Mars VP: 'I was allowed to fail and it didn't harm me in the slightest'

Mars VP: 'I was allowed to fail and it didn't harm me'

Michael Magee is vice-president, marketing, at Mars Chocolate Europe and Eurasia, and part of the Power 100 list of the UK's most influential marketers. He has worked for other FMCG brands including Kraft Foods and Cadbury Schweppes.

If you are not winning at the point of sale, you are not winning

I started my working life in retail and this was the first lesson I learned. Being thrown into the fast-paced world of retail gave me the first glimpse of commerce and selling, but also the knowledge that execution is king. You can’t win if you’re not more available and visible than your competition, and I would say 70% of success is doing the basics better than anyone else.

Marketing has to be the ‘glue’ in the business

Marketing has to create the energy and excitement around growth and at the same time be driven by credible data to enable a consistent philosophy on how to grow the category and brands. If your sales and marketing teams aren’t clear on the direction of travel, you’re not going to get far. Ask your marketing and sales leaders what they think the top five sources of growth for the business will be in the next five years: if they don’t give you the same answers, you could be in big trouble. Marketing should be close to all functions that help to deliver growth. All grads on the Mars graduate schemes rotate through different functions to understand how the business operates. It develops empathy and rapid learning, and helps them build a broader business network. 

Your team is those you can share a problem with

I am fortunate enough to have worked with some brilliant and creative people, and there is such importance in building a vast, diverse and trusted business network to succeed. You need people who can tell you the truth when you’re going down the wrong path. Moving to a regional role has reinforced the importance of creating a network for influence. In my current role, you cannot drive individual market results but you can help identify and influence the biggest opportunities and the framework for success.

Failure can be the key to success – but learn fast

My first real marketing role when I was fresh out of university in Australia was for a soft-drinks company and my first product launch was a spectacular failure. I was tasked with launching a diet, caffeine-free clear cola – probably better for paint-stripping than drinking! My boss believed in me, and this really encouraged me. Years later, we can laugh about it – but the serious lesson was that I was allowed to fail and it didn’t harm me in the slightest. Success was in the learning and also in the pace in which you pick yourself up and move on. We have to be careful in how we allow failure for our own teams in a more visible and real-time world. Recently, one of the more difficult decisions I made was to produce a multimillion-pound campaign despite less than successful pretesting. It turned out to be a happy ending and the campaign is playing out in more than 50 markets. Nonetheless, it could have gone the other way. Modelling the risk-taking – when judgment over data is sometimes required – is the best way to promote a more entrepreneurial culture, and this must be supported by the organisation.

Brands are global, whether you like it or not

Anything you do (or don’t do) or say about a brand is instantly accessible to a global audience. This can be a painful lesson when messages, actions or quality is inconsistent and there is not a joined-up approach to getting one story for the brand. The lines between digital communications and commerce are blurring – opportunities will be missed without a global view.

Digital channels can force a focus on execution over consistent messaging and compelling ideas. Brands must still start with a strong identity and story – this allows greater creative freedom to resonate the idea through digital channels. With Snickers, we were one of the first big brands to use Twitter in the UK, but we stayed true to the brand story and didn’t create a new idea just for this channel. 

I’d rather be a sensei than a professor

Leading is more about creating the conditions for lasting success than trying to force a result that is not sustainable. There is an old saying in martial arts that the true master is not the one with the most students but the one who creates the most masters. 

I know I don’t know it all and can learn as much from my team as they can from me. The greatest satisfactionI get is when I see someone realising theirown potential.

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