Louise Beveridge on helping reshape global luxury firm Kering

Louise Beveridge, the woman reshaping the corporate brand behind Gucci and Puma, outlines her vision to Daniel Farey-Jones.

Word association: Beveridge says a change of name sets the tone of the comms agenda
Word association: Beveridge says a change of name sets the tone of the comms agenda

Stella McCartney, Yves Saint Laurent, Alexander McQueen - it is no wonder Louise Beveridge jokes that her daughter has asked to be left her wardrobe in her will.

The labels are household names, but few people this side of the Channel will have heard of Kering - the company that controls them and employs her.

What was previously called PPR is a big deal, especially in France, where it is a top-40 listed company, making as much money in a quarter as Burberry does in a year.

So financial comms skills honed on the privatisation of British Gas and Eurotunnel's flotation come in handy. However, the real challenge for the former Dewe Rogerson staffer has been to illustrate a massive corporate transformation story and bring the firm's comms operation up to speed with its global ambitions.

PPR was founded as a timber trading business before eventually acquiring French retail chains Printemps, La Redoute and Fnac, and expanding into electrical and pharmaceutical distribution.

After taking over in 2005, the founder's son, Francois-Henri Pinault, sold almost everything apart from Gucci Group. He added other luxury fashion brands, and moved into sportswear with acquisitions such as Puma and surfers' favourite Volcom.

To explain the strategy, PPR appointed Beveridge to its executive committee in 2011, headhunting her from her role as head of global comms for savings and investments at banking giant BNP Paribas.

By then, she had been in France for 15 years, since Societe Generale promoted her from leading its comms to London's financial markets to running its comms department at its Paris headquarters.

Born in South Africa to French and Irish parents, Beveridge describes herself as 'a potted plant' in her ability to cope with new environments. She grew up in England from the age of ten after living in Switzerland and the Netherlands.

But though she had studied international relations and French at Sussex University, she admits it took her two or three years to develop enough understanding of France and its business culture to feel comfortable professionally.

Simon Gillham, comms chief at Vivendi and fellow Parisian import, says: 'Louise is quite self-deprecating and doesn't take herself too seriously but is very serious about the job. And those sorts of comms directors are not ten a penny in France.'

In between her two bank jobs, Beveridge worked at a paper manufacturer and in corporate property. Corporate rebranding has been part of three of the 50-year-old's previous jobs, not to mention a freelance stint undertaking business and financial PR for branding agency Wolff Olins.

It has all stood her in good stead for the PPR project, which she describes as a 'rare chance to work on the reset of the comms of a major company'.

Pinault asked her to review PPR's brand platform to underline the company's transition from a conglomerate to a clothing and accessories business. It also agreed the need for a new name, with Pinault stipulating it should mean something.

'The name is symbolic but what was essential was the brand positioning,' says Beveridge. 'You work on your positioning first and that's really important. Our signature "empowering imagination" is about the way we run the company.'

But the name does have meaning - both to the Pinault family and the outside world. The family came from Brittany and 'ker' means home or house in Breton.

The word is pronounced 'caring' and reflects 'the way we like to create value by taking care - of employees, of our brands, of the way in which we do business and the environment we run', says Beveridge.

'With that name comes conviction and it sets the tone for the comms agenda for the company for the years to come.'

The importance of China, where translating Western brand names is frowned upon, is acknowledged in the adaptation of Kering to Kai Yun, meaning 'open sky'.

Beveridge plans to set up an in-house team in the country, having put one in place in the US. 'You need people on the ground,' she says. 'It's not just about language and time zone, but adapting your message and the feedback we get from our teams.'

She also adapted to make a virtue of digital as a medium for the rebrand comms campaign that followed the reveal in March, after being told the budget was 'half what I wanted and needed', which limited advertising opportunities.

Beveridge is proud of a series of five short films about 'how imagination comes to life' commissioned from fashion blogger Garance Dore, which are being released over the year.

'Where I think that was innovative is where you're working in the digital space, if you do anything that looks too corporate, it just doesn't work at all.'

The internet is also a preoccupation in Beveridge's 'hobby' job, teaching 22 postgraduates at Sciences Po's school of communication in Paris. She has asked them to create a campaign to combat people's lack of civility on social media and children committing suicide after internet bullying, which must use social media.

But the main job is far from finished, it transpires, as Beveridge ends the interview at the London office of Kering's UK and China corporate agency, Brunswick.

'We're about to move into the phase where we bring the new brand alive. If people don't know what we're called, there's no point getting excited about it.'

CV

2011 Director of comms, PPR/Kering

2007 Director of comms, BNP Paribas savings and investments

2002 Director of comms, Atisreal/BNP Paribas Real Estate

2001 Director of comms, Antalis (subsidiary of paper manufacturer ArjoWiggins)

1996 Director of comms, Societe Generale investment banking

1993 Head of UK comms, Societe Generale

1990 Freelance, including Wolff Olins

1988 Account manager, Gavin Anderson

1985 Account manager, Dewe Rogerson

TIPS FROM THE TOP

What was your biggest career break?

I have enjoyed more of a sequence of breaks over the years that have led to the latest one - the dream job I have today.

Have you had a notable mentor?

Several along the way, some who have impressed me professionally and others who have been a personal inspiration for their wisdom, perseverance or honesty. Perhaps the 'mentor' that has been a constant is my intuition. Not always easy to tune into in the middle of the daily noise, but always an excellent guide.

What advice would you give to people climbing the ladder?

An inevitable list of truisms. Make your own luck happen. It is a small world and careers are long, so always behave well.

What qualities do you look for in new recruits?

It depends on the job - horses for courses - but a positive can-do attitude makes a real difference whatever your role in a team.

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