The Pitch 2022 - Pete Markey, CMO Boots UK, talks about his experience as the main sponsor of this event

Di Tunney, April 2022

The Pitch 2022 was another great success and congratulations to the overall winner Powerpuff Pitchers (University of Strathclyde), Eve Blaikie, Marta Nowak and Kelly Wong

This year’s main sponsor was Boots UK and I was delighted to have the opportunity to talk with Pete Markey, Chief Marketing Officer, about the experience of sponsoring the event and why he thinks The Pitch is key to the development of the young, talented marketers who will be shaping the future of the industry.

Di Tunney: I know you've been a member of the CIM for quite a long time now, could you tell us about why you joined and how your relationship with the CIM has evolved over time?

Peter Markey:
I've always been a really big fan of the CIM and that goes right back to the early days of my career. I did what I think at the time, was called the Diploma in Marketing. It's 20 plus years ago now and I was able to do it in a year because my degree course at the time made me exempt from some of the modules. I did it at evening school whilst travelling to and from work when I was at the marketing executive level and I absolutely loved it. I really relished the in-depth learning and the insights that came with that and that's what got me into the CIM in a way of experiencing the content, going to a graduation and then just opening my life to what CIM could offer.

Over the last 20 or so years I've been to courses I've been to Moor Hall, spoken at events, judged the CIM awards and it's been great to feel connected and part of that bigger marketing community which I think CIM brings, along with a level of quality and professionalism that the CIM stands for in my view, the excellence and the very best in the industry and it’s been very good to get involved that way. In 2015, I was lucky enough to win Marketing Team of the Year when I was running marketing at the Post Office, at the CIM Awards, which again was another pivotal moment, when you get recognised by the CIM for doing something. Winning an award is amazing, but for the CIM to recognise our team at the time meant a great deal because the best in the industry recognising you as being the best, is for me quite an accolade.

So there's been a good relationship, I was lucky enough to be recognised as a Fellow a few years back now and it's lovely to still get a chance to interact and support the CIM in any way I can. I’m especially thoughtful at the moment around talent coming into the industry and how we encourage people to more than ever, see marketing as a really exciting, really dynamic space to develop their careers in. And I want to do everything I can to support CIM and anyone else who's trying to continually encourage and support the future of our industry.

Marketing is so much bigger and faster than I think it has ever been before in terms of opportunities, I think, particularly with the whole data and digital world opening up in the last decade, if not longer, there's a whole variety of roles that previously didn't exist. So, there are so many different ways into marketing, so many different skills and specialisms and that's what excites me in terms of where the industry is going and the opportunity that definitely presents for people coming into their career. Also, for those who are at the early stages, thinking about where to specialise or where to generalise or what to focus on - there are some exciting choices.

Di Tunney: Can you tell us about the type of support Boots provides for its marketing employees in terms of CIM membership, qualifications and CPD?

Peter Markey
We've done a lot over the last couple of years to upskill our team in the very latest and the best in marketing, particularly in data, analytics and digital, because of the acceleration in those areas and the importance of them for the marketing profession. So a good stat to give you is probably three or four years ago, about 6% of the media we bought was using first-party data. That's now around 30%, so more and more of what we do is now driven by data. And we have fantastic partnerships that allow us to directly target our own customers or audiences that map in a similar way or are like our customers, with the likes of Facebook, ITV and Channel 4’s online platforms, Global Radio, and more. So, it was really important to train the team up in the latest skills and the latest techniques, so they could have all the right conversations with our media agency and with media owners about what we wanted to do next in this fast-moving industry. Also, how we measure some of this stuff in a world where you've got more things to attribute and more things to look at. So it’s been really important to bring the team to the point where we feel we're more at the cutting edge of things than playing catch up.

