Magazine article Marketing

Profile: Embracing Change - Gordon Steele, Sales and Marketing Director, Post Office

Magazine article Marketing

Profile: Embracing Change - Gordon Steele, Sales and Marketing Director, Post Office

Article excerpt

The son of a sub-postmaster, Gordon Steele says that when he was 18 and helping out behind the counter in the evenings and at weekends he never dreamed he would end up as sales and marketing director of the Post Office. 'If dad were alive today he would laugh,' he says. Instead, Steele endures merciless teasing from his two daughters. 'I've heard all the jokes about black-and-white cats, Postman Pat, red vans and post boxes.'

Steele, 46, joined the Post Office in 2001, after years in the motor and energy industries. 'I like businesses that are not in crisis, but are about to go through dramatic change. It had all the right ingredients, but needed to change.'

In 2002 consumers were given the opportunity to receive state benefits by direct debit and pounds 400m of the Post Office's annual revenue evaporated overnight. Forced to broaden its horizons, it has extended into financial services, gift vouchers and more general retail.

Steele summed up the diversity of the business when he answered a clumsy question put to him at a recent reception. 'So, you are one of our top posties, then?' they asked. 'Not really,' he replied. 'Just 25% of our business is handling mail, 25% is travel, 25% is government and the rest is financial services.'

Steele admits that changing the way people think about and use the Post Office is a hard task. 'You can't just jump out there and expect to compete on the high street with players that have been there for 15 years. Job one was to prepare the ground; we have changed the product mix and reworked and relaunched 75% of our products. Job two is to get people to accept us.'

With about 28m customers a week, footfall is no problem. But with new product categories, the Post Office needs to attract more new customers.

Steele speaks with affection of its loyal legions of older customers, but says the Post Office has to tap into other markets. 'Our fastest-growing groups are younger customers and ABC1s,' he says.

Steele believes clarity in its communications is key to changing perceptions.

To this end, the Post Office is currently reviewing its pounds 17m advertising and sales promotion accounts, held by Publicis and Joshua (Marketing, 6 September).

While Steele is keen to exploit new channels to reach younger, technology-savvy customers, he insists the Post Office is not turning its back on traditional in-store communication. …

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