Interviews

Susan McClean

General Manager, Acquisition Marketing, Broadband, BT Consumer

Ben Somerset-How

Client Director

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creativebrief: How has your career path led you to marketing for BT?

Susan McClean: After graduating with a Literature degree, I joined BT on a graduate programme. This was a great opportunity, being fresh out of uni, I knew I wanted to be part of a successful large scale business that I could develop with and have a rewarding career. I’ve been with BT over 10 years now, and have worked in 4 different parts of the business.

Starting out in the Global division, I worked with sales and business development teams to respond to tenders from large, international corporate clients looking to establish new or revitalise their existing network based services. Next, I moved into BT Group Strategy, working on high profile strategic programmes, before moving into the SME Business arm, BT Business, to launch the first BT Business fibre optic broadband portfolio in the UK. After leading the broadband propositions team, which culminated with a launch of a new Business Broadband portfolio, I then moved into BT Consumer, and this is where I am now.

For the last 5 years, I’ve worked across the area of home Broadband, developing the portfolio of products, including new launches of superfast broadband-based products, and managing the £bn Broadband P&L. A desire to get even closer to our customers, and influence their behaviour led me into Marketing. I now head up broadband acquisition for the UK, responsible for our longer term marketing strategy, how we execute that strategy in market and on driving home broadband sales.

 

creativebrief: Why did you choose a career in marketing?

Susan McClean: Marketing gets you up close and personal with the customer, in a way that no other function does and this is the core element that attracted me.  We have to know them better than anyone else, in order to best understand and then anticipate how we can help them best.  The pace of change and competition is also intense, especially in this sector, and this environment means you have to stay alert and always push yourself and your teams to ensure you are doing the best thinking/really stretching what you can achieve – you can’t take your eye off the ball for a moment.  This makes it an exciting place to work and marketing is at the very heart of it as the team that influences customers perceptions of the brand and our services. It’s also a really fun place to work!

creativebrief: What do you think makes a successful career in marketing?

Susan McClean: Being deeply obsessed with your customers and really getting under their skin to develop a rich insight base.  From this basis, you can put the customer at the heart of the strategy.  It’s also important to be bold and have courage and conviction push boundaries to develop campaigns that really wake up your target audience.  The Gorilla Cadbury’s ad is one that must have been a huge leap of faith for the team involved but it worked incredibly well.  Finally, successful marketers need to think more like business directors; they need to learn to talk the language of CFOs and MDs, expressing the value of marketing in commercial terms to secure and maintain investments as businesses get squeezed to optimise profit in these very competitive times.

creativebrief: And who is a great example of this?

Susan McClean: Close to home, Gavin Patterson, CEO of BT Group is a great example of a marketer who has gone on to big things, taking more commercial roles and now runs one of the biggest brand in terms of advertising spend in the UK.   Campaign-wise, I also admire the team behind the ‘Real Beauty’ campaign for Dove.  When it first launched it was incredibly brave but deeply insight led, and they have found innovative and impactful ways to develop this idea through the years.

creativebrief: What do you think are the main challenges facing marketers today?

Susan McClean: The pace of change is a huge challenge, it’s key to continually look for new ways of engaging with your target audience.  There is so much noise, and people are more intolerant or worse ambivalent to marketing than ever before, so the brands that can engage in relevant and interesting ways will be the ones that have more success.  You also have a tiny window of time to connect with your audience as their attention is pulled in many other directions.  This has big implications for how brands shape their media and creative plans to maximise impact so they don’t just become more of the white noise we are all learning so aptly to tune out.

creativebrief: How do you keep up with constant stream of innovation in marketing comms?

Susan McClean: It’s a challenge!  You have to dedicate real time to innovation and integrate it into your BAU working practices so it becomes part of the way you work and think, and dedicate specific budget for trying new things.  You also need to reinvigorate your own thinking and that of your teams by drawing on the experiences of other brands, thought leaders and your agency teams to inject new approaches.  We often look outside of our sector to see what great work is being produced, and in order to inspire us to think differently we often hold inspiration sessions whereby other successful brands share their learnings so we challenge ourselves to do things differently.

creativebrief: How does this impact your relationship with agencies?

