M&S and Grey talk transformation, staying relevant and 'forceful' conversations

Marks & Spencer marketing chief Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne and Leo Rayman, the chief executive the retailer's ad agency, Grey London, open up on the new marketing strategy and the chemistry between their teams.

Marks & Spencer: unveiled new campaign in May
Marks & Spencer: unveiled new campaign in May

Hotly anticipated as it was the first work by its new agency Grey, the M&S’ "Spend it well" ad campaign and positioning was unveiled to much fanfare in May. The work, which the executive director, customer, marketing and M&S.com to give Bousquet-Chavanne his full job title, hailed as "radical" at launch, marked the first time M&S has united both its food and clothing divisions under a single tagline.

Catching up with Campaign at Cannes Lions, Bousquet-Chavanne says the new strategy has a "depth and a scale that will provide us with multiple phases and potential" and uses new insight – that in a world of abundance people seek out quality experiences that make life special – uncovered by Grey.

The need for fresh thinking, Bousquet-Chavanne explains, is why he opted to change agency. "It’s very hard to get that insight, to look at things in a different way when it’s the same partner. We refreshed the insight substantially as we’re engaging this new phase of the brand."

M&S’ appointment of Grey ended a 14-year relationship with Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe Y&R (now Y&R London). Rayman describes this challenge as "an interesting job to step into that space and take it to the next level".

Since the campaign’s launch, Bousquet-Chavanne says his key measures of brand perception, favourability and purchase intent for M&S are all up.

While the positioning was initially developed for the core M&S customer base of women aged over 50, the pair say it very quickly became clear it could go wider and reach the millennial generation.

Both pay tribute to Grey's co-chief creative officer Vicky Maguire. Bousquet-Chavanne says: "She was a force and gave clarity of vision throughout. She was the solid hand that guided the tiller."

Forceful conversations

It’s clear that the journey for the brand has involved some frank exchanges between the brand and agency.

Bousquet-Chavanne says: "Through the process there were some forceful conversations. I like that tension, I like that constructive confrontation."

He admits that M&S marketers are "not always easy to work with; they are principled and protective of the brand values to an extreme at times. It was time for us to loosen up."

Rayman characterises it as a "process of collision" that was ultimately helped by the fact that the agency and brand teams actually "liked each other".

The appointment of a new agency represents another part of a transformation project undertaken by Bousquet-Chavanne since he landed his role in 2014, taking over from long-serving M&S marketing boss Steven Sharp who retired after a decade in the role.

"The team that Grey London interfaces with is a new, for the most part, brand team. We’d moved all digital marketing to that new team. We cleaned up our ways of working internally and brought in more people who were way more open to the transformational platform," he explains.

So for Bousquet-Chavanne it wasn’t about getting his marketers on board as they were already ready for change, it was more about getting the whole business aligned behind the idea, he says.

"That’s what is sometimes challenging," he says. "We’re a large organisation and we wanted to make sure it wasn’t just an idea owned by the marketing and the brand team. I wanted it to be owned by the totality of M&S because that’s how you unleash the power of 80,000 people."

Presence in culture

M&S is one of middle England’s favourite retailers and generates strong opinion, particularly its clothing range which is a favourite target of national newspaper columnists.

Asked how that level of scrutiny feels, Rayman says that "no-one gives a shit" about most brands so is pleased to be able to work for one that has a "presence in culture".

Faced with the same question, Bousquet-Chavanne jokes that the role "weighs heavily on him", before adding: "It’s the speed at which the industry and tech is impacting creativity that potentially keeps you awake. Can you evolve and transform fast enough to stay relevant?

"You have to stay relevant at every single moment all the way and be authentic, truthful engaging 24/7 365 days a year."

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