CLOSE-UP: NEWSMAKER - ANDY NEAL. Scottish Courage's marketing chief gets hands-on

Andy Neal plans to put his own mark on the brewer's ads. Mark Sweney reports.

Andy Neal, the new consumer marketing director at the brewer Scottish Courage, has a neat party trick of being able to identify different gins while blindfolded.

It's the kind of character trait you might expect from a man described by one former colleague as "born to be in booze". He picked up the skill during his 11 years at United Distillers handling Gordon's Gin.

Neal is now being asked by ScotCo to call on all of his experience and take centre stage in handling its £100 million marketing budget.

Since January last year he's been responsible for the brewer's lower profile "challenger" brands, including Kronenbourg, Beck's and Miller.

His fellow brand director, John Botia, has controlled the "power" brands Foster's and John Smith's, and has been in the limelight following the much-loved "no nonsense" campaign.

With Botia moving upstairs to become the managing director of ScotCo's Northern sales operation, Newcastle Breweries, Neal has a tough act to follow. So how does he rate the existing campaigns for John Smith's and Foster's?

His response is somewhat cagey, and he leaves the distinct impression that he is eager to stamp his own mark on future advertising.

"They have certainly worked, the evidence is clear. But there is always refinement that can add to the brand. I am passionate about having things rooted in the product. Beer advertising is entertainment but you can't just make people smile. However, I would be a mug to tamper too much."

As well as overseeing ScotCo's brands, Neal is up to his eyeballs handling the integration of the recently acquired HP Bulmer operation, which includes the Strongbow, Scrumpy Jack, Woodpecker and San Miguel brands.

But Neal thinks his time at United Distillers, where he "worked on everything", has prepared him for a complicated schedule. His latter five years were as the marketing director of its portfolio (including Bell's, Johnnie Walker, Gordon's Gin and Pimm's), and he also spent one year as the European marketing director of Gordon's Gin.

"I've managed brand leaders with the number-one whisky and number-one gin," he states. "Working on leading brands isn't new. In some ways it isn't a challenge but more of a delight. What I was most proud of was the reinvigoration of advertising for Gordon's Gin. It helped turn around a decade of decline in the gin market and reverse Gordon's fortunes."

He speaks with pride of his role in bringing spirits advertising to TV in the 90s. He was part of a group that approached the Government's relevant food, drink and health departments to sound out the rules and get the go-ahead to use TV, as long as the same rules as those for beer companies were followed. "It was about trying to rejuvenate brands such as Gordon's and Bell's, which are powerful but not in a sexy category. We wanted the use of a powerful medium like TV which was not being used."

Neal took a three-year break from drinks marketing to run the Scottish division of the poster company More Group.

The job lent him useful experience. "Andy's move was less about media and more about general management experience, which has paid off for him," his then boss, Stevie Spring, the group chief executive of Clear Channel UK, says.

The media experience he gained was also beneficial in how he handles his relationships with his roster agencies, MediaVest, M&C Saatchi, TBWA\London and Leo Burnett (which picked up the Bulmer brands in a pitch run before ScotCo acquired the company).

"He understands how media and creative work because of his background, he understands our business and that makes him a better client. He isn't prescriptive and that leads to better work," Nick Hurrell, the joint chief executive of M&C Saatchi, says.

Hurrell remembers meeting Neal on his first official day of work at ScotCo, which happened to be the pitch day for Kronenbourg. He was one of four clients who were running the pitches and Hurrell says M&C was notified of the win 15 minutes after pitching.

Neal says Foster's and John Smith's are not totally new territories for him. "I have to get close to the new brands. I worked closely with John so am clear on the strategy. But it is the detail, refining it and moving it to the next stage, that will require some indoctrination."

So what can Neal's new roster agencies expect? Well, he has a hands-on approach. "Everyone has their own slightly different style; it is a good discipline sticking to a brief but I also believe in letting the creatives go that extra mile," he says. "I like working with creatives as opposed to working in a linear way; it is an old model keeping the client away and doesn't work in my opinion. You need to talk honestly and have good adult conversations to achieve the best work."

With Neal so clearly looking to take the bull by the horns, the future of ScotCo's advertising looks set to remain innovative.

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