And we continue refreshing that online training and that knowledge base, again, working with WPP, particularly around ensuring that we're bringing excellence and the best in class and the very latest thinking to what we do. So that's sort of part one, but also, we do actively encourage team members as part of their personal development, if they want to develop further, we’ll pay for relevant courses or training including CIM if there’s value in further stretching yourself. I think the way of describing it, particularly in leadership areas, where the skills we have and people on the ground are very good technically and what we provide is some of the best I've seen, but beyond that, helping you become that next level marketing leader, that strategist, that person to shape where the business is going. And that's where I think CIM is very strong. So I’m really supportive of people wanting to invest in themselves to develop further because I see that as a benefit not just for them, certainly in the way it helped me, but also I think people come back from that experience, energised to plough that back into their job. That's part of the joy of that sort of learning with CIM, it's about the practical application isn't it, I've learned it, now I can do it. We've all been on those courses where you learn something and go that was really interesting and you come back and you never use it. What I like about the CIM and why I think that CIM courses are particularly powerful is that it is all about… I've learned this thing, right, tomorrow I can start using it and feel the difference. And that fits with my philosophy for what we're doing at Boots in that it's always about continuous improvement in everything we do. Marketing is an industry which I'm not sure has ever stood still, but I think you certainly can't allow it to stand still now, you've got to be in any marketing team, in my view, constantly restless to keep learning and if you don't, people will catch up and will overtake you in a highly competitive market. So, to keep your competitive edge, you need your people to remain at their very best and therefore that investment in people and that investment in training, in my view always pays back because it gives you that edge.

Di Tunney: Why did Boots choose to sponsor The Pitch this year? What was the thinking behind that?

Peter Markey
The CIM approached us about The Pitch and I'd seen stuff in previous years and thought that’s quite interesting, so, when they approached me this year, I thought there’s a really good moment here. I want to encourage and support new talent coming into the industry, as we also do in Boots because I want to make sure that we're encouraging that next generation of talent to really appreciate how brilliant marketing is. But also, to look at Boots as somewhere where they could potentially have an amazing career, whether it's the start of their career, or at some point in their career as Boots has been at the forefront of marketing excellence. I thought there was a win-win here where we can support new talent coming in, but we can also connect Boots to something that's about freshness and newness, the best up and coming in the industry, which is where our ethos and continuous improvement in marketing is rooted as well. So, it felt like a really great coming together kind of moment. I think the bit that was also interesting about The Pitch, which is brilliant, is you get live briefs and real work, you're not sort of living in this fantasy brief land for a made-up company, it's on your company and your brief.

So. you end up with a whole bunch of treatments about your brand and about your work that is quite refreshing. Because often with a brand, you can if you're not too careful end up in a bit of a bubble and what's really interesting is other people coming in having a look at your brand and going actually we see it this way and you go oooh that's interesting, or we think you can do this with it and you go oooh okay. The students who do this don't have a huge amount of time to get to know your brand or business and it was just fascinating. It was a whole day's worth of judging with over 10 presentations and each was different, each had its own merit and each had a very different take on how they saw the brand and its challenges and opportunities. It was about our work with the Prince's Trust so it was also about the Prince's Trust and the Boots brand and what we do together. There were different views on demographics, different views on people's attitudes to the brand, how you'd fundraise, how you'd use social media, how you'd use more traditional media, so, it was great. I love that challenge of someone coming in saying you could do this and you go oooh I hadn’t thought of that and that's brilliant that’s part of what I loved about it. So, it’s been great to get involved with it, it was a great literal pitch by the CIM to me to get involved with it and actually it's really paid off in the quality of the work we've seen, but also how it's personally challenged me around how great it is to bring fresh thinking every now and again. It's fantastic.


Di Tunney: What are your thoughts about the standard and nature of the submissions made by the Pitch finalists this year?

Peter Markey
They were all very good and all very different, even down to how people chose who was going to present, the slides they did and how they dressed for it. There's no right or wrong answer to any of this by the way because it’s not part of the brief that you will wear a suit or you won't wear a suit or you'll do it standing up or you’ll do sat down or one of you will present and the other two will do Q&A or three of you will present. Each did it differently, which was also quite refreshing. There were some international students, some were from different universities, some were from the same university and the quality bar was really high, you could tell that people had genuinely entered it wanting to win, but also relishing the learning experience.

So, the overall standard was fantastic. There was a very clear top two to three and once you'd seen those, you could see the extra sparkle that that group had, that’s where you go, that's the bit that's making this one ahead of the others. But I did say to them when we did the wrap up at the end, look to get through to this final 10 is an amazing achievement, because there were literally 1000s of entries for this and to get to that stage to be in front of us as judges is a huge achievement. So, I was really impressed with the quality of work but even more so with the end winner, because you kind of go wow, they were all really good but you had something extra about you and how you presented it and the content of what you did that just stood head and shoulders above the rest

Di Tunney: How did the panel choose the winning submission? What made this one stand out from the others? What specifically was it that really impressed you?

