Helen Edwards: How job losses can boost creativity
A view from Helen Edwards, PPA, Business columnist of the year

Helen Edwards: How job losses can boost creativity

Recent job cuts at major brand companies could allow local marketers more freedom to fashion groundbreaking strategies

From one viewpoint, the marketing department 'restructuring' plans announced by two of the world's premier brand companies look like unalloyed bad news.

Hundreds of marketers at Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson now face the unenviable task of creating a narrative that explains why all their endeavours over the past few years, all those battles fought, lost and won, were of apparently such marginal significance that their roles are set to disappear.

From other vantage points, however - chief financial officer, shareholder, local marketer - the cull looks like a triumph for good sense. This is not so much because of the savings achieved, but because the stifling reins of central control will be loosened.

Big global marketing departments became so weighty and complex over the years that they probably prevented more good decisions than they made. The tension between local teams and the centre would flare up into flashpoints, with the brand routinely the subject of collateral damage.

Global marketing became a kind of death by acronym. SBUs and GBUs would fly in to confront the local marketers in GBTs - global brand team meetings - in which positions were carefully negotiated in advance, and deviations from agreements agonised over in the session itself.

That scourge of corporate life - the 'dotted line' of reporting responsibility - would result in so many standoffs that even the most new-age collaborative central manager would yearn for a bit of old-fashioned command.

For talented local people, it could make for a stultifying existence. In a recent regional workshop I met a marketer who had taken an active part in her country's Arab Spring revolution - yet had to file to corporate HQ thousands of miles away to make minor local brand decisions. It was easier to change history than pack copy.

Who knows what these people might achieve with a free hand? Well, like all free hands, they will surprise on the upside and the downside. Give individuals or small teams responsibility and they might power through groundbreaking marketing strategy, as Silvia Lagnado famously did for Unilever's Dove, with the 'Campaign for real beauty'.

Others will make poorer judgements and might put the brand equity at risk. This is the reality of that much-abused expression 'entrepreneurial marketing', because entrepreneurs, in the real world, are fearless in the face of loss.

How big global companies deal with the trade-off between potential runaway success and heightened risk will depend where their soul lies.

If they are, by culture, defensive, they will gradually revert to policing from the centre, and the reinstatement of lost roles.

If they are genuinely progressive, they will use digital connectivity to share strategy, tactics and creative work developed in one region openly with others. In a free internal market, successful local teams might enhance their P&L by exacting royalties for these assets. Gradual global adoption of best practice and best ideas would be on the basis of attraction, not coercion.

It's a big world and there are some amazing, brave ideas out there just waiting to be had and put into place across our most famous brands. Clever products. Sexy packaging formats. Exciting engagement channels. So the great marketing cull could be good news from another viewpoint, too: the consumer's.

Helen Edwards has a PhD in marketing, an MBA from London Business School and is a partner at Passionbrand.


Despite recent strong rises in both the FTSE and the Dow Jones, the marketing industry appears to be continuing to feel the pinch.

- Procter & Gamble: Marketing roles will most likely be part of the 5000-plus jobs cut as the business aims to reduce costs by $10bn (£6.3bn) over the next four years. The company has been under pressure from investors to improve profitability by streamlining operations. Chief executive Bob McDonald claimed the cuts 'should make us more agile, more fast-moving as an organisation'.

- Johnson & Johnson: An overhaul of the entire consumer marketing operations began last year shortly after Jesse Wu took over as worldwide chairman of the consumer business. In a statement, the company claimed the new structure would bring 'more efficient execution of region-wide initiatives'.

- Microsoft: Earlier this month, the software company announced a cut of 200 marketing jobs from its Seattle headquarters. This is part of an effort to reduce duplication of responsibilities.

- British Gas: Back in November, redundancies in sales and marketing were announced as part of an effort to reduce costs.