What I did:
Here I worked as a Product Manager for Mercona; the division of Wella Haircare that developed and managed products outside of the main brand. Over the 3 years I worked there, I looked after several main UK retail accounts, the hair care label for a fleet of cruise ships, sought all manner of new business opportunities. I relaunched a range of colourants bigger and more diverse than anything I would ever do in the future. I was part of the pitch for a whole new range of sun-care products. I was so young back then in my M&S blazer! There were no laptops; just one shared computer the size of Hampton Court and a secretary typed our memos. But what a great first job, what a great company, what a fertile learning ground.
BIG TAKE OUTS THAT LEAD TO CURRENT ME:
- I learned the value of REALLY knowing your product: One day in a meeting with a particularly fierce buyer in discussions over hair colourants, I found myself saying these words about a loose swatch of hair “Oh that’s an 8.0 Light Golden Blonde”. I was referring to a nuance of blonde from a pool of possibilities ranging from a whole menu of adjectives. I did it without thinking. The buyer noticed. I scored easy, unforeseen points. After this moment, I chose to learn every single thing I could about everything I happened to represent.
- I learned how to look outwards to the world for ideas and inspiration: In this world, I had state of the art factories and genius scientists (sort of) at my disposal to develop things for which I had put forward a commercial case. To do this, you had to look to my markets, look at potential new one and see if others could be created. I learned to put the market in marketing. An obvious lesson but so simple to overlook when you don’t get to do it at such a nascent level.
- How to operate in front of a serious commercial buyer: At the start of this job I was simply a bag carrier for my bosses. I used to sit there like a kid watching Mummy or Daddy in action. Sometimes we got a pasting. Sometimes we won big. Every time we would debrief in the car with biscuits, laughing, crying, whooping or nursing our wounds. When I got to be Mummy I was ready. I still got pastings, often I won big but I knew the dynamic. I got it.
My one little moment of pride:
It was a whole meal roll with cottage cheese, tomato and no butter.
One day, in a very cool studio not far from Kings Cross we were shooting the images for the colourant packaging. In the studio was a photographer who knew famous people, about 20 beautiful models, a stylist, a buyer from a major retailer and some runners who would get lunches. I got asked my opinion a lot in that shoot. I had final say. SOMEONE GOT ME MY LUNCH!