Opinion: Mills On ... Peter Davis’s Return To Sainsbury’s

They say that history repeats itself, the first time as farce, the second as tragedy. That is why it is good advice, in life as in love, never to go back. Of course, you could portray the new chief executive of Sainsbury’s, Sir Peter Davis, as a prodigal son returned. But reading the interviews with him over the weekend, it seems that he regards his return to Sainsbury’s after an absence of 14 years as much like the resumption of a once-glorious love affair as accepting one of the great business challenges of the early millennium.

They say that history repeats itself, the first time as farce, the

second as tragedy. That is why it is good advice, in life as in love,

never to go back. Of course, you could portray the new chief executive

of Sainsbury’s, Sir Peter Davis, as a prodigal son returned. But reading

the interviews with him over the weekend, it seems that he regards his

return to Sainsbury’s after an absence of 14 years as much like the

resumption of a once-glorious love affair as accepting one of the great

business challenges of the early millennium.



Despite this, it is hard to argue with the appointment of Davis. You can

say Sainsbury’s has three basic problems.



One, it is lacking in leadership; two, repeated profits warnings mean

credibility with the City has stretched to breaking point; and three, it

has a major marketing problem - namely, working out what it stands for

and then delivering on the promise.



Finding a proven leader with City clout and marketing expertise is no

easy brief. Ex-Asda chairman, Archie Norman, apart, Davis probably comes

as close as anyone to meeting the job description. The added bonus is

that his marketing expertise is in the retailing sector.



The fact that it was as Sainsbury’s marketing director that he first

achieved fame may, however, prove a double-edged sword. Of the major

tasks that Davis faces, it must surely be the way he tackles marketing

that determines his success or otherwise. You can bet that’s a factor

that will weigh heavily on Sara Weller, who starts her new role as

Sainsbury’s marketing director this week. So too will the fact that she

was appointed by the old management.



If Weller will be at the sharp end, so too at some stage soon will

Sainsbury’s agencies - Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO and M&C Saatchi. History

will relate that it was Davis who appointed AMV some 20 years ago and

that it was the combination of Davis and David Abbott’s distinctive and

stylish advertising that helped Sainsbury’s take market leadership from

Tesco. Similarly, when he arrived at the Prudential, it was AMV that

Davis turned to. What is less well-known is that the incumbent on the

Sainsbury’s account at the time that Davis appointed AMV was Saatchi &

Saatchi.



While I would be surprised if Davis was a sentimentalist, when I

interviewed him two years ago the thing that struck me most was the

depth of his regard for AMV and, in particular, David Abbott. Together,

they moved Sainsbury’s away from a price-led approach and created a

strong, quality-led proposition.



But just as you cannot pick up a relationship where you left off 14

years ago, Davis should be wary of history. Under Davis, Sainsbury’s

occupied the middle-to-upmarket ground of retailing so successfully that

it became synonymous with the Volvo-driving, Barbour-wearing,

chardonnay-drinking middle classes. Unlike the competition, however, it

failed to recognise how Britain was changing.



Under Davis it has to distinguish between learning the lessons of

history and just repeating it.



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Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).