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Blue Chip vs SME: What’s best to progress your career

As a sales and marketing manager with experience working with both blue-chip businesses and SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), I’ve seen the best (and worst!) of both worlds.

While blue chips are historically able to weather recessions and withstand market shifts — crucial in this unstable, post-Brexit moment! — SMEs tend to offer job seekers a breadth of experience that blue chips can’t rival.

In fact, we’re currently seeing a real swell of later-career candidates moving towards SMEs, as opposed to the traditional blue chips that traditionally tempt the best talent.

Why do most people make the move to SMEs?

In my experience, there are typically three factors at the core of a decision to throw in the corporate towel at a Blue Chip and shift over to an SME:

  1. Agility: the perceived ability of an SME to react quicker to market conditions.
  2. Autonomy: the perceived lack of red tape and freedom to take true ownership of decisions.
  3. Impact: the desire to be, shall we say, a big fish in a small pond.

But that doesn’t mean you should write-off blue chips entirely! While many blue chips can actually offer jobseekers all of the above — as well as the opportunity for career progression, international moves, and cross-discipline training — some SMEs struggle to do just that. Let’s just say I’ve heard some real horror stories! (But let’s save those for another day…)

In short, it’s often not about the company size, it’s about the company.

(Related: See what exciting Sales and Marketing opportunities we have at Vertical Advantage now)

 

So, as a job seeker, what do I need to take into consideration before deciding between a blue-chip or an SME?

First of all, don’t assume anything about the company based on its status. SMEs don’t guarantee autonomy, nor do blue chips automatically turn you into a mere corporate cog!

Instead, test your assumptions at interview. For example, many SMEs will have their founders heavily involved in the day-to-day running of the company, which can go one of two ways:

  1. They want people with experience, who can take the metaphorical ball and run with it, or…
  2. They’re so attached to their ‘baby’ that they can’t relinquish control! (And they might be suffering from the dreaded ‘ugly baby syndrome’, rendering them absolutely immune to criticism.)

Neither one is better or worse than the other, but it’s crucial to consider which approach will suit you. As always, asking incisive questions at interview will be your biggest asset when it comes to figuring this out.

Similarly, remember that SMEs can often be risk-averse, reluctant to rush to market and fail. Meanwhile, blue chips can typically swallow such failures and bounce back. Depending on your preferences, the security of a blue-chip could definitely play in your favour.

It’s also key to remember that you can make just as much of an impact at a blue-chip business as you can with an SME.

Plus, if you’re impatient, the time it takes to land large clients at an SME can be frustrating; meanwhile, at a blue-chip, often you can hit the ground running. I recently moved to an SME having spent 7 years in a blue-chip, and this is definitely something which impacted me! I’d expected my previous clients to bring me all their recruiting needs, but that just wasn’t the case and it took time to re-establish my client base and sort trading terms etc.

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How to navigate a career in the fast-changing world of eCommerce

eCommerce is a continually growing and changing sector, and if eCom is your passion, now is a perfect time to push forward in this market.

In today’s world, eCommerce is a strategic focus for even the most antiquated of FMCG organisations and how to get most out of it is the question on everyone’s lips. The projections vary (wildly at times) but what is not in doubt is that online sales are only going one way, and as such the demand for talent able to drive that growth is substantial.

In the early days of eCommerce, only responsibility was just tagged to the job descriptions of the likes of Online NAM’s, Category Managers & Shopper Marketing Managers. This was because it only covered about 5% of the sales in comparison shop floor sales so didn’t warrant a specialist position. As time has passed, businesses have continued to underestimate the impact of eCom and hence under-invested in developing the talent of future leaders.

This short-sightedness should have you licking your lips if you want to pursue a career in it. A lot is changing. Even in the last 12 months, there’s been a proliferation of restructures and newly created roles. The appetite from companies is most definitely there, but the talent to feed it is not.

Because there’s a lack of competition and a wealth of opportunity for candidates. Right now, there’s a huge opportunity for eCommerce enthusiasts to fast-track their career. The pace of development means that the scope to learn new skills and be exposed to new technology is far ahead of the more established areas we typically recruit for.

eCommerce is a function tailor-made for curious, inquisitive folk with a thirst for knowledge.

