Diageo's Matthew Barwell is redefining Europe

Matthew Barwell, consumer marketing director for Diageo Western Europe
Matthew Barwell, consumer marketing director for Diageo Western Europe

Matthew Barwell, consumer marketing director for Diageo Western Europe, does not view his job as a 'poisoned chalice'.

Matthew Barwell, the consumer marketing and innovation director for Diageo's Western Europe (WE) division, is a self-confessed optimist.

This is just as well, as he is responsible for managing the marketing of famous brands such as Guinness, Smirnoff and Pimm's, in a low-growth region; it's a job that a pessimist might label a poisoned chalice.

To say that Diageo has called time on parts of Europe would be a gross exaggeration, but there has been a major shift of resources away from places such as the UK and Ireland toward the faster-growing markets of Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia. Diageo, the world's biggest drinks company, wants these markets to grow from providing a third of its revenues now to accounting for half by 2015.

Benefits of scale

The Great Britain (GB) marketing department was a standalone entity, but since September it has been merged into WE as part of a global shake-up of Diageo's operations.

The remit for GB is now overseen by four WE category directors across Baileys and sub-brands, white spirits, whiskies and Guinness, who all report to Barwell. Country directors are focused solely on sales and servicing Diageo's customer base of retailers and pubs.

So has GB been one of the bigger losers in the shake-up? 'I don't see it that way,' Barwell replies. 'GB hasn't lost out, it has been redefined. The roles that we've created are bigger, more exciting jobs for people. The reaction is that there is a buzz. People get the benefits of scale.'

The company predicts that the reshuffle will have created efficiencies of £80m by the end of its 2013 fiscal year, but Barwell plays down the importance of the cost-cutting. 'Of course, there's an element of that in what we've done, but the primary objective was never about cost,' he insists.

Nevertheless, several executives have left as a direct result of these changes. Only last week, Marketing reported the departure of Philip Almond, the global marketing director on the Baileys brand, who worked for the company for 17 years. Almond, a former GB marketing director, was left without a job when his duties were merged with Diageo's beer portfolio. Other high-profile departures include Northern Europe managing director Benet Slay and GB managing director Simon Litherland.

'It's always difficult when good friends and colleagues leave the business. Our job has been to lead that with integrity and with respect for people,' says Barwell.

A confident operator, he clearly has one goal in mind for this interview: to communicate the benefits of the restructure for the drinks group's marketing operation. Time and again he recounts how it simplifies the way Diageo operates, brings 'greater pace and agility' to the business and gets the best marketers closer to brands.

He is enthused by a recent piece of Diageo economic modelling that has taken the past five years of marketing spend data, measured it against ROI and then overlaid this with Diageo strategic priorities.

'It means we are able to make more informed investments,' he claims. 'Before, we looked at the world through a single country; now, let's say we've got some effective work on Guinness in Ireland, we can pull work from another country and invest more in that instead.'

This may sound like a potential recipe for disaster, but he argues: 'What frustrates people is where it's hard to get things done, but through the model we've now got, it's simpler. We're having fewer people involved in making decisions and as a result of that we'll create an environment where people can be at their best.'

Barwell wants his agencies to reflect the company's revised way of working and is almost at the end of a process that involves agencies across advertising, social/digital, PR and below-the-line being assigned to each brand to produce regional campaigns.

Dom Robertson, managing director of experiential agency RPM, which works on the Smirnoff brand and its 'Nightlife exchange project', says the changes make sense 'strategically and operationally'. He describes Barwell as a 'strong leader with a clear vision', the type of character that the region needs as the new structure beds in.

There is a danger that the pooling of resources across geographies in this way could result in bland pan-European marketing. Barwell is adamant this will not happen on his watch, however. 'I don't want neatness for neatness' sake. Where there are genuine differences, we are not going to do mush which covers everywhere.'

He does believe that a 'great big idea' can travel and cites the latest global campaign for rum brand Captain Morgan - a Facebook competition where the prize is a trip to a private Caribbean island - and the award-winning 'Keep walking' campaign for Johnnie Walker whisky as examples.

Before moving to the European division, Barwell worked for Diageo in Africa where, in stark contrast, there were 'pockets of growth everywhere'. He enjoyed this part of his career and speaks fondly about his last family holiday to Kenya, this summer, after which his sons returned to England stating that they wanted to be Masai warriors when they grow up.

Another reason he believes he has not drawn the short straw with his current role is because it allows him to market to the 'most ad-literate, sophisticated consumers living in a broadband-enabled world'.

With this in mind, he is relishing the opportunities afforded by Diageo's multi-million-pound global ad deal with Facebook, announced in September.

Ahead of the partnership, a senior delegation of Diageo marketers, including Barwell and chief marketing officer Andy Fennell, went to Silicon Valley to meet Facebook executives.

As part of the deal, when campaigns are being developed, Facebook executives are on hand to advise from the outset. Additionally, about 1000 marketers have been on Facebook-run 'boot camps' and Diageo now gets 'first sight' of innovations being run by the social network.

Current trends, such as the shift toward in-home drinking, also present opportunities for WE, according to Barwell. As evidence, he describes his typical Saturday night, at home watching The X Factor with his wife and drinking a pre-mixed Gordon's Gin and Schweppes Slimline tonic.

Barwell's job looks tougher by the day, as the economic crisis in Europe shows no sign of abating, but his positive outlook might just make him the ideal leader for these difficult times.

Inside work

1989-1998: Graduate scheme, rising to various marketing roles, Mars

1998-present: Various roles including Italy, Africa and the global team, rising to consumer marketing and innovation director for Western Europe, Diageo

Outside work

Family: Married with three sons and a dog (Sidney the schnauzer)

Hobbies: Skiing and cooking

Favourite Diageo brand: Pampero (a Venezuelan rum)

And another thing ... Jokes that his wife 'met her prince' when they got together at St Andrew's University.

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