As Scots around the world sit down to the traditional Burn’s Night supper of haggis, neeps and tatties this week, one member of the clan will be enjoying the celebrations North of the Border for a change.
Having spent the past few years switching between London, Edinburgh and Cheltenham as boss of Tangible and Cello Signal, Karen Trickett has finally gone back to her Scottish roots to become marketing director at one of the country’s fastest growing companies, Glasgow-based financial services firm Golden Charter.
It is the latest leg of a journey which started in Turin, Italy, where Trickett spent the first decade of her life and, quite possibly, where she developed her love of shoes (“You can never have enough,” she jokes.)
Her parents had upped sticks from Aberdeen in the Seventies when her chartered accountant father landed an overseas role. By the early Eighties, the family were back in Blighty, and, after a short stint in London, moved to Glasgow where her father became a partner in charge of the Coopers & Lybrand office.
Young Trickett was soon plotting her own career and hatched a plan to follow in her father’s footsteps, starting as a trainee auditor at Price Waterhouse.
However, after one flunked paper (“the first exam I had ever failed”) and a growing sense of boredom, Trickett soon realised the world of “incremental cross pricing” and “irrevocable corporate purchase orders” was not quite what she had had in mind.
Britvic and the Marsden years
And having been advised to consider marketing, Trickett landed a job in Britvic Soft Drinks international marketing department in London. “Before I knew it, I was a senior brand manager, launching the Pepsi Chart Show on Channel 5 and working with the Spice Girls,” Trickett says.
It was at Britvic where she met marketing director Andrew Marsden, one of the people she believes had a major influence on her career. “Andrew was a fantastic mentor in my early years and great fun to work with; he’s also highly intelligent. Combine that with a wicked sense of humour and he’s gold dust to be around.
“Andrew has worked on some big brands in his career, he’s helped newbies on their career path and he also gives time to smaller charity clients – all things I have taken on board and try to emulate.”
After four years with Britvic, Trickett switched to Hasbro for a year and then took up her first agency role in 1999 as client services director at EHS Brann (now Havas Helia) in London.
By 2004 the auld country came calling and she moved back to Edinburgh to work for the late Andy Carolan at Navigator Responsive Advertising, the agency he had launched a decade before, also following a spell at EHS.
Trickett says: “Andy was phenomenal with people and as a result naturally commanded huge loyalty – I watched and learned and hopefully brought some of that to bear with my own teams and clients over the years.”
Carolan eventually led an MBO out of Faulds, and Navigator became one of Cello Group’s first acquisitions, later merging with Farm Communications, the Leith Agency, Target Direct and CCHM Ping to form Tangible Group.
Trickett spent seven years as CSD of Tangible, moving back to London to do so. She was then promoted to chief operating officer and managing partner, ultimately becoming CEO as well as sitting on the Cello Signal leadership group.
Financial services comes calling
During this time, Trickett has taken an active role on the DMA Financial Services Council, and with a broad range of finance clients it was perhaps not too surprising when it was revealed in November that she was leaving the group to join Golden Charter. Claimed to be the UK’s leading funeral plan provider, the company has already sold over 400,000 policies. Trickett has been briefed to increase its profile further and this month saw the launch of a new TV campaign for the firm.
So, having worked both sides of the client/agency divide, where does she think agencies go wrong?
“They are simply not challenging enough at times – it’s all too easy to get the balance wrong. Either they don’t challenge enough or they challenge too hard. Understanding your client is about understanding when it’s good to challenge and when it’s not.
“On a micro-level – agencies often do not understand that they are only one of numerous relationships that the client has and that their day is filled with contact from all those relationships – be those internal or other external partners. Be patient and help.”
On the other hand, where do clients go wrong then?
“Many don’t get the agency involved early enough. The best relationships are ones where agencies are involved from the outset. Often helping to mould the business objectives and strategy as much as the marketing – the two are very much entwined as I see it. The first question an agency should ask is: ‘How does your business model work? How do you make money?’ If an agency doesn’t know the answer to that, how can they really help a client?”
Nowhere is this perhaps more challenging than in financial services, which contains some of the most complained about businesses when it comes to customer expectations. Are they just misunderstood or do they need to change their approach? And, if so, how can agencies assist?
Still a long way to go
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the fact she now works for one, Trickett is highly supportive of finance firms. She explains: “In my experience, they are increasingly trying to be customer centric. Data, digital and tech has helped them with that, but there’s still a long way to go. They’re still too product focused at times and now more regulated than they have ever been which makes it very hard to be ‘human’ in their customer interactions.
“I think agencies can help by ensuring that the customer is ‘always present’. From helping them develop the right customer journeys, identifying compelling reasons to engage, through to ensuring that language and tone is more human, less full of jargon.”
Back in the day, that would have called for a big ad campaign but finance firms are increasingly turning to DM agencies to build closer links with their customers and prospects.
Trickett adds: “Never has direct marketing been so at the core of businesses – data, digital and tech have revolutionised its role so that now it is the very heart of the customer experience and indeed business itself.”
In fact, it could be argued that Trickett has now come full circle. “A signal of how important direct marketing is, is that the likes of Accenture, PWC and Deloitte have expanded into our field and are increasingly interested in work that DM agencies have been engaged in.”
And that is surely yet another cause for celebration….