Where do these eCommerce roles sit under?

Sales? Marketing? Neither? Both?

Increasingly, there is no clear answer. Whilst that structure is still reasonably common, the creation of dedicated eCommerce & Digital teams has led to a more matrix-led approach. It now sits somewhere between Sales & Marketing with employees acting as ‘internal consultants’ across the business.

Now, as an eCommerce Manager, you might need to be just as comfortable negotiating trading terms with Online Buyers as you are understanding the role PPC plays in improving the path to purchase. The days of simply being an ‘Amazon NAM’ are numbered and expecting to transfer ‘bricks & mortar’ experience into ‘bricks & clicks’ is unrealistic.

What does this actually mean for you when you’re trying to navigate a career in eCommerce?

As recruiters we’re often speaking to people who aren’t eCommerce specialist in FMCG but would like to be. Broadly speaking there are 3 different types of people and here’s the advice we give them.

 

1. Working in FMCG with zero eCom experience?

Know about Cambridge Universities work on Hero Imagery? Got some thoughts on the INS Ecosystem?

I advise you to learn as much as you can from multiple areas. Soak it all up and start to form a picture of what you enjoy the most. You might want to remain in a broad role and there’ll continue to be no shortage of demand for that, but equally, if you find an area you love then specialising will pay dividends.

Lack of experience can be made up for by giving your 2 cents/bitcoin on the latest developments in the market. This is where it’s down to your willingness to learn. If your company doesn’t have the structure in place to give you the experience you want then start developing it elsewhere – go to events, be on top of the latest developments, get to know the online buyers at the retailers you work with or eCom teams at competitors.

2. Working in FMCG with some previous eCom exposure but not a specialist?

I advise you to think about moving into a broad, generalist position. If the structure exists internally to facilitate it, or externally.

3. eCommerce specialist with no FMCG experience?

Your best bet here may well be to play to your niche skillset. Figure out what you know that most people in FMCG don’t and find a company who, if not already there, is moving towards specialisation.

If you’re keen to broaden your experience, then once inside make this clear and find out the best way to move internally further down the line. In so many areas of FMCG the closed-mindedness when hiring outside of the industry means businesses shut themselves off to talent. But, when it comes to eCommerce, skills can outweigh market or category-specific knowledge, meaning it can be a great way in for people wanting to break into FMCG.

 

To conclude, is it better to be a jack of all trades and master of none?

A generalist approach is perhaps best suited to SME’s / those with relatively new eCommerce functions. But it’s unlikely to be the long-term solution. As the nuances of what it takes to get people to buy online become better understood, the creation of more specialist positions will proliferate. At the developed end of the market, you already see companies taking a more sophisticated, specialist approach.

Now, structuring their teams with the understanding that eCommerce is not just a commercial undertaking. A sale online has resulted from the culmination of every touchpoint. I’m positive that the same approach is likely to filter down & become commonplace in the market as time progresses.

If you’re still not quite sure what you need to do in order to progress your career in eCommerce, don’t sweat it!

In a nutshell, you need to become so knowledgeable that eventually, people see your talent as wasted anywhere else.

The outcome?

You’ll either impress so much at interview that your lack of experience won’t be an obstacle, or your knowledge and enthusiasm will be recognised internally and allow you to make the case for creating/shaping a role just for you.

Lastly, what does the future look like?

One example I’d expect to see, is more direct-to-consumer specific roles created over the next 12-24 months and businesses leading the way in areas such as this are already nurturing the best niche talent (I’m looking at you, Unilever).

Inspired to see what eCommerce opportunities are out there at the moment? Click here to browse our latest eCommerce & Digital jobs.

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Giving Back

At Vertical Advantage, we know and understand our markets. It’s what we do best.  Due to the collaborative, cross-functional nature of our business we truly invest the time in really getting to know the growth ambitions of both our candidates and clients.

But what’s also personally important to us is giving a little bit back to the community and local charities.

We try to fundraise, donate and offer our time in various ways.

From sponsoring events, through to bake-offs and we also take pride in offering every member of staff at Vertical Advantage paid leave each year to spend time with a charity and offer help in whatever way the charity needs.

