Magazine article Marketing

Profile: Helping Mars Find Its Voice

Magazine article Marketing

Profile: Helping Mars Find Its Voice

Article excerpt

Lucy Cotterell brand director, Mars UK, is among those steering the firm's new-found consumer engagement. Interview by Gemma Charles.

The notoriously secretive Mars, Inc has fastidiously kept its executives out of the limelight until very recently, preferring to let its global food brands do the talking. But the family-owned firm, founded in 1911 in Tacoma, Washington, by Frank Mars and his wife Ethel, who began making candy bars in their kitchen, is changing with the times.

In an unusual step for Mars, its UK managing director Fiona Dawson emerged into the full glare of the media spotlight last year after the company's U-turn over the introduction of whey made with animal rennet in its products, which include the Mars Bar, Twix and Snickers. The revelation of the switch prompted an outcry from vegetarians. After intensive lobbying by consumers and The Vegetarian Society, as well as copious negative media coverage, Mars issued full-page national newspaper ads in the form of a letter, in which Dawson apologised and explained that it was reverting to vegetarian ingredients.

In another example of this glasnost sweeping the company, Mars has put forward its amiable brand director, Lucy Cotterell, for an interview 'We don't usually do this sort of thing, so everyone is interested to see how it's going to go,' she confides, betraying just a hint of nervousness. 'Consumers want more transparency from the companies they are buying from. They want to know the people that sit in those companies in order to trust them,' she adds.

It is this level of interest from the public, says Cotterell, that has driven Mars' shift in strategy. 'Because we're family-owned, we have never had to do it from a City perspective, but now that it is consumers that want that information, that is what has probably driven the change,' she adds. Testament to this new way of thinking is the company's hiring of Freud Communications, a PR agency renowned for making the voices of its clients heard.

Learning curve

A certain amount of trepidation is natural when sticking one's head above the parapet for the first time, so Cotterell can be excused for displaying some reticence; however, there are times when it is probably better to deal with a question head-on than avoid it.

On being asked whether she had yet met with any Wrigley staff, following Mars' dollars 23bn (pounds 13bn) acquisition of the chewing-gum brand, which is set to be completed this week, her reply is a friendly but unilluminating: 'No comment.'

Similarly, she expresses such a degree of restraint on the performance of chocolate during this downturn that the initial impression Cotterell gives is a downbeat one. However, she later reveals that she is actually 'very confident' about her sector's prospects, and that the confectionery market as a whole is growing at 3% year on year, while chocolate is growing at 4% - a faster rate than a few years ago when the economy was stronger.

Cotterell clearly understands that diplomacy can be the best defence against unnecessary hassle - a self-confessed lover of London, she cannot, however, be goaded into making any negative comment about the much-maligned town of Slough, where Mars UK is based, doubtless aware that a smart remark from one of its major employers has the potential to upset.

That Cotterell has a fun side becomes more evident once she is talking about something outside the business; while having her picture taken, she makes several self-deprecating comments, and becomes animated when talking about her family.

Cotterell says her main focus for the rest of the year is overseeing Mars' corporate social responsibility programme - 'Raising the bar'. …

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