M&S's new marketing chief fails to impress City

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THE CITY was unimpressed by the long-awaited announcement of Marks & Spencer's first dedicated marketing director yesterday, despite promises that he would help revive the group's fortunes.

One analyst said: "We are disappointed it is not someone more high profile. We had been promised a whiz-kid with a global outlook." Instead, they got Alan McWalter, who will join M&S in January from Kingfisher's Woolworths chain, where he has been head of marketing since 1994.

Mr McWalter, the first outsider to be recruited to M&S's executive board in 15 years, said: "This is a big move for M&S and a big move for me."

He did not comment in detail on his planned strategy for M&S, but said he would mould himself as "a custodian of the brand" and focus on understanding customers and translating their needs into business.

Peter Salsbury, M&S chief executive, said bringing in an outsider to handle marketing was "a big step in the right direction". He said: "The marketing of the Marks & Spencer brand is the key to our success."

M&S has been under intense pressure to revamp its business after last year posting its first decline in profits for seven years. Its market value has fallen by pounds 2.6bn so far this month to about pounds 9.2bn yesterday.

David Herbert, an analyst at Charles Stanley & Co, said yesterday's appointment was crucial as the company has been in desperate need of a marketing director with a good track record. He said: "To be brutal, they haven't really had a marketing programme before. They have just relied on a strong name and strong brand. But things have gone wrong and they can no longer get away with just being Marks & Spencer."

Mr Herbert said the key areas M&S needs to address, such as trading and profits, lie outside the remit of a marketing director.

Sir Richard Greenbury, the company's former chairman, was known to be hostile to publicity gimmicks and until February M&S did not have a focused marketing department. Since then James Benfield has headed the new unit. He will now concentrate on the UK retail chain, direct business and the development of e-commerce.

M&S has refurbished 125 stores in the past few months and put 200 extra people on to sales floors in response to customer demand. Despite speculation that the autumn clothes collection is not selling as well as expected, a spokesman said feedback had been positive and only the weather had hindered sales. "We're not going to turn the company around in 12 months, but we're on the right road," she said.

Mr McWalter, described by colleagues at Woolworths as "a natural presenter" and "great networker" with a passion for classical music, is a former chairman of the Marketing Society.

A spokesman said he had helped turn round Woolworths in the past five years by masterminding television advertising campaigns broadcast at key times of the year, such as Easter, when Woolworths is the biggest retailer of chocolate eggs, and back-to-school time.

M&S shares fell by 2.5p to 310p, continuing a week-long slide that has taken them to their lowest level since 1993.