Interviews

Dominic Grounsell

Personal Marketing Director for RSA

Ben Somerset-How

Client Director

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Tom Holmes talks to Dominic Grounsell, Personal Marketing Director for RSA with responsibility for marketing strategy and execution across the consumer insurance portfolio, including MORE TH>N.

Prior to RSA Dominic was Marketing Director for Capital One, one of the UK's leading credit card companies. In this role, he successfully led the transition of the business to a fully online-centric marketing model.

Dominic began his marketing career in 2001 as a graduate trainee with Unilever and went on to work on the Surf, Lux and Dove brands. In 2005, he moved to BT in 2005 to become Head of Marketing - Consumer Broadband.

 

Creativebrief: Dominic, as Personal Marketing Director for RSA what is your primary focus?

Dominic Grounsell: I am responsible for marketing across the consumer insurance lines for RSA in the UK. This includes our main direct retail brand MORE TH>N, as well as the marketing work we do to support our key Affinity partners.

MORE TH>N is definitely my main focus at the moment, as we are embarking on some exciting new developments across both the brand and the business strategy.

Creativebrief: Your career has spanned RSA, Capital One, BT and Unilever what have been the high points?

Dominic Grounsell: I’ve worked across a wide variety of categories and experienced many different styles of marketing over the years. As such, there have been a number of high points that spring to mind.

In terms of my favourites, I would say:

Working on Dove…. I was fortunate to be working on the Dove brand in the UK around the time of the ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’. I was only a very small part of the machine, but it was an amazing to be part of such a seminal piece of marketing. The richness of the insight and the power of the execution were unprecedented in the market and drove huge uplifts in sales and brand affinity. I’ll never forget the way customers responded to the ads in focus groups. I haven’t seen such positive response to creative since, that’s for sure!

Launching BT Total Broadband… I was relatively new in role heading up acquisition marketing for BT Broadband when Carphone Warehouse launched ‘Free Broadband. Forever’. This was an earthquake in the market and threatened to both irreparably commoditise the product and undermine the strategy of BT’s consumer division. As the guy responsible for driving sales, I had to figure out how to convince people to spend ca. £300 for something they could get for free. Working through that problem to redefine the positioning, change the proposition and re-launch was one of the most fraught times in my career, but definitely the most satisfying. We went from a standing start to a complete end-to-end re-launch in 10 weeks and the results we delivered in market beat all previous run rates and expectations. It was a great achievement delivered by a big cross functional team and I am still very proud of being part of it.

Driving digital at Capital One… Capital One has an amazing heritage in direct marketing and, from the moment I arrived there, I was on a steep learning curve around how to market in an analytical targeted way. The business had begun its transition away from direct mail to digital and I landed at the right time to drive that agenda and turn one of the UK’s biggest DM machines into a force in digital marketing. Fortunately, I had a great team working with me and was able to leverage the powerful combination of real analytical expertise with traditional marketing / channel management skills. The campaigns we ran and the sophistication of the targeting and measurement were breath-taking and, as an FMCG marketer by training, it showed me an entirely different way to reach people. I am particularly proud of the trail we blazed with Facebook. We were one of the first brands to invest seriously in the channel and, working closely with the Facebook team directly, we proved the commercial value of the channel long before most of the market.

Creativebrief: Along the way have there been particular marketers who impressed and inspired you?

Dominic Grounsell: My first inspiration was a lady called Shahla Rushworth. She was the first brand manager I worked under as a trainee at Unilever and she ran the Surf washing powder brand in the UK. She was inspirational for a host of reasons. Her energy, passion, insight and commitment were phenomenal. She cared more about her brand than any marketer I’ve ever met. She was also a great teacher and gave me invaluable advice on agency and people management that I still rely on today. She is very much a ‘one in a million’ boss.

In addition to Shahla, I found John Petter to be a real inspiration while I was at BT. He has a fercocious work ethic and a seemingly unending capacity to absorb detail, which meant you had to constantly keep running simply to try and keep up. He was also scarily insightful and perceptive, which made meetings with him simultaneously nerve wracking and stimulating. You had to know your stuff and be on top of the detail at all times. Finally, he’s a guy with exceptionally high standards and the iterative way he drove me to work on things until they were right certainly definitely left its mark and I can now see myself pushing my team in the same way he pushed me.

Creativebrief: How well did a first class degree in Politics & Sociology from Leeds University prepare you for the journey?

Dominic Grounsell: To be honest, I didn’t choose my degree with a career in mind. I chose my course because I was interested in the subjects and the content. 

That said, the focus the course had on critical thinking and reasoning was perfect preparation for the conceptual nature of marketing, branding and insight. Being able to step back and assess a problem from a number of angles is the cornerstone of any good marketing strategist’s skill set.

