News Analysis: Why Rose is the pick of the bunch

Stuart Rose, CEO of a buoyant Marks & Spencer, was this week named the fourth PRCA Romeike Business Communicator of the Year. David Quainton examines how Rose has communicated the retailer's turnaround.

Turn on the TV in the coming weeks and you are likely to see ads from the likes of Homebase, Matalan and the major supermarkets with more than a whiff of Marks & Spencer about them.

The fact that major British retailers are casting their marketing in the ­image of the brand is testament to M&S's turnaround in the past year.

Spearheading the formerly ‘troubled high-street chain's' reputational resurrection is its ubiquitous CEO, Stuart Rose.

Performance peak
To cap a fine year - which saw M&S share prices reach 690p (Philip Green offered 400p a share for the company just over two years ago) - Rose was named PRCA Romeike Business Communicator of the Year this week.

The judges felt that - more than any other FTSE 100 CEO considered -  Rose had communicated his business effectively in a way that aided its continued financial success.

‘Rose has good instincts,' says Tulchan Communications founder Andrew Grant, who worked alongside Rose on the Green defence. ‘He understands implicitly the importance of good communication, and he has a good team around him.'

Grant suggests the work of M&S's long-serving comms director, Flic Howard-Allen - named PRWeek's PR Professional of the Year last month - and her team has much to do with Rose's award.

‘It's the nature of the media to attribute quotes. Swathes of Rose's ­positive coverage will have come ­directly from the work of Howard-Allen's team,' asserts Grant. But, of course, Rose has also engineered his own success, living and breathing the company of which he is the figurehead.

‘Rose understands the importance of wearing his brand's clothes,' says PRCA chairman Richard Houghton, who headed the judging panel. ‘We were also impressed with the breadth of his messages.'

Rose has dipped into an extraordinary range of topics in 2006. He has been a vociferous campaigner for
moving London Fashion Week to a time of year when fashion buyers will be in Europe. And, of course, he has helped promote M&S's Look Behind the Label campaign, emphasising the provenance and quality of its goods.

But perhaps Rose has been fortunate: M&S is one of Britain's iconic retail brands, and as he steers it towards recovery after a difficult few years, it has arguably been relatively easy for him to make positive noises.

‘Running M&S is akin to running a political party,' says Grant. ‘It attracts so much news. The key is the management of the message, which is difficult among the newsflow.'

Second opinion
But not everyone is full of praise for Rose. One business journalist says Rose has occasionally had a difficult relationship with the press. ‘He will pick up on the slightest detail in a story if he doesn't like it. He can be very standoffish,' he says.

Yet it is Rose's attention to detail that has perhaps won him the award - even his critics admit that he has ­rejuvenated M&S. Rose puts his success down to focusing on a single M&S message.

‘The challenge I faced was making people believe in themselves once again and getting everyone pointing in the same direction,' he tells PRWeek.

‘In recent years, M&S has had a new strategy every ten minutes,' he adds. ‘That's a very easy way to confuse your own people and make them lose confidence. I've communicated it again and again so that it's clear to everyone what we need to do.'

TOP TEN CEOs: shortlisted by Romeike and the PRCA

Richard BAKER - Alliance Boots
‘Baker (formerly of Boots before the merger earlier this year) scored some impressive points on the communication front this year. On his first day as Alliance Boots CEO, Baker called journalists covering the story to introduce himself.'

Chris BELL - Ladbrokes
‘Bell's media coverage exuded confidence and optimism about his company's future. He defended the independence of his company from possible takeover bids.'

Philip BOWMAN - Scottish Power
‘On top of launching a stout defence of the company's prospects as an independent business, Bowman faced the daunting task of warning customers about a rise in energy prices.'

Jean-Pierre GARNIER - GlaxoSmithKline
‘The animal-rights movement has tested to the limit Garnier's ability as a communicator. He emerged triumphantly from the experience.'

Justin KING - J Sainsbury
‘Overall, King proved to be a great communicator. His meetings with the press were well timed and usually aimed at underlining his successful recovery strategy.'

Sir Terry LEAHY - Tesco
‘Presented with some challenging issues this year, despite (or arguably because of) achieving record profits and announcing an aggressive expansion plan.'

Stuart ROSE - Marks & Spencer
‘Rose has actively and consistently backed up his company's strategies by regularly communicating direct statements aimed at reassuring stakeholders, including investors, employees and analysts.'

Mark TUCKER - Prudential
‘Tucker broadly followed the strategy set out by his predecessor, Jonathan Bloomer, but was a far better communicator, which was evident when fighting off Aviva's bid approach.'

Mike TURNER - BAE Systems
‘Turner's comms skills helped him to get employee buy-in in his battle to plug the company's pensions black-hole.'

‘Verwaayen stretched his role as CEO to the point where the lines separating corporate, societal and political roles began to blur.'


CEO Watch, a monthly chart in PRWeek, measured coverage of FTSE 100 CEOs in 14 publications to reveal the top ten performers. A panel of five picked the winner (Stuart Rose) based on both objective and subjective criteria.

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