PROFILE: Cheri Lofland, Marks and Spencer - On a quest to put the spark back in Marks. Cheri Lofland has a clear idea of how to restore M&S to its former glory

The newly-appointed director of communications at Marks and Spencer looks a little weary as she leafs through the thick pile of press cuttings sitting on her desk. It is only Cheri Lofland’s second day and she is still wearing a relaxed smile and appears calm despite her back-to-back appointment schedule and the fact that lunch may well have to be a hastily- eaten sandwich.

The newly-appointed director of communications at Marks and Spencer

looks a little weary as she leafs through the thick pile of press

cuttings sitting on her desk. It is only Cheri Lofland’s second day and

she is still wearing a relaxed smile and appears calm despite her

back-to-back appointment schedule and the fact that lunch may well have

to be a hastily- eaten sandwich.



For American-born Lofland, accepting the company’s most high profile PR

position is the biggest challenge she has yet to face in her 20-year

international career. But then she’s not the sort of person who would

have wanted it any other way.



’I’ve never been interested in an easy job,’ she says. ’But that doesn’t

mean to say that I would take a no-win job - I’ve only ever taken

positions that I know I can make a success of. This is definitely a huge

job, but the only problem I can see with it is where to start

first.’



Many an experienced PRO would have balked at the thought of attempting

to salvage the crumbling reputation of the nation’s once most respected

high street retailer. But this is a woman who feels ’energised’ by the

whole process, despite the enormity of the task ahead.



After accepting a redundancy package from household products

manufacturer Reckitt and Colman (R&C) in 1999, where she was head of

group communications for four years, Lofland decided to take some time

off to consider her next career move.



’I’d had quite a few interviews with different types of companies by the

time M&S approached me,’ she says. ’I wanted to explore other avenues,

but it was looking around that made me realise my real love and passion

is for international consumer-facing brands.’



P&O corporate communications manager Victoria Moth, who worked under

Lofland at R&C for 18 months, backs this up. ’One of the unique things

about her is that she’s a real believer in the corporate brand. Her

ability for strategic thinking and her international perspective makes

her the right person for her new job at M&S. She’s a powerhouse of

energy and someone who’s used to always having to juggle different

agendas,’ she says.



Lofland claims that she wasn’t deterred from joining a company which has

found it hard of late to shake off its ’troubled retailer’ epithet.



For her, it seems, the challenge of overcoming the company’s ongoing

spate of negative publicity was one of the deciding factors in accepting

the position.



Her brief is wide-ranging, covering corporate communications - internal

and external - community involvement and Government affairs. Overseeing

33 staff, 20 of whom deal with communications, the position is a huge

step up from the team of five she led at R& C.



For the moment, her main focus is to prioritise her workload, and to

steer M&S through the next few months, while getting to grips with a new

team and working environment at the same time. With M&S’ preliminary

results due at the end of this month, its annual report and AGM

following soon afterwards, Lofland certainly has her work cut out.



She already has a clear vision of where the company is going, and where

it will be this time next year. She reels off a list of planned

achievements, which include the implementation of a clear communications

strategy and a team organised to reflect it. She also hopes for a

significant improvement in the relationship with M&S’ ’key audiences’,

and that opportunities will be provided for the company’s massive

workforce to have their voices heard.



’She is one of the most professional people that I’ve come across in the

industry, with extremely high standards,’ says Bobby Leach, a director

at Shandwick International, which was one of R&C’s retained

advisers.



’If she is sure about the appropriate way of doing things, then she is

not one to compromise - it means that everybody has a clear idea of the

objectives involved.’



Her appointment at M&S appears to have ruffled few feathers. In fact,

her arrival into the plush carpeted offices of Baker Street has received

- much to her surprise - a warm welcome from several relieved members of

staff. There will be those, she agrees, who will be surprised to see

someone with her background, and nationality, teaming up with one of the

great bastions of British retailing.



’What’s interesting about the fact that I’m American is that I can offer

a different, slightly fresher perspective, especially because I haven’t

been through such difficult times. I can also serve to remind people

that M&S is one of the greatest international brands. I am very open and

direct and sometimes ask difficult questions, but I think they hired me

because of that, not in spite of it,’ she says with a smile.





HIGHLIGHTS



1994: PR director (Europe), Nutrasweet



1999: Head of group communications, Reckitt and Colman



2000: Director of communications, Marks and Spencer.



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