Peter Markey
Well, they really got the brand, they understood Boots really well and understood the Prince's Trust and how powerful that can be to unlock the potential of the two brands working together even more to fundraise and really help young people get into work. They also really understood the dynamic of the young people in the age bracket and what we're trying to do. The demographic of the people we would work with at the Prince's Trust to get into work, but also the context and what's the right group to fundraise within. So clearly, there's a core heart in the Boots shoppers who may have kids of a similar age, or they may themselves be at a point where they identify with that age and that demographic more and they really understood that dynamic. Also, the whole approach was very much rooted in storytelling - of let's share stories of where we’ve made a difference together, to encourage others to give, knowing that however little or big the contribution that could then make a difference and you’re paying back and doing good. And they really understood the power and the strength of a really clear narrative. So, really rich storytelling, very clear on the target audience and why this would work. Also, they really understood that media and data can work powerfully to help you but not in a gimmicky way.

If I was reflective of one thing it is that there were quite a few presentations where the opt-in would use a QR code and there were moments where I’d go, well, that's great, but there's a danger sometimes with QR codes, where we're just using a QR code because we can use a QR code and I think it's not necessarily the best way in. Where the winning team did so well was to go we’ll use these channels or these devices because they inherently fit with the strategy, they fit with our audience and what we need to do as opposed to we’ll use this technology because we can. I think that was apparent and it just hung together really, really well. The three young ladies that won were just really good at selling that compelling vision.

Also, even though they were in different locations, they were really good together - how joined up they were, how co-ordinated they were, how they supported each other as a team in the questions. I'm not saying that it isn't true of the others because you get great energy in every presentation, but particularly with this one it could be felt - this is a really good team. They'd really worked on their team dynamic, they’d worked on the roles they wanted to play, they’d worked on how they would support and build on each other, but also just a cracking presentation full of insight and clear action. So overall, it's definitely about that combined integration, but there was just so much in it, it was great.

Di Tunney: It's interesting that you're talking about the teamwork and actually thinking about the people rather than just the technology because you can get very immersed in the data and the technology and forget, it's actually all about people ultimately…

Peter Markey
Yes, you're right, because we’re living breathing human beings and we're not machines. That’s the great thing about the storytelling element of the winning team is that they really understood the emotional story. If you're fundraising for a charity, then actually giving people a compelling reason to want to give. It's just not enough to say, here's a QR code donate now, no presentations said that by the way, but actually to go, here's this amazing story of someone's life that was changed and the impact and you could make a similar difference you think wow and suddenly, you get quite touched by that. And then if you're targeting specific case studies at different audiences, because you know that that story will resonate, I think that's really smart. It’s all about that power of compelling stories to move you to action, which is ultimately what great marketing is about.

Di Tunney: Why do you think The Pitch is an important event for the CIM to continue to run in the future?

Peter Markey
I think it helps them in a few different ways. First of all, these were students who are still at university, and I think it helps CIM to get on their radar. So, if they're thinking about a career in marketing, that they are thinking already at that age - 19, 20, 21, about CIM and the role CIM plays in their minds that it’s synonymous with best practice in marketing and new ideas in the industry, then I think that's a win for the CIM.

I also think it's brilliant and it's been really nice watching the winners and finalists quite rightly, get applauded for what they've achieved and that again, on a channel like LinkedIn, is brilliant to go, look we were in the top 10, or we were the winner of this thing. It comes with huge prestige, so I think you have a win because CIM is on their radar, you've got a win for the winners and finalists because they've got something they can show as part of their LinkedIn profile and C.V. about something they've done.

When I look at people’s C.V.s, I'm always looking for the extra spark, and I’m thinking you might be amazing in your day job, but what's the other thing you did around the edges or the way you helped with advancing the diversity agenda, or you did a qualification or you did voluntary work, just something extra that makes you stand out. I think this is one of those examples, to be able to go… yes, you did a brilliant degree course, but you also did this thing, you were a winner of this competition. Or you were a top 10 finalist, that's a really good talking point that shows that you've gone above and beyond what you'd be expected to do in your own course.

And then for a brand like us within Boots, I think it's everything I talked about earlier, it's connecting us to future talent connecting us to the very best practice in marketing and giving us very real practical work to then take away and use as part of what we do within our day jobs here. So, I think it's a win for each audience, that students get loads out of it. I think for the CIM it's a great profile build and for Boots, it just gives us that continuing connection, best practice in marketing and new ideas and a fresh take on the brand. So yes, lots of good stuff.

