Interviews

Suzi Williams, Group Marketing and Brand Director, BT

Suzi was appointed Director, Group Marketing & Brand for BT Group in July 2006, having joined BT in 2005 as BT’s Global Brand Chief

Tom Holmes

Founder & Chairman

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Tom Holmes talks to Suzi Williams, Group Marketing and Brand Director BT plc.

Suzi was appointed Director, Group Marketing & Brand for BT Group in July 2006, having joined BT in 2005 as BT’s Global Brand Chief. Her role drives the global transformation of BT’s Marketing and Brand Strategy, working across all BT Divisions, locations and operating companies.

In this role, Suzi was also responsible for the Marketing of BT’s association with the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

 

Creativebrief: As London 2012 Marketing Lead & Group Marketing and Brand Director BT plc, what is your primary focus?

Suzi Williams: This might be an obvious answer, but for me, it’s about ensuring we nurture, develop and protect the BT brand in a way that keeps us true to our values and purpose and profitable for our shareholders.

Of course London 2012 was an undeniable priority last year. We ended the year exactly where we wanted to be, with BT the most recognised London 2012 tier one sponsor (according to the official London 2012 research provider Nielsen), and the partner most recognised for providing expertise, products and services for the Games. It was an important and transformational year for our brand and our business.

Creativebrief: Your career has spanned P&G, BBC Worldwide, KPMG, Capital Radio, Orange and BT, what have been the high points?

Suzi Williams: It’s the unusual things that stand out – the innovative things you only get to do once or twice in a career. For example, I helped P&G to sell some fragrance businesses in the US back in 1996. That was hugely satisfying. Launching the BBC Discovery joint venture into Latin America gave me a chance to cut my teeth in TV Channel branding, scheduling and identity in a whole new market. And installing a digital screen atop the BT Tower accompanied by a giant firework display – all live on national TV – was certainly a moment I’ll never forget. 

The highest high of course (and I’m not just saying this in case my boss is reading) has been the last few years leading BT’s Olympic and Paralympic activity. It was great to see our vision come to life and I’m proud of how the whole business came together to put BT at the heart of the Games. The business is stronger for it.

Creativebrief: Along the way which marketers have particularly impressed and inspired you?

Suzi Williams: That’s such a tough one to answer. I love to see innovation, passion and leadership in action. So anywhere I see those things on show, I’m interested and impressed. 

Creativebrief: What’s your golden rule?

Suzi Williams: Those who know me well would say my golden rule is: “If in doubt, let fireworks off a tall building!”

Creativebrief: Who has been your biggest influence?

Suzi Williams: Saatchi and Saatchi worldwide CEO Kevin Roberts and his Love Marks philosophy has strongly influenced and informed my views about brands, showing that brands are all about building loyalty beyond reason. I love this quote from that book “Emotion leads to action. Logic leads only to conclusions.”

Creativebrief: What would you change if you could?

Suzi Williams: Business jargon is my pet subject: At BT we used to have ‘Agile Desks’ – imagine that! We were running things up flagpoles, touching bases, and enabling ecosystems. All manner of nonsense… the good news is we’ve been running a tone of voice programme for five years now. It’s saved millions for the business, and has made our customers happier – just by simplifying the way we talk and using everyday language. 

Creativebrief: How successful a platform was the Olympic and Paralympic Games for BT?

Suzi Williams: London 2012 was transformational for BT. We had three over-arching objectives from the outset – to drive new business, strengthen the brand and engage our people. Taking these in turn:

We wanted to create new business opportunities and drive revenue – particularly in the business-to-business market – by showcasing our expertise at a high-profile global event. We’re happy with the results we’ve achieved so far; and London 2012 will remain a compelling case study to explain BT’s ability to deliver solutions under the pressure of immovable deadlines

We also wanted to give the brand in the consumer market a boost. BT is part of the fabric of the UK, but we also wanted to remind people of the impact of what we do – BT brings people together, it connects people and businesses. We couldn’t have performed better from a brand positioning point of view

In addition the Games had a fundamental impact on BT people. We created around 47,000 opportunities for staff to engage in the Games, from meeting an athlete ambassador to entering BT-specific ticket ballots. 72 per cent of our people said that London 2012 had made them proud to work for BT (almost no-one disagreed). And the Paralympics, which we’ve supported for many years, in particular made a really positive impact

Creativebrief: London 2012 was billed as the first truly social media games, how did BT take advantage of this?

Suzi Williams: Back in March 2011, at 500 days to go, we launched a campaign called “BT Storytellers” and reached out to creative people (artists, writers, photographers, film-makers, bloggers) the length and breadth of the UK, searching for 100 members of the public, plus some well-known names and faces, to help us tell the story of the Games from one year to go (July 2011) through to Games-time. This was primarily a social media campaign, conducted via Twitter, with a dedicated website to showcase the very best content from our Storytellers. We also conducted a social media campaign to round off the year – our “Moments” campaign. Launched at the BT British Olympic Ball in November, we asked athletes, celebrities, members of the Olympic family, influencers and members of the public to tweet their favourite London 2012 moment. We achieved good national and regional PR coverage, as well as all the #hashtags of course.

 

Creativebrief: How involved is BT in the ‘legacy’ of the Games and what do you intend to deliver?

Suzi Williams: Much of the communications Infrastructure we installed for the Games has been left in place to benefit the communities using the venues in future. This includes superfast fibre to the Athlete’s Village, which will become flats and houses. One of my favourite bits of BT’s legacy is our support for the Paralympic movement which continues all the way to Rio in 2016, including ongoing relationships with a number of Paralympic stars. And of course, the BT Sport TV studio will be housed at the former International Broadcast Centre on the Olympic Park, carrying forward BT’s role at the heart of London 2012 into 2013 and beyond. There’s plenty more too, but I’m afraid I’ll have to keep you guessing. 

Creativebrief: You recently engaged BT’s 100,000-strong workforce with the ‘Difference is you’ programme, what was the vision behind this and did you achieve your goal?

Suzi Williams: The insight behind ‘The difference is you’ is that everyone wants to come to work and do a great job – and that each one of us makes hundreds of individual choices every day. In short, people have a choice in how they behave and communicate at work, about whether to bother or not, about whether to do the right thing or not. In this way, our employees, however junior, or however they may sometimes feel like small cogs in a great big machine, actually hold our brand in their hands. The ‘Difference is You’ is all about getting our people to realise that they have the most profound impact on the fortunes of our brand, and that the choices they make are not irrelevant or insignificant, but central to our success. It is a very empowering and motivational philosophy, which gained real traction with BT people right across the organisation, inspiring them to make choices about how they talk or write to customers, how they fulfil their promises, and how they behave to help us create the BT brand experience we want.

Creativebrief: The Games were a big success for BT – now they’re behind you, what’s taking up your time in the next few months?

Suzi Williams: After the excitement of the summer it’s important for us to take some time to refocus on the basics. That means do we have the right partners and agencies? Are we structured for success? Are we training our people well enough and are we getting best value from our agency relationships? Are we getting the right balance between brand and sales messages? Beyond that we are especially focused right now on BT’s internal culture and how best to engage our people in driving BT towards growth, not to mention the exciting investments we are making in fibre and sport. Exciting times at BT.