These charities are close to the hearts of the team in different ways, with some team members supporting them in their own time.

For instance, our Jayna, Associate Director has been a volunteer since 2013 for a charity called Time to Talk Befriending in Brighton who supports the elderly. They can suffer massively from loneliness and are a lot more vulnerable. Time to Talk Befriending gives Jayna the opportunity to give a small bit of her time back to the community. She especially likes it because she feels it helps ease some of that loneliness.

I’m the newly appointed Senior Marketing Executive, Isabella, I have been the Social Media Manager since July 2018 for ASTRiiD. ASTRiiD connects people fighting long-term health conditions with ambitious businesses seeking skilled volunteers or staff on a flexible basis.

Most recently we organised a Great British Bake Off that was an absolute success. Not only was it an internal showdown we also had our lovely neighbours take part and help finish off all the cake. Somehow we managed to raised nearly £400! 1st place unsurprisingly went to  our Associate Director Andy 2nd place went to me(but I got the most votes so should have won…just saying!) 3rd place went to Rhys (although we’re not sure he made it)

Apart from a reason to eat cake and get competitive, this is for a fantastic cause as all proceeds go to a charity close to our hearts: Macmillan Cancer Support

Why Mac?

We love that this charity helps everyone with cancer live life as fully as they can, providing physical, financial and emotional support.

If you’d like to still donate for a fantastic cause please do here.

We’ve also raised money for Cancer Research on two occasions. Most recently, our senior consultants, Jack Tom, took it to the boxing ring with WCB to raise money for Cancer Research, that was completely sponsored for by our MD David. They trained intensively for 8 weeks. Jack raised £400 and Tom raised £240 above his £500 target! Our X employees, Susan and Kathryn also took part in a Race for Life raising 17% over target.

We’ve also supported these charities the years:

Rainbows Children’s Hospice a Leicestershire based hospice that covers the larger East Midlands Area and offers support and care not only to the children but also to their families.

Battersea Dogs Home this speaks for itself…a nation of animal lovers but unfortunately there are one or two people out there who do not have the compassion or responsibility to look after these wonderful creatures and Battersea will rehabilitate and ensure the dogs go to homes that really care

Demelza Children’s Hospice Demelza provides the best care and support for seriously ill babies, children and young people and their families across East Sussex, Kent and South East London.

Matt Hampson Foundation aim is to provide advice, support, relief and/or treatment for anyone suffering serious injury or disability which has arisen from any cause, but in particular from participation in or training for any sport, sporting activity or other forms of physical education or recreation.

There are always new local causes that come to our attention and if we can give them just a little bit of support we will.

We will keep you updated through the year on what we get up to and (hopefully) how much we have been able to raise.

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Is Crabtree & Evelyn ahead of the curve by closing all stores and going digital?

At the beginning of 2019, Crabtree & Evelyn—known for luxury body, fragrance, and home care products — announced they were shuttering their bricks-and-mortar stores around the world. Moving forward, they’ll be operating as an (almost) digital-only company, serving customers in just one lonely London ‘concept’ branch, according to reports.

But while some outlets have questioned “what went wrong” for Crabtree & Evelyn, is it possible that this is actually a savvy business move? (We hesitate to call it a ‘business decision’, given that industry insiders had been chalking up Crabtree & Evelyn’s bankruptcies and store closures for months.)

After all, we are living in the digital age, when beauty brands are able to hold their own online, and Crabtree & Evelyn is a big-name brand with an internationally recognised concept.

But can Crabtree & Evelyn thrive (almost) online-only?
It’s key to consider that Crabtree & Evelyn’s customers mainly consist of Gen X and Baby Boomer consumers. Can they rely on their name-brand, luxury legacy alone, if they abruptly shift focus from the high street?

It’s possible, but considering their target markets skews older and more affluent, they may find their profits taking a hit. After all, while some studies show that Baby Boomers spend more online than Millennials, it’s generally understood that online shopping is a young person’s game.

However, from my experience in this market, it can be done, especially in a world where direct-to-consumer sales are dominating, and other companies have successfully made the move online. Take Lego — a brand selling an ostensibly physical, tangible product—which suffered a steady decline through the 90s, before reinventing itself in the early 2000s via films, games, and applications.

