CMO Q&A: Richard Davies, Newell Rubbermaid

Newell Rubbermaid's Richard Davies talks about crisis communication plans and the organization's marketing restructure.

Tell me about your title of chief marketing and insights officer.
Some companies use the terms consumers and shoppers; we call them users and choosers as those terms are applicable to our professional and consumer markets.

The title is a reflection of the importance the business attaches to understanding the needs and requirements of people who buy our goods and services. I’m responsible for marketing and market research, so the quantitative and qualitative research.

Last year, Newell Rubbermaid consolidated from 70 agencies to one lead creative partner, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, and one lead media-buying firm, PHD. Was communications affected?
Yes. It was important to only have a couple of key suppliers and just one or two partners. We wanted to be an attractive business to the agencies, too, and we needed them to be crucial to us. The consolidation worked in everyone’s favor.

We didn’t want to have a fragmentation of several firms working on different facets. We looked at what agencies could deliver what we were after. We use BBH for brand PR and Edelman provides corporate PR support, but corporate issues are mostly handled by our in-house team.

Have the changes worked?
There are encouraging signs. I took over at the start of 2013 and we spent four or five months restructuring. Then another four working through the choice of agency partners. We’ve only been live with the new model for about 10 months.

In that time, we’ve gone through our communications agenda and innovation plans for the next three years. We’re in our busy time, which is back to school. Across the board, a lot of brands are going to be advertised in Q3. We’ve spent the last six months preparing for that, so I’m cautiously optimistic at this stage.

What else is new for the company?
We’ve invested a lot of money in strategic research in the last couple of years. We’ve underspent in that regard, so that’s exciting and clearly a source of significant insights and opportunities for us.

We also opened a design center in Kalamazoo, Michigan, about four months ago, which allows us to do our own designs for all our products. It will complement the work we are doing on products. Newell Rubbermaid nearly doubled its advertising budget this year. As part of the corporate strategy, we’ve increased the amount of money we spend on our brands, and I feel good with the quality of our ads. We should start to see some rewards soon in the marketplace.

Did the agency restructuring also result in cutting marketing staff internally?
The marketing group reorganization included the global marketing agency review, expanding the marketing group in Asia and South America, nearly doubling the ad budget in 2014, and doubling market research investment. This resulted in a leaner global structure, which reduced the marketing headcount by about 25% to 30%.

How did the company handle communications around the [child car seat subsidiary] Graco recall?
During the buckle recall, Graco’s communications strategy focused on informing consumers about the situation and assisting them in getting replacement kits. We also communicated how we were working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on a resolution that was in the best interest of consumers and underscored our commitment to child passenger safety.

How is marcomms structured?
We have a conventional approach to brand management. We have five business segments, which are comprised of a collection of brands. Specific directors are responsible for managing their brands holistically, which includes communications.

Moreover, we have a separate market research function that reports to me. We keep this unit independent as it allows the team to give direct advice on what consumers are after. It also advises the brand teams and gives us guidance without having to worry about who it reports to.

Does social media also report to you?
Yes, which is key. At the end of the day, social isn’t a means unto itself – it’s part of a broader communications strategy, so we look at what it is trying to do with a brand and what we’re trying to communicate. Are we trying to get new users and are we talking to existing ones? And then, we figure out the most appropriate medium to use.

We don’t sit down and say, "We must spend X on digital or social." We take it on a case-by-case basis and figure out the objectives for a brand at a period of time, and determine the right combination of media to use to deliver that. It varies by brand, country, and year, but we make sure it’s done holistically.  

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