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
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
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
’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
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.
1994: PR director (Europe), Nutrasweet
1999: Head of group communications, Reckitt and Colman
2000: Director of communications, Marks and Spencer.