Even so, looking at the FMCG sphere, in particular, we must recognise that many newer companies launch with eCommerce factored into their business plans from Day 1. This makes it particularly hard for established retailers (like Crabtree & Evelyn) to shift their focus to eCommerce and thrive–there’s just too much-established competition. Not only is a huge investment needed, but there’s also a ton of risk involved too. It’s not just as simple as adding an online shopping option to your current set-up.

(Related: See what exciting eCom and Digital opportunities we have at Vertical Advantage now)

Debenhams and House of Fraser know this only too well. Despite both being big-name department stores, their lack of eCommerce strategy has proved to be a real Achilles Heel. The result? Store closures left, right, and centre across the country.

On the other hand, Ugly Drink is an especially good example of a company that hit the ground running with eCommerce built-in and they’re now branching out into subscription services which is great for offices. However, imagine if Coke tried to make such a move! They might have (metaphorical) money to burn, but even so, it would be a risky decision to suddenly shift focus to eCommerce.

Yet Unilever is (sort of) doing just that, aiming to double their direct-to-consumer sales which currently account for just 5% of revenue. And they’re taking inspiration from existing, established subscription models to do so. Time will tell whether their move pays off, but it certainly has for both Dove and Maille, two big companies that have successfully segued into the eCommerce market. Maille, in particular, has taken the whole ‘sell the experience’ aspect of eCommerce to heart, leading with gifting ideas and recipe suggestions for the curious consumer.

But for a flagging Crabtree & Evelyn to survive and thrive in the digital sphere, specialising may be the way to go. Some have suggested they should follow the L’Occitane business model, hyping up product provenance, while data indicates they might need to hone in on beauty or skincare, rather than trying to do it all (who buys fragrance online, anyway?). Most of all, they’ll need to shift focus onto Millennials and Gen Z consumers, who tend to shop online more than their older counterparts.

They’ll also have to ensure their logistics are seamless. In a world where Amazon dominates, uh, pretty much every market, Prime delivery and next-day postage options which cost almost nothing, customers are no longer willing to wait 3-5 working days for their deliveries. (Customers have already complained about Crabtree & Evelyn’s poor online delivery logistics.)

In short: Crabtree & Evelyn need to rebrand and reposition themselves as a brand for Generation Z and Millennial consumers alike, steering away from their Baby Boomer past.

Could concept stores help bridge the physical-digital gap?
Crabtree & Evelyn’s decision to forge ahead with a concept store in Islington, London could be the silver lining of this entire debacle though.

And they’re not the only ones to go big or go home about the concept of, well… concept stores in recent months. Big-name British drugstore Boots has also announced plans for a London concept store, which will include Instagram zones and YouTube studios.

By allowing customers to interact with products in person, in a new and revitalised way, concept stores could prove the gap-bridger that retailers, especially a brand like Crabtree & Evelyn, need as they migrate their business online-only. The saviours of bricks-and-mortar retail?

So is digital-only retail the future?
Signs point to possibly, but only if you’re selling something customers have bought before and are familiar with (a.k.a. repeat purchases). However, hooking the customer with your brand still depends on a high street presence. So, for companies looking to rid themselves of high street overheads, a combination of physical concept stores and a strong online presence may be the way forward. Only time will tell.

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Is blockchain a positive disrupter to the Supply Chain sector?

Avoiding the use of technology in our day-to-day lives is nigh-on impossible nowadays. And the story isn’t much different when it comes to supply chain.

In fact, technology can massively help with the creation and distribution of goods throughout the supply chain process. As a result, many in-the-know insiders have pinpointed supply chain as one sector which could benefit from the use of blockchain.

If you’re out of the loop where blockchain’s concerned, it’s simple technology which underpins digital or cryptocurrency, allowing for digital info to be distributed and updated in real-time. And the name? That comes from the ‘blocks’ that are added to ‘chain’ of info to be verified and authenticated.

But how can this help the supply chain sector?

