In a low key appointment, former Times Media Group ad man, Enver Groenewald, has joined Unilever as director for Africa in the channel and communications management division. Michael Bratt sat down for an exclusive interview with him to find out what his new position entails and how he will enhance Unilever’s products and brand.
Groenewald has only been with the consumer brands group for a little over six weeks now and in his own words, “doesn’t even have business cards yet”. In his new role, Groenewald’s job is to “manage the investments that Unilever and its brands make in channel communication in the most effective and efficient way possible”. He compared his role to that of an asset manager at an asset management firm as he has to “drive higher and higher levels of return on marketing investment” that Unilever and its brands make.
The opportunity came about for Groenewald to work at Unilever after the company approached him and asked if he would be interested in the position. “Unilever was looking for suitable individuals for their talent pool and they approached me,” he says. He says he decided to join the consumer brands group as, “The culture of the organisation is overwhelmingly people centric and its business model and role in society are completely intertwined which is the same as my personal value system.” Groenewald was working at Interbrand as CEO for the company’s African operations. He describes that position as a, “pure consulting role for public and private sector brands with the mission of optimising their brand and investments”. Before that he worked as general manager for advertising revenue at the Times Media Group for five years. He explains he left the media giant as he was one of the longest serving general managers at the group and was “keen on pursuing different challenges”. He adds that it’s easy to become comfortable in a role and it leads to complacency. “Things are in such a state of flux that complacency is a dangerous place to be in. I wanted to avoid it.”
In his new role Groenewald says he wants to push channel communication to the forefront as a key element of being competitive. He also wants to focus Unilever’s advertising on digital as he describes the medium “as the biggest disruptor to the status quo of advertising”. He emphasised that Unilever needs to shape its advertising strategy to the biggest disruptor, which is digital in a seamless fashion to keep up with the advertising shifts. He also emphasised that interaction with consumers is no longer a monologue with the producer just talking at the buyers of its products; it is now a dialogue with lots of consumer input. He went on to say that the foundation which Unilever is going to build its forward strategy on is innovation. “Either we are going to be the first to market in the next big shift or we are going to be creating the shift.” Groenewald believes he brings a lot of experience to Unilever across a range of sectors as he has worked in very different environments, including Ogilvy, Sanlam and Interbrand.
When asked whether opportunities exist for media agencies to find work with the consumer brands giant, Groenewald says their doors are always open for approaches by partners. He stressed that the company wants to create partnerships rather than service driven links, and that collaboration is a key fundamental of innovation. “Opportunities are always there for smart, sharp agency partners who are aligned with Unilever’s business in SA and across the continent.” But agencies will have to work hard to impress Groenewald. He is known as somewhat of a tough negotiator in media circles. When asked about his negotiating philosophy he says that negotiating is not about one party getting everything and the other party left with nothing. “Successful negotiating is about a long term view, not a hit and run strategy. Tough means the business imperatives need to be addressed but in a fair way.”
Before the interview ended Groenewald shared his views on a hot topic at the moment, whether the LSM model is outdated and should be replaced or not. “For certain brands I can understand calls for LSM to be reviewed or for an overhaul. When you look at Unilever brands LSM is a natural fit in terms of what each LSM level is based on. We need to start relooking at the model, but not throw the baby out with the bath water,” he said.
Groenewald will be working with a team of 14 people who form part of Unilever’s channel and communications management team across the African continent. They are spread far and wide, from Zimbabwe to Kenya to Nigeria to Ethiopia. But for the next few months, he says he will be “getting to grips with the inner workings of the Unilever juggernaut.” And he will also get the chance to have his business cards printed.
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