EDITORIAL: M&S eats a slice of humble PR pie

In a week dominated by the details of Marks and Spencer’s annus horribilus, PR Week has learnt that the beleaguered retailer is to restructure its communications function in order to provide greater access to senior executives.

In a week dominated by the details of Marks and Spencer’s annus

horribilus, PR Week has learnt that the beleaguered retailer is to

restructure its communications function in order to provide greater

access to senior executives.



The new structure will also move the focus towards the communication of

a more coherent corporate brand strategy - which is going to be

absolutely vital if the company is to position itself as a modern,

customer-focused organisation.



This follows the recent announcement that the company has hired its

first communications staff from outside the company, breaking its

tradition of promoting exclusively from within (PR Week, 22 October).

And while the appointment of Alan McWalter from Woolworths as head of

marketing has hardly been hailed as inspirational, an injection of new

blood in the marketing and PR departments can only help the company in

its bid to turn around its fortunes.



The news has, however, come rather late in the day. But it should come

as no surprise, that a company which for years resisted the tide of such

’new fangled’ techniques as advertising, should have allowed three sets

of poor results before the restructuring of its corporate brand

management came into effect. It reflects the same kind of forward

thinking that lies behind the decision to finally join the rest of the

retailing community and accept credit cards in-store. Journalists have

billed the new plans for the company as ’M&S’s introduction to the

modern world’. This is going to be a tough perception to shift.



There has been much talk this week about revamped product ranges and

cost cutting, but there are bigger issues at stake. Marks and Spencer

needs a fundamental shift in the way it relates to its customers. The

company’s brand values - ofquality, service and value - are essentially

timeless, but today’s consumers demand more than just quality, good

value product. They are looking to buy into the personality and culture

of a brand, and many of their buying decisions are influenced, no matter

how subtly, by the relationship they have with a company.



This relationship has got be interactive. It is essential that today’s

customer-focused organisations avoid like the plague any hint of

high-handedness - a suggestion that they know best.



For a long time Marks and Spencer occupied such as position of almost

unprecedented power in the retail environment, that it was able to

eschew a proactive marketing strategy. Those days have gone. The company

now needs to be seen to be creating a real dialogue with its customers,

and reshaping its offering to fulfil their expectations.



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