Well, for a start, blockchain could speed up, manage, and update otherwise time-consuming processes like the verification of ID, bank details and certifications. Put this into the context of uploading new suppliers: manual onboarding time could be slashed significantly. And given supply chain’s tendency to span international borders, getting the latest information processed in the quickest way possible is paramount to maintaining efficiency and accuracy.

(Related: See what exciting Supply Chain and Procurement opportunities we have at Vertical Advantage now)

In August 2019, IBM alongside partners like GlaxoSmithKline, Lenovo and Nokia to name but a few, announced a new blockchain network: Trust Your Supplier.

The aim?

To reduce the time taken for supplier onboarding as well as to mitigate against fraud or human error. Not only will this make the supply chain process more efficient, but it’ll also reduce labour costs and, as data intelligence improves, boost performance, ensure fewer losses, and identify new issues which can then be addressed and resolved. Beyond that, tracking costs could be streamlined, auditing functionality improved, and demand estimates honed and met with ease.

Nevertheless, as with all technology, downsides are inevitable. Firstly, the move to automated processes will lead to not insignificant job losses within the admin sector and specific roles may need reconsidering as a result. Secondly, workers will need to get to grips with the admittedly overwhelming-at-first blockchain system and processes. We’re not saying you need to have a Bill Gates-level knowledge of blockchain’s ins and outs but, still.

Finally, although blockchain has been around since 2009, it remains a relatively new and untested technology, which would require thorough vetting before being rolled out across the supply chain sector. Basically, it’s far from a quick fix.

Even so, the potential applications of blockchain within the supply chain sector are substantial and worth keeping on your radar in the coming years.

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Moving jobs? How to prevent feeling pressurised to accept an offer

Let’s face it: No one wants to feel rushed or forced when making any decision so why should this happen when choosing a job that you’ll be committing to for the foreseeable future?!

But unfortunately, you’re probably one of many reading this blog because this happens far too often.

Most recently, I was working with a candidate who was looking for the perfect Senior Category position. Now, she was very transparent throughout the process, telling potential future employers that she was in the process with other organisations. The first had offered her a role, but she was also in the final stages with the other two businesses.

Instead of rewarding her transparency (and let’s be honest, assessing your options properly is critical to any candidate considering a move!) they gave her an ultimatum saying she had till 5 o’clock on Friday to make a decision!

A lot of it comes down to the agency you’re dealing with so, if you want to avoid feeling pressurised to accept an offer, here are my top tips and warning signs to look out for to ensure you make the right decision.


The 3 alarm bells when dealing with a recruiter:

  1. An Ultimatum
    Understandably you can’t take a month to decide whether or not to accept an offer, but if you are being pushed with an unfair deadline with no justifiable reason then this is a clear alarm bell.
  2. The brief changes
    Another warning sign is if suddenly, the message changes e.g. You’ve been told from the beginning that you’re looking after Sainsbury’s then without much explanation your main focus will be Iceland. Things do change within businesses, but it is important to understand why the role of responsibilities has changed.
  3. They don’t know you
    I’m not talking about your favourite colour, I mean your aspirations, motivators and drivers. If they know this, then they’re way more likely to match you to the perfect company.

 

The 6 positive signs:

  1. The recruiter knows the process from the start to finish
    A good recruiter should be able to map out the whole interview process at the first call. e.g. if they know from the beginning that it’s a 3-stage process with a verbal reasoning test in the middle.
  2. They’ve worked with the company previously
    If the recruiter has worked with the hiring manager or the talent acquisition team previously it not only shows that they are trusted but it also shows that they’ve proven that they’ve successfully placed a good candidate in the past that fits with the company culture. This is super important for you because beyond role and pay, you want to know that your recruiter gets you and will align you with a complimentary company culture.
  3. They’re the companies preferred recruiter
    This may be the best sign of them all. It conveys that your recruiter is not only competent and valued but also speaks volumes that the client is willing to cut all cords with any other recruiter.
  4. They won’t budge until they meet you
    Who can truly understand you and your long-term goals in a 5-10-minute phone conversation? I seriously doubt even your parents can! So, if a recruiter endeavours to meet you because they see the value in talking with a clear headspace and looking at your career development holistically then guess what?! They are a keeper!(Related: See what exciting Commercial Strategy / MS&P, Category / Insight & Commercial Sales opportunities we have at Vertical Advantage now)
  5. Presentation preparation
    Now I don’t mean they literally prepare the whole thing; I mean they’re instrumental to your presentation being successful. They guide you; they tell you what to include, they’re honest about the length and help you be as concise as possible.P.S. Here’s a general rule of thumb if you’re wondering:

