Noelle McElhatton
Noelle McElhatton

Editor's Comment: Leahy's risks made his business

'The winter of our discontent', the Bard's oft-used phrase, may be brought back into service as the economy stutters toward Christmas.

Consumers are feeling the chill, and cheer is in short supply as rounds of cuts and redundancies continue to hit the UK.

Lighting and consumer electronics group Philips announced on Monday that it is cutting 4500 jobs. This one example may reflect the problems of a single corporation more than the general economy, but that's still another host of families dreading the next few months.

Part of the problem is the rising costs of basic supplies and services, such as petrol and heating for the home. Philip Clarke, group chief executive of Tesco, makes the point that its customers 'spent £750m more putting fuel in their petrol tanks' during the first two quarters of 2011; as he says, 'a very scary statistic'. Meanwhile, domestic energy bills make for gloomy headlines.

Against this background, what are marketers to do? Inspiration comes in the form of Clarke's predecessor at Tesco, Sir Terry Leahy and his speech to The Marketing Society.

Some marketing departments, we know, are pulling plans and cutting budgets; in other words, battening down the hatches. That's not Sir Terry's approach to stormy times. He sees grim tidings as an opportunity for marketers, on one condition: be bold. What, you mean, take risks? Exactly. 'All the things I'm most proud of would have got me fired if they turned out differently,' claims Leahy.

The consequence is you will make mistakes. As a habit and principle, Leahy won't detail or dwell on his own clangers, but he is nonetheless convincing in his argument that nothing big is achieved if you are too frightened to take risks.

So, to quote Shakespeare again: 'Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.'