Di Tunney: What advice would you give to future applicants of The Pitch – what makes a good pitch presentation and marketing campaign?

Peter Markey
I think the starting point is an obvious one - get yourself into a really good team. A team that complements you and where you're all going to have something you can bring and you've all got slightly different strengths, but you work well as a team, you're well-coordinated and really focused on that teamwork, I think that is the starting point.

The second bit is to really interrogate the brief and look at it from every which way and angle and take the time to get to know the brand and its customers. And in the recommendation, I would really push the boundaries of thinking, because - and no one did it like this – but there’s a very pedestrian approach, which is Boots and the Prince's Trust want to do fundraising, what you do is you just stick people rattling tins in-store because shops are really important. That’s a really pedestrian answer, which no one gave, thankfully. So, go how far can we really take this idea? And we limit the budget, by the way, so it's not like you're going to suggest spending 10 million pounds on this, but I do think pushing yourselves and going well, how big could this be, how wide could this be and then maybe scaling that back. So, I think to be really ambitious in the plan.

So, pick a great team, root yourself in the brand, really know it and be ambitious in your thinking and your plans. And importantly, before you submit and then ultimately present just check the thread of all of it hangs together from - we know the brief, we've got all this insight we've uncovered about the brand and the approach and we can tie that directly into what we're recommending and the actions, then flow everything back to I've chosen this because I can tell you, there's this data point here, this fact or this thing we know over here, so really root it in that science and data. And be really super clear, particularly on some of the channels that are perhaps harder to measure, be really clear how you're going to measure and show value back to the business on the back of it. And just check the whole story, hangs together.
My other encouragement would be that I’d pick a really critical audience. By critical I don’t mean people that are just going to sit there and criticise you, what I mean is an audience who’ll be objective and go have you thought of this, have you thought that? And what's great, is that the majority of who we spoke to, have been taught marketing, they're under a faculty that teaches marketing, so actually, they must be surrounded by people who can what I’d describe as ‘kick the tyres’ on their approach and go have you thought about this? So my final advice would be don't be an island, don't be afraid, don't feel I've got to just do this on my own and hold on to this thing. I'd open it up and get people to challenge and critique your work as you go because that will only refine and hone it and make it even sharper and even better.

Di Tunney: What is the one piece of advice you would give to early-career marketers and students at CIM Accredited universities (that you wish someone had told you)?

Peter Markey
I think marketing is a really exciting career to have. My advice would be to go out of your way to find opportunities to show what you can do. It can be things like The Pitch, things like doing CIM qualifications, we're in a really competitive industry, so think about the thing that's going to make you stand out. And that is not just having a great degree or a great qualification, it's things like The Pitch, things like, have you done something when you were in university, that has helped you demonstrate your marketing prowess. Have you supported a charity, have you worked through your summer holiday in a local design agency? I think those are the bits that I think will really stand you in good stead to show your personal story, you've got all this amazing knowledge and you've got experience of how you've applied that and used it and done something with it.

So, I think that would be my encouragement, to do those extra things that give you a bit of an edge to have something more to talk about… What are the things in marketing that you love, where's your access point, where do you get your energy from and therefore, what's your way in? You might be an amazing analyst who loves data, great, that's one way in, or you might be incredibly creative and like project management or the creative brand development side of it, that's another way in Or, you might be a great researcher, there are so many ways into marketing. So be thinking about the things you enjoy the things where you get your energy from and therefore where you want to find your way into marketing and then where you want to go to from there. Unusually, I started my marketing career doing analytics and I like analytics it’s not where I get all my energy from. I did that for about a year and then I was in a marketing comms executive role. And I found that I enjoyed the project management. campaign delivery side, far more than the analytical side. It was great to start with analytics it gave me so much good knowledge, but I never saw myself staying there. I certainly found that I got a lot more energy from the campaign delivery side. So, I'd ask everyone to find where their energy comes from and then find their way into marketing that way.

Pete Markey FCIM is Chief Marketing Officer at Boots UK and is responsible for all Boots marketing in the UK and Ireland including brand, marketing communications, data, loyalty and omni media planning and comms

Di Tunney FCIM is Vice-Chair Comms at CIM Midlands Regional Board and Founder of Kardia, a digital marketing and customer insights agency based in Nottingham.