Margaret Jobling, Group Chief Marketing Officer, Centrica

“People think technology is going to save the day. Technology is just an enabler. It's the people, processes and the way we think and operate that's going to drive the outcome of which technology will enable."

Izzy Ashton

Deputy Editor, BITE


Margaret Jobling - Centrica

Career to date:

2014, Director of Brand Marketing, British Gas
2011, Marketing Director, Bird's Eye UK
2009, Director of Marketing, Cadbury
2007, Household & Bodycare Marketing Director, Sara Lee
2005, Global Brand Director Male Grooming, Unilever

Creativebrief: As Group Chief Marketing Officer at Centrica, what’s your primary focus, day to day and on a greater company scale?

Margaret Jobling: One problem we are trying to solve is how do we accelerate top-line profitable growth? The role marketing plays in that is how we go to market, right message, right consumer, right context in the right channel. A lot of energy and focus around how do we shift what would have been quite a traditional media mix to be more digital. Data for me is king. Part of my role is to figure out how we drive better outcome for the customer. Data will help drive and personalise all of that.

People think technology is going to save the day. Technology is just an enabler. It’s the people, processes and the way we think and operate that’s going to drive the outcome of which technology will enable.

Creativebrief: Could you just outline your career to date, where you started and how you ended up at Centrica?

Margaret Jobling: I did a PHD in laser chemistry and started working for Unilever in R&D. I did a project which was called Project De Bono on how do you accelerate fast cycle time to market? They teamed up a researcher with a marketeer. I did the product proto-typing and she would do the concept development. I loved the consumer end because in research you’re so far removed from the product hitting the shelf. At that point I said I wanted to be a marketeer and didn’t really have a clue what it was all about.

Somebody took a chance on me and she gave me a role as a Senior Brand Manager for Dove Europe. It was fascinating because, my view is marketing is just common sense. You need an interest in people, in behaviour. I was at Unilever for 16 years, always working on personal care and ended up as Global Brand Director in their central office. Then got head hunted to run Sara Lee marketing for UK home and body care, which was great experience.

Then I got headhunted for Cadbury. My kids loved me because I brought chocolate home. I love Cadbury, it’s such a heritage brand. You talk to anyone at Cadbury and they literally bleed purple. Kraft bought Cadbury and I would have had to relocate to Zurich and I’ve always been clear about my family are my number one priority. I’ve got four kids, two girls, two boys, two dogs. At that point I was like where next?

I went to Bird’s Eye and worked in PE for four years. Learnt a lot around managing P&L and justifying your existence as a marketer. Then I got a call from British Gas.

“People think technology is going to save the day. Technology is just an enabler. It's the people, processes and the way we think and operate that's going to drive the outcome of which technology will enable." 

Creativebrief: What attracted you to British Gas?

Margaret Jobling: I couldn’t work on a product that I wasn’t interested in. I spent my entire career in FMCG and a service business is different. You’re in people’s homes, impacting their lives. I’ve never worked in a service or a regulated business. It was a great opportunity to work on what I think is a national institution. We walk across the threshold into homes than more brands in the world. We’re about 40% penetration of the British population.

The implicit trust in the brand is phenomenal. You know where your customer lives, what they buy from you, how much they spend. You can see much more directly cause and effect of investment. Your ability to influence the purchase cycle is very different.

When I joined British Gas, the business thought the advertising was marketing and the brand was the advertising. And actually, it’s not. It’s every single touchpoint in every interaction every day. My view is I’ve got 32,000 brand managers across the estate because everybody that interacts with a customer or every piece of contact is a manifestation of the brand.

Creativebrief: Is there a particular piece of work in the last year that you’re particularly proud of?

Margaret Jobling: We’ve shifted the laser as a business from acquisition only to retention. The cost of acquiring a customer is significantly more than the cost of retaining yet a lot of service businesses have got themselves stuck. As a category, utilities haven’t done the best job of delivering customer service.

So, we launched a rewards scheme. We announced it in November, went live in April. The speed with which we executed, and the quality was amazing and it’s highly personalised. The future for me will be right offer to the right customer in the right context with the right message. We’ve now got a mechanic with our existing customer base and technology that allows us to do that. That’s progress.

Creativebrief: Within your role, what processes have you put in place to ensure you work with diverse teams? And how do you make sure that the agencies you work with also do the same?

Margaret Jobling: We’re doing a lot of work on our diversity and inclusion agenda. I’ve just taken on sponsorship of the Women’s Network. For me it’s about diversity of thinking and part of that needs to be you get comfortable with conflict. How do you create the conditions for people to be able to challenge and trust each other? With my agencies, the work is as good as the client. Trust is earned not given. For me, diversity is have you got the right set of brains around the table with the right review and challenge in place?

