PROFILE: Flic Howard-Allen, Marks & Spencer - Howard-Allen plans to drive M&S revival - After 13 years at H&K, Flic Howard-Allen takes in-house role at retail giant

A year is a long time in high-street retail. At the start of last

year, Flic Howard-Allen's new employer Marks & Spencer was facing the

consequences of resting on its laurels. Customers deserted, suppliers

bailed out, and the share-price nose-dived. Oh, and there was that ad

campaign featuring a 'size 16' model streaking across a hillside

shouting 'I'm normal'. The abyss beckoned.



Twelve months later sales were up, analysts marvelled at the turnaround,

and long-suffering shareholders are to be rewarded with a £2bn

cash-back scheme. A fickle state of affairs indeed.



The change in fortune has taken place under chairman and CEO Luc

Vandevelde. Luckily for him and the M&S board, ploughing the sensitive

ground of retail comms has been Flic Howard-Allen's ambition for a long

while. It's her golden opportunity, she says, even if it means turning

her back on 13 years at Hill & Knowlton.



She joined H&K in 1988 as an account director and rose through the

ranks. You name it, she's worked on it at the WPP giant: consumer,

corporate, youth, B2B, internal comms, crisis management ... the list

goes on.



Howard-Allen, who succeeds Cheri Lofland at M&S, had journalistic

ambitions when studying for her English degree at Leeds University. She

worked for three years on the student paper and her course included

disciplines in broadcasting. 'But I found I enjoyed business - PR was

the way I could combine both interests.'



After university, she joined WHSmith as PR assistant, then moved to the

then Charles Barker Lions as its first graduate trainee. Four years

later, she entered H&K, where she remains until a successor is appointed

at Red Lion Square.



'I wasn't looking to move this time, but this opportunity arose and it's

a culmination of what I have been working towards for ten years. My plan

has been to work in blue-chip consultancies, and then move to a

blue-chip in-house role,' she says. 'I find it very hard to think of a

more exciting brand than M&S.'



Perhaps she means a more challenging brand? Even her H&K boss, chairman

David McLaren, describes her new role as a 'tough order'.



McLaren says Howard-Allen, a mother of three boys, is both formidable

and versatile: 'She is one person who has worked in consumer and

corporate with equal effect. She's tough but fair. M&S is a challenge

that requires somebody with the resolution and technical experience.

Flic will do well.'



With this breadth of agency experience behind her, Howard-Allen feels it

is time to get under the skin of a client company. She rejects the

suggestion she has outgrown H&K, but agrees that a move in-house will

widen her skillsetfurther: 'As far as careers go, you are either

in-house or at a consultancy. I believe I have done all the things in a

consultancy that I can.'



H&K has allowed Howard-Allen to build the combination of skills, McLaren

says, that prompted Vandevelde to lift the phone and woo her across the

consultancy/in-house divide.



'My aims fit with what the new M&S management team has begun. They've

started to come back, and I aim to contribute to that revival,' she

says. Her description of this contribution will please strategic

communicators: 'Running M&S communications will be about meeting

business objectives. I will be working with Vandevelde and the board,

and I will bring fresh ideas, gain better cut-through, and better

understanding of the brand among key stakeholders,' she says.



She concedes she will be one 'very small' component of the 'complete

management challenge' to revive the brand, but with a team of 55, she

certainly has the resources to succeed.



And there's no denying she has the credentials. She has navigated every

corridor on every floor and occupied most of H&K's London offices at

some period during the past decade.



Outside PR's core disciplines, Howard-Allen is credited within H&K for

building a solid record in business strategy, people management,

negotiation skills and team leadership; an impressive list to help any

great institution's management off its knees and back into the retail

ring.



After several years in the consumer field, Howard-Allen made the jump

from consumer to corporate and B2B comms: 'Spending so many years with

one organisation may seem unusual, but I've done six or seven jobs in

that time.'



And she seems to have had the same degree of achievement in the latter

category as in the former. Shortly after the practice group switch, H&K

picked up the 2000 PRWeek B2B campaign award, for its Build on Line

initiative.



M&S seems to be returning to popular favour, with successful winter

ranges, marketing plans that generate footfall instead of ridicule, and

a share price on the rise. Howard-Allen is joining at a good time to

help M&S in its bid to become the British shopper's outlet-of- choice

once again.



HIGHLIGHTS

1983: PR assistant, WHSmith

1991: Board director - consumer division, Hill & Knowlton

1998: Corporate MD, Hill & Knowlton

2002: Comms director, Marks & Spencer



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