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“We need to stand together to be heard as a region”: Northern Marketing Festival kicks off in Newcastle

Northern Marketing Festival

The Northern Marketing Festival officially kicked off in Newcastle yesterday, covering everything from the vital role of regional media, the evolving role of a CMO to hearing from one of the fastest-growing brands in the North.

Alexandra Balazs, managing director at Prolific North and host for the day, welcomed attendees to The Catalyst in Manchester and gave a special thanks to event partners and supporters Embryo, Drummond Central, Blue Moon Marketing and Be Broadcast.

Taking to the stage next was Michael Pagan, managing director at Blue Moon Marketing, who shared a glimpse into the behaviours you need to foster in your marketing teams to achieve ‘strategic flexibility’. 

As someone who has worked in the marketing industry for around 23 years, he detailed how marketers can find smarter ways of working with limited in-house resources to achieve ‘strategic flexibility’. 

Thanks to huge economic shifts, shifting attitudes of consumers and clients, plus grappling with technological advancements such as AI, he explained how ‘strategic flexibility’ is a measure of how a business is able to cope with unpredictability.

The five key behaviours he advised businesses should foster in teams included: awareness; ambidexterity to balance business as usual vs innovation; experimentation by having a culture where testing and learning is celebrated; partnering as removing internal and external silos is increasingly important to help with collaborations; and decisiveness. 

Some of the key takeouts companies should put into practice to ask teams included asking questions such as what purpose the business has, does it know its audience, could the ‘innovation process’ be improved by investment levels or budget, and address decision-making on what’s good about the team and how this could be improved.

Next up was a fireside chat on navigating the next era of marketing leadership with Charlotte Fallon, marketing director at Embryo and Helen Jeremiah, former CMO and VP marketing director at Walgreens Boots Alliance.

After providing an overview of her impressive career working at Walgreens Boots Alliance, Helen Jeremiah explained how it’s just as important to take on talent that not only fills skill gaps but those who are also enthusiastic.

Managing a marketing team of around 200 at Boots at one point, as a leader her ethos is to always “treat people how you want to be treated” and understand the needs of the team. Through her career and life, she personally felt “torn” between juggling being a mum with work. One piece of advice she gave to the room: “Never miss a sports day, you’ll never get that time back”.

On the evolving role of a CMO, she detailed how broad her remit was at Walgreens Boots Alliance but “ultimately was responsible for business growth”. She added that marketing is often seen as a “cost” but it’s about convincing people that you can drive growth from marketing activity and that it functions as an “asset”.

She compared working at a retail business to a “tread mill that never stops”, especially when it comes to reviewing and planning. From partnerships with the likes of Barbie or Love Island, she highlighted the importance of continuously driving the brand forward and remaining “topical and on trend”. 

This often means brands need to take “huge risks” and the marketing team would always put around 10% of budget aside to test new things.

On how to keep on top of the latest marketing tools and trends, she said marketers need to set aside at least one day a month for learning and creativity and it is “really important to keep connected with agencies as there’s so much potential to drive business growth” as agency partners can become “an extension of the team”. Her final words of advice for senior marketing leaders in the room was to say yes to opportunities and “don’t be frightened of sharing successes” as it’s good not only for your own career but for the brand too. 

Dan Appleby, managing director at Drummond Central, followed with an overview of how the Newcastle agency recently celebrated 20 years in business through recent case studies and emphasised the importance of good creative work.

As marketers, he said it’s “their responsibility to make better things as there are so many competitors and need to stand out” as operating in a “sea of sameness is death”. 

Providing a glimpse into some of the work Drummond Central has done over the years from Greggs to bet365, he showcased the agency’s campaign on fostering and adoption with Newcastle City Council, which led to increased applicants and conversion and ended up being “transformative”. 

He quizzed the audience on whether anyone was able to recall a recent brand ad. With the audience unable to remember any recent brands in ads, he said this highlighted the importance of evoking emotion through a campaign for better ad recall and it should make you “feel something”. If it doesn’t evoke emotion for you, you can’t expect the target audience to feel something either.  

On Drummond Central’s work for paint brand Zinsser, he said the agency came up with the Zinsser Twins concept to “jazz up” the brand and encouraged brands and clients to “fly with creativity” by taking more risks. 

Another highly anticipated fireside chat followed with housing regeneration specialist RE:GEN Group, one of the North’s fastest-growing businesses for 2023.

Brinsley Sheridan, COO, discussed how he went from being a former professional footballer playing for Bradford City for three years to establishing RE:GEN Group. Admitting he “just wasn’t good enough” as a footballer, when that dream was pulled away from him he explained how he had to figure out what he wanted to do next with the rest of his life but always had that “get up and go”.

Starting the business with just two people in 2019 with a young son at home, he often found himself doing 16-hour days to do “anything to build relationships”. 

Ultimately, as a construction business, he said it is an industry that’s often “stuck in the stone ages” but Blue Moon Marketing has helped “drive” the business forwards and out of its comfort zone. Now in year five, business has “accelerated” to a team of over 250 with turnover in the millions. He admitted there have been a “lot of mistakes along the way” when experimenting and initially “underestimated” the importance of marketing.

When it came to scaling the business, he faced a “crossroads” when looking to get out of the subcontractor phase and ultimately had to compete with a client for a contract. Thankfully, it paid off. On his management style, he highlighted the importance of building a high-performing team which is a “key focus” as is creating a culture staff want to work in.

On how to innovate, he said the business is “always forward-thinking” and trusts each team as there is no such thing as a bad idea. Over the next 12 months, the brand wants to continue growing by location and sector and to “give back” to the communities it serves such as with initiatives tackling food poverty. 

Wrapping up the event was a panel discussion with Josh Wheeler, founder at Be Broadcast; Sarah Waddington CBE, co-founder and director at Wadds Inc and Socially Mobile; and Tom Glenwright, presenter at BBC Newcastle.

Josh Wheeler provided an overview of the Be Broadcast Mission Control tool and showcased recent analysis on which Northern cities are winning the “PR race” when it comes to coverage to highlight the work needed to promote undersserved areas. 

From the analysis, he said Newcastle appeared at the lower end of the spectrum and questioned Sarah Waddington and Tom Glenwright on the role of regional media and social impact.

For Sarah Waddington, regional media is “such an important part of the ecosystem and is crucial” especially when it comes to scrutiny, citing the important work emerging from regional journalists such as Josh Halliday at The Guardian and Jen Williams who is Northern correspondent at the Financial Times. 

To pose different questions and views to political leaders across the regions, local voices are needed to drive “accountability” whilst also showcasing the “huge amounts of talent” and work in the North East. 

“This is a place that deserves to be represented and we need to be smashing misconceptions.”

With representation across local radio being squeezed, Tom Glenwright said there have been “lots of changes” since 2019, and with new legislation set to come in under the Media Bill, it could “shake up everything in radio” if commercial radio is deregulated. It’s now becoming more noticeable that content isn’t coming from presenters based in that particular patch across the wider industry. 

There used to be a “huge amount of programming here”, explained Waddington, who questioned where local talent is going. The media ecosystem is “smaller” which she argued is a “real threat to the health of the region”. 

“Who is telling our stories, how are they representing us, how are we getting that to decision-makers and those making the funding decisions?” she asked.

Brands, marketers and media “need to stand together and make sure we are heard as a region as we don’t have a united voice”, she emphasised. The region needs brands with a “purpose and a mission” too. 

Check out all the highlights from day two over in Leeds.

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