I used to do all the grad recruitment for Unilever. You got all the CVs the night before, then had to review the CVs and the next morning, before you’ve even met the candidate you would discuss. There was a psychologist they used as part of the interview process. What that flushes out is all your unconscious bias, all the prejudices that we carry in our heads and when you go into the conversation you’re at least aware of them.

We are looking at how do you more consciously think about recruiting for diversity. We do a lot of work on team dynamics, around the roles that people play and play to their strengths. To get a great output, you need some degree of challenge and that only comes from people having difference of opinion.

“In the world of media, we need a reframe on what success looks like because if it's all about the buying and the buying cheap, neither of us are ever going to be able to move forward. It should be about quality of output."

Creativebrief: What do you think makes a successful client/agency relationship?

Margaret Jobling: Trust and respect are key, but it starts from if you’ve got an aligned agenda. Have you got an aligned view of what you’re trying to achieve? Clients are not always brilliant at laying out roles and responsibilities particularly when they’ve got multi agencies.

My view has always been if the agency starts creating the work that the client wants, we’re all doomed. That’s why I’ve never been a massive fan of in-house creativity. If you’ve become one of us, you’ll make advertising that I think I want rather than what I actually need. You need to keep it fresh and interesting.

Creativebrief: Something that we talk about a lot at Creativebrief is the changing nature of the traditional pitch. What’s your view on that? Have you seen it changing? Are you changing the way you do it?

Margaret Jobling: Pitches are interesting. On media we’ve got ourselves into a world where, and it’s guilty parties on both sides, it’s all about the value. In the world of media, we need a reframe on what success looks like because if it’s all about the buying and the buying cheap, neither of us are ever going to be able to move forward. It should be about quality of output. So, do I think the pitch process on media’s changing? I don’t. We’re still stuck. At some point it’s all about the price tag.

What clients are trying to figure out is how to get the best bang for the buck. And the best bang doesn’t necessarily mean the cheapest. In a world that is ever more complex, clients need help with managing the complexity and trying to figure out what’s going to make the difference.

Creativebrief: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Centrica?

Margaret Jobling: Our biggest challenge as a business is how do we grow? We need to transform and reposition ourselves as not just a utilities company with an intangible product and service but as a service provider that can offer a plethora of opportunity around the home and business. We need to innovate better, to go to market in a much more tailored way, it’s not one size fits all. We need to change our media mix, improve our quality of service and become a more efficient, effective sales and marketing organisation.

We don’t want to be the best in the utilities market. The actual utilities infrastructure is transforming rapidly. Amazon’s trying to get in the home, Alexa, Google Home, Samsung, Virgin, Sky, BT. Your competitor isn’t just the utility provider. We’ve already got an infrastructure that goes into over 10 million homes in the UK every single day. How do you leverage that? What other services can you be providing? How do we leverage all our capability?

“The joy of business is sometimes what you need to do is really easy to see but it's really hard to do."

Creativebrief: What are your ambitions for Centrica?

Margaret Jobling: The strategy we have laid out is how do we move from being seen as just an energy and utilities provider to a service provider? Sales and marketing are critical. My functional role will be how do we build the capability, the mind-set, the behaviours, the content, the agency roster that facilitates all of that. Because it’s a journey. My strapline internally is it’s a world of opportunity.

You have to digitise inside-out, but outside-in thinking is what you need to deliver great content. There shouldn’t be a single thing that goes out of our business without us being able to say this is the role this plays in the customer’s world.

The original ambition for British Gas was to bring heat and light to the masses. But once we’ve done that you need to reframe what’s that equivalent in the current day. Businesses have got to constantly go how do we evolve our offering and our mix? Because if you just stand still and think about what you were, you’ll be out of date. We’re in the home business and helping customers look after their world. What sits in that world is going to evolve quite dramatically in the next 10 to 15 years.

Creativebrief: Looking outside the industry, personally who or what are you inspired by?

Margaret Jobling: I’m running the London Marathon this year. My Dad died sadly at the end of September, he had Alzheimer’s and I really wanted to give something back. I basically signed up and got a place through the Alzheimer’s Research. And there’s a community on Facebook. What I’m inspired by is that group of people. You’ve everything from people who are living with Dementia through to multiple generations of family members on it. They inspire me to just get out there because I know when I’m out there I feel a hell of a lot better.

I look at people who have done great things in business. Carolyn McCall, I look at what she did at EasyJet and I remember when she went in, there was an article, a guy saying what does this reporter woman know about the airline industry? And I look at what she did within that business. The joy of business is sometimes what you need to do is really easy to see but it’s really hard to do. She just took an end to end view and started with the customer and transformed what was seen as a low cost, not great airline business. It’ll be interesting to see what she goes onto do now.