In addition, the sheer volume of reading and information to sift was a useful pre-amble to my early career in marketing, which involved long hours of leg work, data mining, report reading and general absorption of detail around products, consumers and sales.

As part of my degree, I also took some additional credits in computer science. I ended up learning how to code and develop HTML sites. It was painful at the time, as I was some way out of my comfort zone. I certainly didn’t see it as anything more than a personal challenge until I started in marketing and found that those programming skills helped me navigate the world in corporate IT and digital marketing channels much more easily.

Creativebrief: You’ve featured twice Marketing magazine’s Power 100 Next Generation, you were Unilever’s (Home & Personal Care) Marketer of the Year 2004, BT Young Marketer of the Year 2007 and the Marketing Society Young Marketer of the Year 2007, what industry award are you most proud of and why?

Dominic Grounsell: I would have to say the Marketing Society Young Marketer of the Year, which I received for the work I did at BT developing and launching the new BT Total Broadband proposition. 

The entry process is very rigorous and, if you get short-listed, you have to present your case to a panel of senior marketers, which is pretty daunting. All of the effort required to get through the various stages helps to add to the feeling of anticipation and excitement. The award itself is given out at the Marketing Society awards event, which is probably the premier client awards event of the season. It was a fantastic feeling to hear my name read out and to be able to go up and pick up the award in a room full of marketers I respected and admired. 

Winning also provided a big boost to my career and opened up a number of doors for me in subsequent years. 

Creativebrief: Can you give me some examples of recent advertising campaigns you have been responsible for and the results achieved?

Dominic Grounsell: At Capital One, I oversaw the development of a quirky digital / social based campaign called Credit Made Clearer. This was essentially a range of short, funny cartoons to help demystify the credit category and help people get more enjoyment / value from their credit cards. There were 11 videos made by the time I left, which totally around 20 minutes of animation…. That’s roughly the length of a Simpson’s episode.

The results were amazing and we got over 1 million views across all channels in the first year alone… A big achievement given the limited nature of the amplification / media budget.

They can be found on the brand’s YouTube channel 

More recently, I have led the development of the new brand campaign for MORE TH>N. This went live on Friday (March 22nd) and focuses on our new desire to reward our existing customers for their loyalty.

Creativebrief: How do you see the media landscape unfolding in the next 5 years?

Dominic Grounsell: The complex tapestry of sites and services that makes up the world we simplistically define as ‘Social Media’ will most likely continue to grow and evolve in the years to come. Innovation in that space is moving at a fair old lick and, whilst I wouldn’t be presumptuous enough to try and predict what the ‘big thing’ will be in five years, I imagine Facebook and YouTube will no doubt be playing permanent and key roles in the marketing mixes of most brands by then. 

All of this speed and innovation will no doubt come with a cost, however. As new cool ‘social’ sites and services launch, fail to reach critical mass and fold, it is likely to become increasingly difficult for consumers to keep up. As such, we may see consumers looking for simpler solutions, which might drive further consolidation of services in a similar vein to the Facebook acquisition of Instagram. 

If consumers can’t navigate the increasingly complex world of Social, brands in turn will suffer. Today brands are struggling to know which horse to back from an investment point of view. In five years time, the exponential rate of change is likely to have compounded this significantly and might lead to brand simply taking the cautious route of only investing in the big established digital players.

Beyond Social, the other big move I see changing the game is the move to targeted TV advertising with media owners like Sky. This innovation has been trumpeted for a number of years, but it finally looks like it’s we’re going to be able to deploy it. The opportunities it offers marketers are remarkable and, if successful, it will transform the way we do broadcast advertising forever.

Creativebrief: Do you prefer to use an ‘integrated’ agency approach or specialist agencies by individual discipline?

Dominic Grounsell: Whilst I have had many fruitful relationships with ‘integrated’ agencies over the years, I must admit that I do prefer to work with specialists.

The speed of change in marketing and markets is such that you need people working on your account who are obsessing about channels. Often large integrated agencies have to compromise on depth to achieve breadth and that can restrict their ability to keep their skills and knowledge on the very bleeding edge. 

Creativebrief: Do you prefer to use local agencies by market or international/global agencies?

Dominic Grounsell:  I am not sure I have a preference to be honest. 

Creativebrief: When choosing agencies were you ever influenced by awards?

Dominic Grounsell: I don’t really take much notice of awards when choosing agencies. I’m obviously interested in the work they might have done to win the award, but not the award itself. Often awards are presented front and centre in agency pitches, but we get very little information about what they were given for. This is an opportunity missed in my view… Marketers are inspired by great work, not by gongs.

