90 seconds with… Owen Johns, Founder, Ocean & Sky

tml Partners - Marketing recruiters - Owen Johns

90 Second Interview with Owen Johns

Lottie Brownlow, consultant and marketing recruiter at tml Partners, sat down with Owen Johns, former Category Director at Unilever and Innovation Director at William Grant & Sons, to get his thoughts on career development, influential leadership and marketing trends producing opportunities and challenges for marketing leaders.

Who is your business hero and why?

I’ve always been inspired by those across industries & society: Nelson Mandela, who led by example and changed a country I love. Steve Jobs, the only leader I can think of who transformed three industries: computing, film and music. More recently, I’ve found heroism in the NHS at our local hospital. I’ve seen first-hand leaders at every level of the organisation do the amazing on a daily basis.

What is the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?

I had the privilege to “grow up” as a leader and marketer in Unilever, and so was fortunate to learn from and be inspired by many of the very best, who remain mentors to this day. Career advice is often over-complicated, I don’t think you can do much better than heeding Denholm Elliot’s words when coaching Eddie Murphy in Trading Places, when he said. “Just be yourself, sir!”

What has had the most influential impact on your leadership career and why?

In a word: travel. I’ve been fortunate to have not only travelled widely but to have lived and led in six different countries, from Hungary to South Africa, via the United States and Turkey. I’ve found different cultures do bring new perspectives and every journey has grown my leadership. I’ve learnt so much from my many teams, and as a curious marketer willing to get my shoes dusty by getting out of the office. From discussing skincare & beauty in the alleys of Abijan to learning about the pharmacy channel and endorsement in Jeddah, to selling a Dove vibrating hairbrush to QVC.

I still find working with different cultures hugely energising and rewarding, and a great enabler of innovation, which business and society need more than ever.

What future trends do you think marketing and communications will see in your sector over the next five years?

Change is a constant for us marketers, and every generation tends to see change accelerating. However, three trends I think will be important are; first, the interface between technology and human experience, second, the return of positioning, and thirdly the reinvention of the agency model.  On the first, as automation advances, the human element will become even more highly valued, brands will need to think about their human content and context even more closely. Second, positioning will return. Positioning as a discipline seems to have lost popularity in recent years. It has never really gone away, but I see a resurgence coming, not as the antithesis of performance marketing, but as its essential companion. Third, the historic agency model is creaking, as the agency groups struggle with profitability. More than ever there is a need for seasoned brand leaders & custodians to collaborate and create new cost-effective models to both showcase creativity and growth.

What has fundamentally changed about your industry since you started working in it?

So much has changed, the availability of information, a more fragmented media context, the explosion of digital marketing, personalisation, an awareness of our planet’s fragility and the possibilities of technology; to name just a few. However, the real challenge of marketing remains the same – engagement to drive growth. As always, story-telling, creativity and innovation still remain as key skills for great marketers to master. The changes above only help us do this in new and powerful ways.

What do you consider to be the biggest challenges for marketing & comms leaders?

The biggest challenge remains one of relevance. Too many business leaders do not see the relevance of marketing because they don’t see its power or benefits, not least in stimulating growth. For me, marketing broadly has three functions. Marketing should shape strategy – helping an organisation both interpret its context and create its own powerful narrative. Marketing should champion the consumer, turning consumer insight into products that delight and anticipate the customer’s needs thus building the company. Most of all, of course, marketing should drive growth, as a powerful partner for sales, fuelling momentum for the whole company.

If you could go back 10 years, what career advice would you give yourself?

I’ve probably followed much of my own advice about staying curious and in the words of North Face I’ve “Never stopped exploring”. Looking back 10 years and beyond, I’d have devoted more energy to networking earlier in my career and got involved with great industry organisations like The Marketing Society much sooner. 

Who are tml Partners?

tml Partners are specialist marketing recruiters and headhunters with access to a global network of marketing leaders.

Whether you’re seeking interim or permanent solutions, our team have the expertise to support across various sectors and locations.

To learn how tml Partners can help you, get in touch with Lottie Brownlow:

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