Parkinson Lee Executive search are delighted to be sharing a series of interviews with Business Leaders from across the region. Each month we will be publishing “an interview with…” that our Managing Partner, Lee Bhandal has conducted with highly respected Executives from across the region.
Our third interview is with Nigel Hunter, Marketing Director at Victoria Plum. Nigel leads the marketing strategy for new and existing products including innovation through research, data, trend analysis and branding. He also manages the day-to-day activities of the marketing team such as: CRM, Affiliates, social media, SEO / Search (PPC and Shopping), Direct Mail, Programmatic Display and VOD to improve ROI from all performance channels.
In his role, Nigel is responsible for the full marketing life cycle, working closely with the company’s Commercial team; enabling them to meet their commercial objectives by providing appropriate analysis on NPI and digital performance. Whilst additionally working alongside the IT team to develop customer centric experiences across the online and digital real estate.
Victoria Plum is one of the UK’s fastest growing online home retailers, supplying quality bathrooms to consumers and trade customers alike. Founded in 2001, they have become one of the UK’s most successful pure play retailers.
In this interview, Nigel shares an insight into why he chose a career in marketing, how he transitioned from agency to client side, and his proudest marketing campaign for Victoria Plum to date.
Why did you choose a career in Marketing?
Growing up in a sedate council estate in rural North Yorkshire, with a handful of great friends gave me a desire to explore different places, try new things and generally stretch my legs. My family were, and still are, everything to me, and having loving parents who supported me to be whatever I wanted was a good start. I had great mates and we were determined to stand out (and not just in an 80’s boy band manner, which I’m slightly embarrassed to say was our starting ambition) so when I met my now wife who was from the far-flung reaches of Bradford, I embraced the opportunity to expand my horizons.
And so, it began – My first jobs in the media sector led to fast-paced agency life with unexpected highs and inevitable lows. 35 years later working on the client-side, I’m still loving it. Some of my colleagues from the days at ‘An Agency Called England’ will have to forgive me for this, but as one memorable ad campaign from back in the day said – ‘Live it, love it” and I am.
Can you tell us how you marketing career began and how you have transitioned from agency to client lead marketing?
Oh Crikey, to quote The Beatles, it’s been ‘a long and winding road’.
Having started in the media working for a number of regional newspapers, I moved via The Newspaper Society to a long-established Leeds-based agency, Charles Walls, for my first stint in ad agency life. And if I’m honest it was a complete shock. I had so many briefs from clients lined up that they ran the length of the floor across the office. The hours were long, but the belief in the team, right up to the top, that we were doing great things made it easy to get up in the morning and head to the office to get started way before sensible people were pouring milk on their cornflakes. And so it began; a period best described as ‘Blood, Sweat and Beers’.
Agency life was generally good to me, but it was not without its challenges, as I’m sure is still the case today for many up-and-coming studios. But after about 15 years, I eventually left the sector and moved to what I thought would be the quieter side of the fence – that of the role of client-side Marketing.
Whilst the pressure of not having to pitch 24/7 was a relief, I quickly realised that being immersed in one business full time was just as intense as that of the more nomadic agency roles I was used to. Moving ‘client-side’ meant I had to understand new and complex aspects, such as, the impact of the supply chain on promotions and the opportunities offered to the marketing team, to understand the Operations side of the business. I was no longer simply concerned with the likes of traffic, awareness, or ratings but instead totally consumed with EBITDA, profitability and data – so much data that I’m still amazed at the things I continue to learn through my obsession with the numbers and the details.
What has kept you motivated and inspired to achieve so much throughout your fantastic marketing career? And what is the most rewarding part of your role?
It’s the people, definitely the people that motivate me. From the basic need to provide adequately for my family, to the desire to ensure my colleagues thrive in their roles. Right through my agency days, I can recall new young recruits coming to the business with all the energy and drive you could ever desire. I found it so motivating to be around such ambition, skill, and raw talent and made it my mission to support those rising stars who in turn were giving me direction and ambition, without even realising it.
I’m probably guilty of taking this ideology too seriously, but I’m proud that some of those fresh-faced peers have become lifelong friends and even Godparents to my kids. And so, it still stands today that I find some of my team in the marketing department at Victoria Plum so unbelievably inspirational that I’m just as star-struck at their skill and ways of thinking. It’s clear to me that I am standing on the shoulders of giants in my role as Marketing Director at Victoria Plum.
Which marketing campaign/ initiative/ project are you most proud of since starting your role as Marketing Director at Victoria Plum?