Susan McClean: Having a more innovation led agenda has changed the dynamic of our agency relationships.  They understand that our ambitions and expectations have changed and they are excited by this as it allows them more creativity in how they help us respond effectively to our business challenges.  It’s been important to get some wins along the way to show that, as a business, we are willing to commit to change too. One of the best examples of this was our BT Sport Christmas Carol campaign – it was a completely different creative approach for us at BT, but it was very effective with over 6 million views.

creativebrief: How do you know if you’re getting the best from your agencies?

Susan McClean: The good ones tell you if you aren’t!  It actually works both ways in that your agencies need to have the ability to tell you if they aren’t getting the best from you too.  The best relationships work as a partnership and that takes a lot of time to build up; you need teams you can believe in, who’s judgement you trust to guide you to make the right decisions and who really understand your business challenges, and the realities of getting things done in your organisation.  A sure sign for me is whether I can sense their genuine pride in the work we are producing together.

creativebrief: Of your recent work, what makes you particularly proud and why?

Susan McClean: One of the pieces was only around for less than a week but it was enormously successful.  We were the first and only brand in our category to do a specific Black Friday sale campaign. We were the surprise winner of the most noticed ad in The Sun, beating campaigns from Tesco, Curry and Asda amongst others. Our big, bold sale creative caught the most attention, and it was amazingly successful at driving sales, so it shows that you can take on brands in other categories if you get the right strategy. In terms of big campaigns, in April we launched a new campaign vehicle based on a humorous behind the scene look into the making of an advert, starring Ewan McGregor for the first phase. It was over a year in the planning and I’m incredibly excited and proud to have been part of it. I also have an awesome selfie with Ewan framed on my desk!

We also work hard to integrate our big campaigns through the line and across the full media mix (digital, TV, social, Radio, OOH, press/print, email and direct). It’s a huge undertaking and we do it every quarter, optimising as we go to maximise our investment spend and often responding to changes in the competitive landscape. It’s fast paced and high visibility so you have to have a strong sense of what works well and then focus on seamless execution.  

 

creativebrief: How do you think marketers can raise the profile of marketing within their organisations?

Susan McClean: I think not boxing themselves into a rigid box is an important first step.  We aren’t at the end of the product cycle – we should be at the start, fuelling the business with ideas, new opportunities and fresh insight to shape and inform the product development roadmap.  This will vary with different industries and businesses but the common trait is a mind-set that recognises the value of your unique and informed point of view on the market and customer/audiences your business wants to attract.  You then need to share this in a credible way, seeing yourself as a source of expertise and force for change.  I say to my team ‘don’t wait for the answer, influence the question’.   To do this, you have to have a strong point of view and know what you are talking about in a broad, more strategic way.

creativebrief: Do you see yourself as a generalist or a specialist, does it matter?

Susan McClean: I’d say a generalist with specialisms because I’ve had a varied pathway into marketing, but I believe this to be a real strength.  I believe what really matters is your leadership style, skills and experience fit with the job that needs to be done at the time.

creativebrief partner the Marketing Academy is a non-profit organisation which provides a unique forum for industry leaders, marketing gurus, entrepreneurs and inspirational people volunteer their time to inspire, develop and coach the next generation of future leaders. The Marketing Academy gift a maximum of 30 ‘Scholarships’ each year to the fastest rising stars in the marketing, advertising and communications industries. A team of high profile mentors and coaches develop these stars through a process of mentoring, coaching, networking and personalised learning. 86 mentors, 30 Coaches, 20 Judges, 36 companies and an owl called Merlin all provide their time, resources and knowledge to assist in shaping the minds of our future leaders. Furthermore as a vital part of their curriculum all Scholars volunteer at least one day per year through our Donate28 initiative to work with charities who need bright young marketing minds. For a full list of the individuals involved, see the Sherilyn Shackell interview.