    • Don’t be too fluffy
    • Be concise
    • Convey what a good outcome looks
    • Always include initial priorities and longer-term goals and smart objectives
    • Encourage you to know your product e.g. store visits, topical insight
    • Makes sure you know what’s relevant in the category and who the competitors are

    In my opinion, the best recruiters are the most knowledgeable. In fact, they’re so well informed they might even sound like they could do that job themselves!

  6. Really honest feedback
    No one is perfect. That’s why the best recruiter will not tell you what you want to hear. Instead, they will give you constructive feedback as well as help you with developmental areas.

 

Being aware of all these points will ensure your recruiter understands your aspirations, motivators and drivers meaning that will get you the perfect job so you aren’t left questioning it all and feel pressured to make that final decision.

However:

If the role is perfect, location is ideal, packages are in line with your expectations and you like the brand or product – why are you still questioning it?!

Ask yourself honestly: why are you hesitating?!

It’s probably because you don’t want the role, it is better to be honest and not leave companies wondering. You never know where you will come across that hiring manager again.

Accepting offers can sometimes be trickier than the interview process, that’s why it’s always so important to meet your recruiter face to face so they understand your needs and create a bespoke plan for you. If you don’t put the time in at the beginning to express your wants and needs, then it’s no surprise that it can likely crumble when you get to the finish line.

I hope this article has helped you navigate better in what can be an uncomfortable situation and helped you feel a little bit more in control. If you want to discuss further career opportunities, some top tricks I’ve learnt along the way or maybe you’re just after some career advise then please drop me an email on dale@vertical-advantage.com, alternatively, you can reach me on 0207 438 1565. I’m all ears.

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4 Supply Chain Trends That No One’s Talking About… Yet!

As a result of the ongoing Brexit debacle, the Supply Chain industry in the UK is in flux.

European graduates, who typically dominate Supply Chain, are opting to stay on the continent, while export is overtaking import in importance…to name but two of the industry’s emerging trends.

As you can imagine, Supply Chain is going through a period of both uncertainties right now. Or, depending on your interpretation, a period of opportunity.

With that in mind, here are some emerging trends to keep an eye on in the coming months.

Demand planners are, appropriately, in demand
A lot of companies are upgrading their demand planning function, advancing from traditional S&OP (Sales and Operations Planning) to IBP (Integrated Business Planning). This is especially true for blue-chips, who have the resources to implement IBP and are likely to see the greatest returns.

In layman’s terms, they’re making the demand planning process collaborative, while simultaneously expanding its focus. Whereas monthly forecasting meetings once involved only marketing, sales, and operations teams, IBP now integrates the involvement of finance in the discussion.

But why? And what does this mean?

Basically, it guarantees greater accuracy, because you’re considering a wider range of data, ultimately creating a more agile, realistic and strategic monthly forecast.

Export is stealing focus from import
As the government continues to hash out a deal with the EU about Brexit—who knows how much longer they’ll be at it!—export is understandably becoming the logical focus.

Why?

The pound has weakened significantly since 2016, meaning exporting British goods is more cost effective.

Notably, this means that there’s more need for candidates with experience in exports, knowledge of taxes, levies and appropriate customs documentation.

Shipping professionals are moving to FMCG Head Office roles
Previously food FMCG business would only consider people with a food industry background. That has now changed and we see more fluidity between food and non-food FMCG professionals.

Logistics managers in FMCG head offices are realising people with shipping backgrounds have transferable skills and with the right training, they are able to tap into a wider talent pool that they hadn’t previously considered.

As recruiters, we’ve seen first-hand how Supply Chain line managers are open to applicants from more diverse backgrounds right now, like marketing and sales.

Dip in European Supply Chain candidates
Again, Brexit’s uncertainty is affecting Supply Chain, this time from a recruitment point of view.

