In the Marketer's Chair with David Wheldon

01 Dec 2014|davinar

Added Value’s ‘In the Marketers Chair’ series interviews the world’s top marketers about their lives, their careers, their successes, and most importantly their view on what it takes to drive transformational growth in business today. David Wheldon, Head of Brand, Reputation and Citizenship at Barclays Group, pulled up the marketing hot seat and shared his story.

Davina Richards, Brand Director was amongst the live audience at The Soho Hotel where she shares with us what she took from hearing about David’s journey.

“All you have to do is ask. It’s remarkable how people will help you.” Just one of the many nuggets of advice that I made a note of while watching David’s interview surrounded by intrigued marketers.

David is one of those rare people who have reached the very top, both agency and client side, and his extensive résumé includes the likes of Saatchi and Saatchi, Coca Cola, and Vodafone. Whilst he may claim he has been ‘lucky’ on a number of occasions, my biggest takeout was that his successes are linked to two things – human relationships and the power of brand.

David’s greatest achievement is that when he left Vodafone it was the 5th most valuable brand in the world – when he joined it wasn’t even in the top 100. An impressive impact that he admirably attributes to the team he’d built around him: “Nothing is about me; it’s all about us”.

Having employed great people, he empowers them to do great things – by keeping things simple “the simpler you make things, the more likely you are to be able to make an impact internally and build great relationships.” Relationships between local and global teams and between client and agency teams should both be equally valued, and the method of communication is just as important as David advised: “Make relationships authentic, be available, don’t presume everyone understands what you’re trying to do and don’t presume that just ‘sending the deck’ will be enough, there’s nothing quite like talking to people”.

When it comes to clients working with agencies it’s important to invest in the relationships that work. When you find someone you trust, who’s expertise you respect, treat them properly and give them the tools they need to do what they love doing.  David had honest advice for agencies also “find out about the business and the people you’re talking to – use the benefit of ignorance beyond that. You can always say ‘I don’t know much about brand X, but from my perspective… – that’s the approach that lands.”

As well as appreciating the power of people to make a difference, David truly believes in the power of brand. And it sounds like he’s learned the hard way. As head of Lowe, marketing communications agency from 1989 to 1993, he thought brand was comms; as head of advertising for Coca Cola until 1998 he came to the shocked realisation it wasn’t; and now as head of brand for Barclays during one of the most tumultuous times in its 325 year history, he believes that brand is everything. He cites Barclays as a case study in the power of brand: amongst the best of banking brands in the UK it fell off a cliff when the LIBOR scandal – the revelation of misleading and false submissions of the ‘London Interbank Offered Rate’ – came to light in 2012.  He says “You must never waste a good crisis. It’s actually been magnificent to have people understand how important brand is – they didn’t before.”

David spoke passionately stating that he really believes in Barclays’ ambition for the future, to drive positive social impact and right the wrongs of the last 30 years where the financial sector has been self-serving and forgotten the people it serves. He’s using his two pronged ‘People’ and ‘Brand’ approach to re build Barclays inside out. He had already started a project to unify the business around a common set of values before LIBOR hit, and saw it through despite the crisis. The Barclays Purpose and Values have been the Phoenix from the flames. It’ll take a long time to get the bank’s reputation back to where it needs to be but these cultural tools along with his expertise are what are needed to do it.

Prominently David expressed that he believes the brand journey is an internal and external one, married together. Whilst much is happening behind the scenes to reorientate the business, externally the team are using the tools at their disposal to help re-engage with people. Interestingly Sponsorship, particularly the new activation of the Barclays Premier League has proved a powerful way of communicating with people around their passion points in a way that also brings to life Barclays Purpose and Values.

As the interview came to a close David expressed that when it’s time to hang up his marketing boots, he hopes to be remembered for playing a small part in helping in transforming the financial services sector to do the right thing for its customers – memorably declaring “A healthy bank makes for a healthy economy, and a healthy economy makes for a healthy society… If we can do all the things we’re trying to do… it’ll be remarkable”.

With David’s track record of transforming businesses through building relationships, asking for help and believing in the power of brand, I think there’s a strong chance he will be.


Watch the interview in full:


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