I suppose it would have to be the brand TV activity we started a few years ago. It’s always more difficult to gain support for Brand activity in an eCommerce business due to the poor attribution options associated with broadcast TV, however, the Board at Victoria Plum are very aware of the power of a well-curated brand, and our exceptional brand awareness metrics evidence this fact.
We managed to pull off an impressive, highly awarded TV ad without the need for external creative teams. I suppose my background in Agencies came in really handy here as we pulled together a great bunch of independent professionals and used Equinox TV for the production. Much of it was filmed in our in-house studio in Hull and a location in South Manchester and I have to say it was great fun and most importantly a great product.
Outside of the glamour and fun of filming live-action TV, I would say that the way the in-house team attacks the performance marketing channels working hand in hand with Google, gives me an ongoing sense of pride. The team is innovative, agile, and not afraid to be brave, and it is really paying off. So often, we get approached by digital agencies telling us they could get us more traffic, but this just makes me smile to myself. Our activity goes way beyond clicks, into the likes of stock availability and operational efficiency before even deciding if a click would be a good investment or not. Knowing our customers and their preferences means we have insight that no outside organisation could ever understand. I wish I had realised and truly understood this when I was in the Agency game as it might have made me alter the way the team went about new business.
What is your view on the term ‘digital marketing’, do you think with natural progression in technology and user experience, this is now a given in any marketing role today? And how do your team use ‘digital marketing’ in their day to day activities?
I recall a time when my son was young that he was gifted a ‘digital camera’ from his grandparents. He was only about 8-years old at the time, but his first reaction was ‘What made it digital?’ after all, it did everything that every other camera did. The fact that all cameras were pretty much digital by then had simply passed his grandparent by, and to my son it was just a camera – he absolutely loved it.
To my mind, there is no such thing as digital marketing anymore. Where 15 years ago the terms digital was directed at the technology used to deliver the message, now it’s all about the measurement of the data you get back that makes it so impressive. Of course, the technology is no less impressive with machine learning, predictive modelling through impressive algorithms, and the ability to crunch incomprehensible amounts of data at lightning speed becoming the norm. It’s just less visible and less surprising as we learn that technology is already far beyond the limits of where most of us think.
It’s funny to reflect and think that as recently as only 15 years ago, the agency I worked at was still selling the concept of the internet and businesses having their first website.
The team at Victoria Plum are of course ‘digital’ to the core – but as with cameras, being digital isn’t something anyone should think of as special anymore – it’s got to be a given? However, what surprises me most is my team’s ability to not only work with data but to have the confidence to rely on it for every decision and opportunity. This is a team that is spearheading the data transformation at Victoria Plum, and that really excites me for our future.
How has the global pandemic changed the way you communicate and work as a team within the marketing department at Victoria Plum? Has there been any challenges you have needed to overcome?
The main thing we did during the first few weeks of the pandemic in 2020 was move to homeworking across all the head office functions, including Marketing. To be honest it was such a success, with the teams really flourishing, that we now have permanent home working, which is really flexible for the colleagues and allows us a much wider pool of talent for any positions that we create. We do, however, have a couple of really smart campus locations where colleagues can meet up as they need, and training can take place.
So, for many businesses, the challenge with remote working has been communication, but at Victoria Plum, we have found it better than ever. We use MS Teams, and the entire department has as many social chats as they do work ones. I can honestly say the team is closer than ever before and the mesh that this communication has caused holds us together stronger than ever. Of course, it doesn’t work for everyone, but for me, it is an absolute game-changer.
What do you think is the most exciting marketing trend at the moment and why?
I would say it has to be end-to-end personalisation, although that in itself isn’t as easy as it sounds. With a long conversion journey as we see in the home improvement sector, there are many touchpoints. So, to help manage the complexity we deploy automation where we can, with demand-led budgets, automated creative, and smart bidding, allowing us to focus on the customer journey rather than the implementation of the adverts themselves.
I think it takes a certain kind of culture to get away with this approach to automation as you need to be brave and believe in the data. So many people are afraid to ‘let go of the sides’, but as my swimming teacher told me aged 4, if you don’t let go, how are you ever going to reach the other side? Thankfully I work with a supportive Board and shareholders who embrace the opportunities with automation and technology generally.
To any aspiring Marketing Directors, what advice would you give in regard to skills and experience to be successful in their first director level role?
Never stop being inquisitive and understand that success will come from those you recruit, train and mentor and not from yourself alone no matter how long you have been in the role.
For more information on this interview or to discuss how Parkinson Lee could assist your organisation in hiring Executive or Board Level appointments, please contact Lee Bhandal on 07590 529 274 or firstname.lastname@example.org.