Magazine article Marketing

Out on a Limb

Magazine article Marketing

Out on a Limb

Article excerpt

New dedicated "innovations" roles fly in the face of current management trends and can open internal rifts. Alex Thomas reports on the innovator's troubled task

Whenever someone swaps a mainstream marketing job for something "strategic" there are dark mutterings of a "Siberian transfer" or "a kick upstairs".

A job title that no one understands, few staff, little budget and ill-defined authority doesn't sound that attractive.

"Innovations" jobs illicit an even more cynical response: it is an integral part of marketing so who needs an innovations specialist as well as a marketing operation?

In the past six months some of the biggest blue-chip companies have decided they do.

Allied/Domecq, United Distillers/Guinness, Mars and now Scottish and Newcastle have all put senior marketers into dedicated innovations roles with direct access to, and backing from, their main boards.

Making one person seemingly responsible for innovation contradicts fashionable management wisdom.

Last week, consultancy firm The Monitor Company spelt out its vision of the 21st century corporation, which revolves around communal purpose rather personal fiefdoms (Marketing, February 2).

Liberation management is the order of the day and its central pillar is empowerment. That means encouraging everyone in an organisation to take more responsibility for its long-term health; to develop, to question and to break down artificial barriers between disciplines to achieve the common aim of consistent innovation.

"Creativity is not the domain of a single person, you can tease it out of most people," says Andersen Consulting marketing director Sarah McMahon. "The idea of a development director goes completely against the grain of out-of-the-box thinking and the principles of empowerment."

She sees innovation roles as a retrograde step: "It is like the old proprietary theory of advertising agency creativity. In the bad old days the creative department felt that it had sole rights to 'being creative'. That has given way to integrated marketing and recognition of the contribution that other disciplines can make."

Interbrand Group chairman John Murphy agrees: "There is a danger that it lets everyone else off the hook. Innovation should permeate the entire organisation. It is like having a profits director - everyone in the company should be geared towards it because it is central to corporate culture."

Setting up the role of "innovations specialist" looks like an attempt to put creativity in a box, which sends out dangerous signals to the rest of the marketing team and potentially creates political problems.

But it ain't necessarily so. Allied Domecq's 'concept executive', Paul Wielgus, says his role is as a catalyst for innovation, rather than creator of it.

Wielgus, who has a company-wide brief to be innovative about innovation, says: "The long-term aim is to create a culture where innovation can flourish. My job is about unlocking people's creativity. Occasionally people have really hot ideas that for one reason or another they can't get to market - I help to facilitate the process."

Wielgus is convinced that innovation is a full-time job, and he is not without supporters.

Pamela Robertson, managing director of new product development agency Redwood, says: "Almost all marketers are distracted from the future because they have to be concerned about delivering success today. …

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