Why I quit my top job to become a 'change agent'

TSB's CMO on why he was unhappy becoming an 'ambassador for marketing' and yearned to get back to the coalface.

The most difficult and challenging decisions I have made career-wise tend to centre on the need for change either for an organisation or for me personally, or both.

In 2014, I was chief marketing officer at RSA insurance, working across a number of international markets as well as overseeing marketing for the UK, including the More Th>n brand.

It was a high-profile role and I’d worked hard to get there, having spent five years in the UK team and then approaching two years in this international role. But what I was finding was that my role was increasingly becoming one that was disconnected from day-to-day marketing; it was far more about giving advice and oversight to other teams’ marketing strategies and much less about delivering against key business growth goals.

This hit me hard when I attended a conference early that year and saw a number of case studies on marketing effectiveness; I had a growing feeling that my knowledge was falling behind the market and my practical experience with it.

I found myself yearning to deliver campaigns first hand again and to work in a stretching and challenging environment, rather than simply giving strategic input, guidance and advice.

Staying put would have been the easy option and, on paper, it probably looked like I was in the dream job, but the reality was very different. I’d drifted into that unusual space of being the ambassador for marketing rather than the change agent I really wanted to be.

And it was at this moment that a call came in from the Post Office. I’d met the chief executive and they were looking for someone to come in to drive a real and tangible transformation for marketing. I’d not worked in retail before, so the role would give me practical experience of a new sector, working for an iconic UK brand, as well as the chance to drive real change on the ground.

I jumped at the chance and, despite a few puzzled looks when I resigned and then left, I was within a matter of months in place in my new role. What was doubly exciting was I negotiated picking up three P&Ls too as part of the role, so I set to work transforming the fortunes of photo booths, lottery tickets and retail.

One of the first opportunities was to revisit the brand purpose and to get under the skin of the role the Post Office can and needs to play today. This was a challenging process, ultimately resulting in a new positioning around "helping to get the important things in life done", recognising the "mission mindset" of visitors to the Post Office each day.

This culminated in new creative work from FCB Inferno and then MullenLowe, which helped us drive record brand health and commercial growth, including the Post Office’s first Christmas campaign in more than five years.

We set up an internal creative studio with Linney, as well as driving campaign activity under FCB Inferno and Mullen Lowe. And it was great working on the P&Ls where we dramatically improved performance on all the lines I was working on, particularly with more photo booths and a new range for retail that focused back on the Post Office’s core heartland.

My customer experience team also helped launch the first-ever concept branch at Kennington Park, with many aspects of that still used in branches today.

Overall, the experience taught me to be brave, to follow your instincts and to not settle for the easy option. Joining and being part of the Post Office team was a great experience, working with amazing people, and there is so much that we achieved as a team that I remain deeply proud of today.

We brought marketing closer to the business and demonstrated that the Post Office was a modern brand that did far more than just postage. In short, we helped to create a platform and a legacy for others to take on when we left. It was a great experience and the right move.

Pete Markey is chief marketing officer at TSB. He was chief marketing officer at the Post Office from 2014 to 2016

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