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Schizophrenia in the Brand Group: The Business Generalist vs the Promotion Specialist

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Summary: The brand manager is, in my judgment, paid to be the general manager of his brand. He is paid to establish the objectives and strategies of his brand, and working with experts in all areas, to administer programs that achieve the agreed-upon objectives.

Schizophrenia in the Brand Group: The Business Generalist vs the Promotion Specialist
My associates tell me that in some major consumer product companies, sales promotion is the responsibility of a special "promotion” department. The thoughts suggested in this don't apply to brand managers in these companies, which incidentally include such notable concerns as P&G, General Foods and Lever Bros., to name a few.

If my survey of a dozen prominent package goods companies holds water, however, the brand manager also holds the title of "Mr. Promotion” in the majority of brand departments today. It is for the brand men who are also promotion managers on their brands that this chapter really applies.

The brand manager is, in my judgment, paid to be the general manager of his brand. He is paid to establish the objectives and strategies of his brand, and working with experts in all areas, to administer programs that achieve the agreed- upon objectives. The brand manager thus calls upon his advertising agency for their expertise in communicating with consumers of the product he manages. He calls upon R&D to help develop better, more competitive products for him to sell. He calls upon the packaging design department to help him develop packages with greater shelf impact, greater consumer appeal. He calls upon a public relations counsel to help publicize his product.

But whom does he call upon to help develop promotions that sell consumers and the trade: For the most part, his alter ego. Himself. That’s not to say he can't bring in promotion specialists when he has a major promotion with which he needs help. He can, and probably does, call upon D. L. Blair et al, or Glen dinning (until recently) for contest ad-vice, or Donnelley or McIntyre for sampling/coupon mailings. But he calls on these specialists after the fact. Who helped the brand manager set the promotion objectives, strategies and programs in the first place? In the companies I know of, no one. The brand manager had to work very much on his own and, in my estimation, often in the dark.

The reliance on the brand manager as the source of direction and program implementation in the promotion area leads me to ask two questions.
  1. What makes management think that the brand manager is qualified as the promotion expert? For the most part two types of training exemplify the background of today's brand managers: Advertising agency experience; and quite often a Masters in Business Administration. Having partaken of both experiences, I'm at a loss to know how that qualifies me to be a promotional expert. I do know that the advertising agency that paid my check for the years I was in that business had a sales promotion department which was more or less agency "trimming,'' useful in a pitch for new business, but not used that much after the advertising contract had been won. It's also true that we had a few sales promotion "case studies'' in business school. But how that qualifies me as an expert in this field, I don't know.
  2. Why does corporate management not employ professionals in this field to assist brand management? I'll venture a guess that less than 10% of consumer product companies maintain either a contract with a Glen dinning or Blair calling for recommended promotion plans annually, or at least an evaluation of the promotion plans recommended by the brand managers. I'll bet a buck, too, that not more than another 5% or 10% of "brand managed" companies maintain on-board professionals who have been involved intimately with contests, premiums, mailings, samplings, point of purchase. I refer to professionals who function in a service department capacity—acting as sources of information and evaluation for the brand manager. Professionals who act as counterparts to the packaging design department, the advertising agency.
  3. The question is: "Why?" I’ll venture an answer. A major source of brand managers a decade ago was the sales department. The more successful salesmen were brought in as assistant brand managers reporting to brand managers who themselves were salesmen. What better source of information for promotional programs directed to the trade than the men who had intimate contact with the trade and had an idea of how they would respond to the trade offers. Perhaps two decades ago, sales promotion was a simpler thing than it is today. Perhaps it was primarily a matter of trade allowances then. Today it seems to me it is considerably more complex. And brand managers (the persons responsible for planning and execution) are typically not salesmen. Yet, through tradition, the brand manager is assigned the responsibility for this key function.
  4. There's another related question to be asked: Wouldn't the corporation benefit if the brand manager devoted more of his time to managing the components of his brand instead of learning to be an expert in promotion, and handling the multifarious details entailed in managing this function? Based on my experience, the answer has got to be "Yes.” I can't think of anything more laborious and less a brand manager's function than writing the bulletin to salesmen advising them of the many aspects of the promotion that's about to be fielded.
  5. What I'd like to see is a promotional department responsible for evaluation of past promotions; continuing recording and analysis of competitive promotions (calendaring them, ascertaining relationships between competitive trade spending and share of warehouse withdrawals or consumer sales); assistance in the development of future promotion plans; assistance in the implementation of these plans; and the handling of details associated with the transmittal of plans to the sales department. I’d like to draw upon this group's expertise in premium selection, coupon values and redemption, price-off frequency and degree. I'd even settle for one "expert” if we couldn't afford a group! Or an outside consulting firm on a fee basis.
  6. The point is this: Brand managers aren’t paid to be expert advertising creators, nor package designers, nor market researchers. Why hang the title of "Promotion Expert” on them? Promotion is too important to the sale to be delegated to a man who sees it, at best, as a secondary function. And, in the last analysis, shouldn’t the brand man spend his full time and energies on the over-all administration of his brand.

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