While this industry is typically dominated by European graduates—in 2015, 69% of Vertical Advantage’s Supply Chain placements were European—the number of applicants from the EU is decreasing. In 2018, we saw an almost 10% decline.

This is likely because there is a vat of uncertainty surrounding their immigration status in this turbulent Brexit time. Will they be allowed to reside visa-free in the UK post-Brexit? Will they receive sponsorship from their employer? Nobody really knows.

On the upside, this provides a huge opportunity for UK candidates keen to move into Supply Chain.

These are interesting times, we have a capable and knowledgeable team here who would be happy to talk through these industry insights in further detail and to assist you with any upcoming recruitment needs.

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7 Red Flags to Look Out For When Hiring A Brand Manager

Brand Managers are essential for companies nowadays.

If they do their job right, they help your business (and brand) stand out.

They develop a unique concept for the company, which then drives the marketing and promotion efforts.

They liaise with both media and clients, keeping everyone happy simultaneously.

They must be, on some levels, extroverted, keen to work both independently and as part of a team.

And yet, at the same time as having a creative vision, a good brand manager must also be an excellent analyst, capable of consuming and applying data to their designs.

In short, it’s no mean feat. And neither is hiring a good one.

So, the next time you’re interviewing for your latest multitasking, multitalented Brand Manager, here are some atypical red flags to watch out for.


1. They can’t explain their ROI
Anyone who’s hired a Brand Manager before will tell you that they love to talk about their impressive ROI figures.

“Oh, you increased sales of your last brand by 10%? Nice.”

However, don’t just skirt past the fact and take it for granted. Ask them exactly how they did it.

If they’re a competent Brand Manager (who’s not fudging the numbers, that is) they should be able to tell you.

However, if they’re bluffing, getting them to explain exactly how they managed to bump those sales by 10% will leave them flustered.


2. They’re safer than a Trojan condom
The last thing you want is a Brand Manager who plays by the rules. Of course, you want someone who can follow the rules. But you still want them to toe the line every once in a while when it comes to innovative campaigns and ideas.

If you interview a potential candidate who’s worked for big-name brands but hasn’t done a single thing to innovate their strategy or make a difference at the company, then they might not bring too much to your team either.


3. They rely too much on their team
Teamwork is a CV staple and with good reason.

However, when you’re looking to hire a Brand Manager, you want someone who can take initiative, not someone who relies on their team to do all the heavy lifting.

Similarly, if they seem afraid to take charge or work autonomously, that’s a huge red flag.

Your Brand Manager isn’t there to be babied.

(Related: See what exciting Brand Manager roles we have at Vertical Advantage now)


4. They’re trapped ‘inside the box’
When you hire a Brand Manager, you’re looking for a person with a demonstrable ability to do more than just sail along and manage a brand. They need to surpass their title and develop and build.

When taking a brand to the next level, innovation is essential in a world where it can sometimes look like your branding strategy was created by a cookie cutter.

Rather than just copying trends, thinking outside the box and starting their own movement is truly what makes a fantastic Brand Manager.


5. Lacking collaboration
For most positions, longevity is a virtue. It shows loyalty and probable talent (hey, they didn’t get fired!).

But for a Brand Manager, such an illustrious (but steady) career can be a sign that they lack a certain je ne sais quoi.

Maybe they’re not quite as collaborative as they need to be, or perhaps they only look out for number one.

Maybe they simply play it safe or are more focused on preserving and protecting their own career than considering the needs of the business and the team.

While loyalty to a role isn’t a bad thing, then, you should be wary of the why.


6. They’re blacklisted by agencies
I mean…this one speaks for itself but let me elaborate. If your Brand Manager is blacklisted from other agencies, it tells you several things:

a) They’re probably not that good at their job.
b) They’ve pushed their luck one too many times… and not in a cute way.
c) Associating yourself with them probably won’t be a good look for your company.

Even if the candidate you’re considering hasn’t quite been blacklisted, but still has a bad relationship with other agencies, consider why that is. Maybe make some phone calls if you’re still interested in hiring them.

Basically, get to the bottom of the story, because you certainly won’t be hearing the full version from just one of the parties involved.

