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,
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.