You have to think carefully before launching an attack on a British business icon. It feels like trying to tell Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson that he doesn't have the faintest idea how to manage a football team. In tough times, however, somebody has to step up and take responsibility.
I believe Sir Stuart Rose, executive chairman of Marks & Spencer, doesn't know what he is doing.
There, it has been said. What's more, this is coming from someone with considerable experience of the retail sector. Being brought up above a corner shop in a medium-sized town (in Northern Ireland, in my case) inevitably leaves one with a sound knowledge of the fundamentals -just ask Margaret Thatcher.
Sir Stuart certainly has his fans - after all, the M&S share price rose last week after the company produced a mere 34% fall in pre-tax profits. This is the sort of disaster that the likes of British Airways chairman Willie Walsh would be very content with.
Sir Stuart's error can be precisely defined. Despite the recession, he is prepared to maintain M&S' dividend policy to snuggle up to his shareholders.
Until recently, he has gone ahead with spending £3bn upgrading stores without any obvious signs of increased sales as a result. Now he is splitting the match heads with a 20% cut in the retailer's £145m marketing budget - £29m.
We must suspend disbelief until the effect of this year's M&S Christmas campaign has been gauged, principally to ensure that all the ads aren't being shown after midnight on ITV3.
The point is that if Sir Stuart thinks it worthwhile to hold his dividend, then it should be even more important to hold his marketing budget steady. You could make a reasonable case, now more than ever, that increasing it might be the really smart thing to do.
The point is worth labouring, because if someone as accomplished as Rose thinks it is a good idea to take an axe to marketing budgets, can you imagine what others will get up to.
Apart from anything else, the likes of Michael Grade, Sir Martin Sorrell, Rupert Murdoch and Viscount Rothermere will not be best pleased with that sort of behaviour.
These are deflationary tactics that will work through the economy to push us all into deeper trouble.
As everyone knows, TV advertising is now cheaper in real terms than during the last recession - a bargain, in fact - and most newspapers will be prepared to do deals for advertisers such as M&S.
Perhaps a senior political figure - Lord Mandelson, for example - should call the marketing directors of the biggest companies to a breakfast meeting to remind them of their social responsibilities.
If bankers can be bullied into passing on the full 1.5% interest rate cut to their customers, a social pact with major advertisers can equally be envisaged.
They could get a cut in VAT, with a general income-tax cut for consumers. In return, marketers commit to what they should be doing anyway - boost-ing their spend to stimulate consumer demand. You do believe that spending money on marketing stimulates demand, don't you?
While on the subject of M&S, I must also point out that it's crazy to mothball one of the best ad campaigns of recent years. Instead, 'This is not just food...' should be adapted to reflect current circumstances and used aggressively.
And if Erin O'Connor, Twiggy, Myleene Klass and Noémie Lenoir really are dropped after Christmas to save money, M&S shareholders might take fright, despite their dividends.
Raymond Snoddy is a media journalist and presenter of BBC TV's Newswatch
30 seconds on... Sir Stuart Rose
- Sir Stuart Alan Ransom Rose, 59, is Marks & Spencer's executive chairman, and chairman of Business in the Community and the British Fashion Council.
- Rose worked at the BBC before joining M&S as a manage-ment trainee in 1972.
- In 1989 he joined the Burton Group, and was made chief executive in 1994.
- As Argos chief executive he helped secure a higher price when it was bought by Great Universal Stores in 1999.
- Between 2000 and 2002 Rose reversed the fortunes of the Arcadia Group, before its £800m sale to Philip Green.
- In 2004 he rejoined M&S as chief executive, saying: 'I love the business... and I had to prove to myself I could do it.'
- Another impressive turna-round followed this appoint-ment, and Rose was awarded a knighthood this year.
- A shock profits warning and subsequent plunge in M&S' share price this summer led to concern over Rose's appointment as executive chairman, but he overcame a shareholder revolt at the retailer's AGM in July.
This article was first published on Marketing