An interview with David Wheldon, WFA's new President

An interview with David Wheldon, WFA's new President

7 minute read

WFA News

Article details

  • Author:WFA


30 March 2015
What are your personal goals as WFA president? Are there issues you want to highlight?

I am passionate about how brands can be a force for good. I am very conscious that we live in a world where brands are constantly under scrutiny for their perceived roles in causing societal problems. Just look at my own sector: many of the big global banks have probably never found life to be so difficult.
In my role as WFA President I'm keen to help showcase how brands can play a meaningful, sustainable and positive role in a society which is increasingly demanding more from them.

WFA is uniquely placed to help make the case for brands and the marketer's profession as a whole. So I see this as a wonderful opportunity to work with its many constituents to see how together we should re-appraise our role as marketers in today's fast-changing society, see how our brands can play a positive role in people's lives and raise the bar on what it is we do so we can better meet people's and society's expectations of us as an industry.

Is this a goal driven by your experiences at Barclays?

My belief in the positive power of brands is a personal conviction I have held throughout my career working with all the great brands I have had the fortune of working with. But my experience of working at Barclays has reinforced this of course and taught me some lessons.

For 325 years, we lived by a very simple and clear set of principles and the brand was successful. Then we forgot those principles and the brand got into trouble. As our CEO has commented, the financial-services industry has focused too much on the short term ahead of the long term.

Everyone knows about the crisis we suffered; we lost our chairman, CEO and COO over the course of the week, and that's unheard of. A crisis like this can teach you lots of lessons and from them, you should come out stronger and more resilient.

We focused on our Purpose and our Values and set about rebuilding the brand from the inside out and we are making sure we put our Cultures and Clients at the heart of everything we do.

We are moving in the right direction and I sense great positivity internally but we have a long way to go to re-build trust.

Many brands will face crises. Many brands need to re-examine their own purpose and values to stay relevant in today's world. All brands must continue to remind themselves what they stand for and act accordingly.

Can you give a tangible example of the Barclays values?

One of the issues that I've been passionately involved with at Barclays is helping young people, the people who are both our future workforce for us as a company and our industry as well as our customers.

We can help them develop the skills and confidence they need to gain employment and become economically active. We've invested tens of millions of pounds around the world and reached millions of consumers in partnership with UNICEF, among others.

Our Building Young Futures programme with UNICEF aims to help tackle global youth unemployment by improving the prospects of 74,000 disadvantaged young people in Brazil, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Uganda and Zambia; strengthening their economic resilience against the devastating challenges of chronic poverty, inequality and changing economic circumstances.

I think the power of brands to work closely with charities to deliver strong and purposeful programmes is remarkable. The more brands can do for the wider humanity the better they will be able to build a bond with consumers.

What is your personal philosophy of marketing, what core principles do you apply?

I've learned three things over the course of the last 30 years:

Firstly, we don't do this alone. I was incredibly proud of the team I built at Vodafone and what we achieved in building the company to become the fifth most valuable brand. Secondly, try not to make things complicated. But as Steve Jobs said it's tough to keep things simple. Thirdly, advertising is not brand. There's more to building a brand than advertising, a lesson I learnt in my first week at The Coca-Cola Company.

People think brand is warm and fluffy but it isn't. It's everything: nothing demonstrates that more powerfully than the challenges we face at Barclays in the wake of the Libor scandal. It's not what you say; it's what you do, it's who you are.

We haven't wasted this opportunity and it's been great to have people understand how important brand is: I don't think they did before.

How do you envisage marketing and the role of marketing within companies changing in the next five years?

The core skill that you need to be really successful these days is collaboration and that's not going to change. You've got to be very good at leadership through service; in service of the business, in service of all stakeholders.
And you have to be very able and agile as life changes. Once again, my experience at Barclays is evidence of this. One of my first tasks was to identify our core purpose and values.

The HR department said we had a clear set of core values but when I had inductions into each area of the business, I stopped counting at 35. Changing that and reducing it to a manageable number of core values that reflect our past and our present requires great partnerships and relationships internally and externally.

This highlights the fact that many things will not change, regardless of the onward march of technology. You can't assume that everyone knows what you are doing, you can't assume that everyone's read the deck.

There is nothing like actually talking to people to build the right relationships, find people you trust and give them the tools to get on with the job.

What advice would you give someone thinking of entering the marketing profession today?

When I was 15, I was told I would make a great bus conductor. Clearly that career never took off.

My break in marketing came from asking a friend of a friend, which led to an interview at Saatchi & Saatchi. It is remarkable how people will help you. All you have to do is ask. What's also remarkable is how many people don't ask.

I would also encourage potential marketers and junior marketers to be ruthless in asking questions about what the company wants from marketing and from the marketing role.

One of the mistakes I've made in the past is to not ask enough about what it is you want me to do and what it is that you want of marketing. If you have a clear mandate then even the most challenging roles can be made easier.

What are the biggest threats that you believe marketers face in the next couple of years?

Of course, there are lots of opportunities with programmatic buying but I am concerned about the ramifications of programmatic media management for people who have unknowingly 'sold their data'. Like everything new and shiny, some people tend to jump on the bandwagon with perhaps too little reflection for the potential consequences longer-term.

I'm keen as WFA President to help foster a better understanding within the marketing ecosystem of what we need to be wary of and try and seek collaborative solutions %u2013 with our agency partners, in particular- to potential problems that may arise further down the road.

It always comes back to trust. In my day job, I'm working to re-build trust in a 325 year old brand. At WFA, I'll be offering my advice on how to build (and arguably re-build) trust in an age-old profession.

I'm fully aware that lots of people out there want to take a swipe at marketers, regulate their activity, blame them for social problems. Very often we only have ourselves to blame. Like in any company, we, as an industry, must ask ourselves: what do we stand for, what do we do, what are our purpose and values?

In today's world, it's just unsustainable to say we are there to shift product and build quarterly sales. Trust comes from having a clear vision and purpose and delivering shared value in an open and transparent way.

Article details

  • Author:WFA


30 March 2015