Creativebrief: What challenges do you face, managing day-to-day agency relationships?

Dominic Grounsell: Like most brands in challenging direct to consumer categories, we have to work hard with our agencies to keep the communication flow at the right level. This is often challenging when you’re working at pace and decisions are moving or evolving on an hour by hour basis. We don’t always succeed, but we know it’s critical to keep everyone aligned and up to date in order to deliver high quality work in super fast time scales.

Linked to the above is the challenge of keeping all the agencies working together seamlessly. Great campaigns are built around rigorous planning and execution across creative and media and so our agencies need to be absolutely lock step and have an ongoing dialogue to ensure that everything moves forward as it should. As with communication challenges outlined above, it is often hard for agencies to stay aligned with each other whilst the earth shifts under their feet on any particular campaign. In those situations, we have to play the integration role, which places an added stress on the marketing team trying to continually join the dots. Thankfully, this is not a common occurrence, but, when it does happen, it is challenging.

Creativebrief: How often do you look at new agencies or review your roster?

Dominic Grounsell: The simple answer is: Only when it is absolutely necessary.

Like most clients, we don’t relish going to pitch. It’s labour intensive, time consuming and introduces risk into the business. As such, it’s often a last resort.

Generally, the things that will drive a pitch from me are continued poor performance, a change in strategy e.g. moving into digital or cost i.e. we can’t afford the existing suppliers fees. 

Creativebrief: How do you monitor and stay-in-touch with the agency market to ensure you work with the best?

Dominic Grounsell: I read Campaign, Marketing and Marketing Week to follow industry news. 

I also invest a lot of time going to industry events to network with peers. Generally we spend our time discussing new campaigns and who’s doing what and with whom. I find that peer recommendations are usually the best way to find great agencies.

Creativebrief: Do you/have you used intermediaries in the past? What are your observations?

Dominic Grounsell: I have used intermediaries a couple of times in the past. I normally prefer to work in house with our procurement partners, but I do believe they add great value in some specific circumstances:

When you genuinely don’t know which agency will be right – either you’re moving into uncharted water and need guidance on agencies who do a new channel or type of marketing… or when you think you need an ‘out of the box’ suggestion to take you in a radically different direction

When you lack the internal capacity or capability to manage the pitch yourself

In both instances above, intermediaries have a powerful role to play.

Creativebrief: What’s your attitude to the ‘traditional’ pitch? Do you think there is a better/more modern way?

Dominic Grounsell: I was lucky enough to be part of the team that set up The Good Pitch. This was a joint initiative between the IPA and ISBA to define a new, more sustainable approach to pitching.

I saw during that exercise that traditional pitch model is fundamentally broken and, whilst it works for client businesses, it is pushing agencies to breaking point. It’s estimated that a 3 month pitch ends up costing each agency between £100k and £200k depending on the scale. That’s crazy! No company can sustain running that level of risk so frequently.

If we want strong, financially stable agencies, we need to stop the expensive, time consuming pitch merry-go-round and find a better way of doing it.

There are some great case studies on The Good Pitch. Look them up!

Creativebrief: Would you ever consider awarding an agency business without a pitch? What would they have to do / demonstrate?

Dominic Grounsell: I have done this on a number of occasions over the years. 

Generally, it’s happening after I have seen great work from an agency and then decided to give them business on the strength of that work or a recommendation from a peer I trust. 

Beyond that, I have given agencies small, but real tests to execute and then offered them a bigger role or retainer status once they have proven they can deliver in the live environment.

Creativebrief: What are your top tips to agencies when presenting credentials to you?

Dominic Grounsell: Be yourselves… there’s no point pretending you’re something you’re not to get a yes. It will all come out in the wash and both sides will be dissatisfied

Do you research… Know who you’re presenting to… their backgrounds, personalities, motivations… this will help you tailor your creds.

Focus on the what and the how… We want to see great work, but we also want to see how you think and operate

Be brief… Avoid information overload. If you’ve done your research, you’ll know which case studies will excite the person across the table. Focus on fewer, better stories to keep get them focused and excited.

Creativebrief: What was the most impressive agency presentation you have ever seen?

Dominic Grounsell: Recently we pitched out our brand tracking contract and saw a number of agencies. 

The presentation we had from a company called MESH blew us away. The energy, passion and polish on the work were unbelievable and it was clear the team had given it 110%.

Crucially though, the team had taken the time to really get under the skin of our problem and our brief, which not only allowed them to nail the questions we asked… They also pushed us further and showed us opportunities we hadn’t considered. 

All in all a great presentation and one that won them the deal hands down.