are lots of rulebooks about managing people, but none of them are any good,’ he says (he could definitely write one). Strive as he might to reach an ‘intellectual meritocracy’ and a ‘warm, no-risk culture’ within the organisation, he acknowledges that these ideals are easy to say, but extremely difficult to achieve. Furthermore, he makes no excuses for the fact that the brand managers and creative thinkers he employs need strength of mind.
‘People need to be capable of making strong representations for what they believe in, because I can be an arrogant, bullying old bastard and they have to be able to deal with me,’ he says, poking fun at himself.
He doesn’t appear to be a bullying old bastard. But then he needs to be many things to many people.
‘If you can’t stand up to somebody like me, you’re not going to succeed,’ he says. ‘In relative terms, I’m a pussycat compared to trying to get something pushed through a big system, with everybody else saying, “Hang on,” I don’t want to do this.’
To stimulate the influx of ideas on matters creative, he has tried to create a culture where there are very few people internally who, when dealing with external consultancies, can say ‘no’.
Commercial matters and creative matters are handled very separately as well, and Marsden will not work with any agency group where Britvic does not meet the creatives first-hand. Creative teams are used to presenting with roughs, rather than finished work, he says. All this ensures ideas are exchanged more directly and developed to brief.
‘There’s some outstanding creativity that comes out of the commercial world,’ Marsden adds. ‘At the end of the day though, I’m a buyer of commercial creativity. We’re spending money to increase the value of the brands and to increase shareholder value. My job is to grow our business and to make more money and people need to understand that.’
You can hardly blame him for saying this either when you realise this general has to wake up every morning and fight the biggest marketing machine in the world.
Andrew Marsden’s CV
Education: BSc Business Studies, Bradford University (sponsored by the then British Steel)
Career: Unilever trainee, 1978; Joint managing director of German household products group Vileda UK, 1992; marketing directo
r HP Foods,1994; marketing director Britvic Soft Drinks, 1997, then category director, 2000
Current posts: member of the government advisory committee on advertising; Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing; Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts; executive member of the ISBA advertising body, a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Marketors, Freeman of the City of London; Senator of the International Junior Chamber of Commerce
UK soft drinks market
The biggest market in the grocery category
Coca-Cola is the world’s most valuable brand worth £68.95m worldwide. Pepsi is worth £6.2m worldwide according to Interbrand