How do you go about burying a disappointing set of financial results when you’re one of the country’s best-known retailers? One way is to make a flurry of announcements which demonstrate your determination to get back on the front foot.
This is the tactic M&S appears to have adopted since announcing that UK like-for-likes fell 1.4% over the 13 weeks to December 30. Last week M&S unveiled plans to move to a new South East distribution centre for home and clothing, having already announced a £25m splurge on a major IT project.
And now comes the news that M&S is overhauling its marketing team as part of a broader strategic effort to improve its customer focus.
For me, the most eye-catching appointment is that of Sharry Cramond who joins from US retailer Southeastern Grocers in the new role of marketing director, food and hospitality. The hiring of Cramond is a coup for M&S and hints at the growing influence of Archie Norman who only arrived as chairman last autumn but has acted swiftly to recruit a former colleague who worked under him at Australian retailer Coles.
Cramond, who was previously Tesco’s brand marketing director, is considered one of the best marketers in the grocery business and is admired by former colleagues for her creativity and leadership qualities. Her arrival is well timed since M&S’s food arm – for so long the company’s salvation – has recently begun to look vulnerable to the value-driven propositions of rival food retailers.
Another change will see Nathan Ansell, who is currently marketing director, customer and loyalty, become a marketing director, clothing and home; while Rob Weston will trade the title of global brand and marketing director for that of marketing director, brand and customer.
All three will report to Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, executive director, customer, marketing and digital, who says the restructure reflects M&S’s new “one-brand approach” and will make it agiler, and responsive to customers.
Marketing is key to M&S’s transformation plan under Steve Rowe and Bousquet-Chavanne and his new team will need to ensure their output breaks through the high street noise and gets the M&S brand back at the forefront of shoppers’ minds.
M&S has also confirmed that style director Belinda Earl will oversee its womenswear and beauty departments on an interim basis until a permanent replacement is found for soon-to-be White Stuff chief executive Jo Jenkins.
Jenkins is currently working her notice period until joining White Stuff in the summer and it could be that M&S is in no rush to hire a permanent successor. However, it may also be the case that M&S is struggling to find a candidate with Jenkins’s depth of fashion experience and product knowledge and has reverted to Plan B while it refreshes the search process. Either way, this is another appointment that an underpressure M&S really needs to get right.