(Related: See what exiting Brand Manager roles we have at Vertical Advantage)


7. They always go with their gut
Having an opinionated Brand Manager can be a good thing. You want someone who will take initiative and risks in order to push your brand and company forward. But you want those risks to be very carefully calculated and well thought through.

What you don’t want is someone incapable of looking at things logically and taking the data into account. Being a good Brand Manager means using consumer-driven insight when and where possible.

So, make sure you hire someone who knows how to strike the right balance between Don Draper-esque genius and Iron Man analysis.

Have you hired a Brand Manager before? Are there any red flags we missed? If you want to discuss further get in contact via siobhan@vertical-advantage.com

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6 ways to beat Amazon at its own game

The way we shop is constantly evolving.

And, as it happens, Amazon is the original influencer.

When it comes to commerce, no company has had quite the seismic impact as the Bezos-owned behemoth.

For shoppers and retailers alike, it can sometimes feel like it’s Amazon’s world and we’re just living in it especially when it accounts for 43% of all US online retail sales.

Amazon has impacted our shopping habits at seemingly every turn. Here’s why… and, more importantly, this is how you can join them instead of failing miserably at trying to beat them.

1. Step up your logistics game

Obviously, the bigger Amazon gets, the more they can capitalise on economies of scale.

This means making excellent profit margins on every item you sell isn’t such a big deal when you’re selling a bucket load of stuff at the speed Amazon does.

It’s driven by a phenomenally efficient operations and logistics process that other businesses have struggled to keep up with, although Ocado is an exception to the rule.

Ocado is one company managing to go toe-to-toe with Amazon where logistics are concerned. According to Peel Hunt analysts, Ocado’s warehouse robots perform far more efficiently than those at Amazon.

So how long before Amazon tries to buy Ocado?

 

2. Follow Amazon’s shipping time lead

In the face of Amazon’s impressive market dominance and scale of infrastructure, any and all efforts to compete can quickly seem futile. No one can match their sheer size and scale.

And yet, competing, at least on some level, is necessary.

Look at the arrival of Aldi on British high streets. It was their unassuming and limited range of products sparked a slow-burn doom for profit margins at Tesco and Sainsburys in the early-aughts.

The easiest place to start is on shipping. Thanks to the Amazon influence, customers want faster shipping. And by faster shipping, 96% reportedly means ‘same day delivery’.

So, if you’re still offering 3-5 day shipping for £4.99, customers probably won’t be flocking to your online store.

In short, follow Amazon’s lead and speed up your shipping.

 

3. Offer an experience

This may well be one of the key advantages of operating as a bricks-and-mortar, independent retailer in an Amazon world. Shopping isn’t just about the price anymore, it’s about the experience (especially if Millennials are your target market).

Why? Because Amazon’s abundance of online products has made some shoppers more discerning. When we can buy practically anything we want online, at the swipe of a thumb or click of a mouse, the experience of shopping in-store becomes something of a luxury.

But what about online retailers? Do they stand a cat’s chance in hell of competing against Amazon?

Long story short: yes.

Amazon’s infrastructure may be impressive, and its ease of use is undeniable, but it remains a faceless, corporate entity. If you want to beat Amazon at its own game in the online-only sphere, you have to go above and beyond when it comes to service. Give consumers that experiential vibe they crave from bricks-and-mortar stores.

Simple things like personalised (but not pushy) emails, handwritten notes sent along with orders, speedy customer service, and a willingness to own up to and correct mistakes will go a long way.

And, I cannot stress this enough, make sure your website is as seamless and slick as possible. Invest in excellent copywriters to jazz up your product descriptions (an Amazon weak point) and link between products pages and informative blog posts.

Basically, make sure the buyer has everything they need at their fingertips.

(Related: See what exciting eCommerce, Digital, Marketing & Sales opportunities we have at Vertical Advantage now)

 

4. Build an actually useful brand

As Instagram influencers can attest to, brand is everything. And brands-as-a-culture is also a major trend for 2019.

So, while Amazon’s brand is, uh… everything, make your brand ‘one thing’. In short, do one thing well–while offering high quality and a cohesive brand strategy–instead of many things poorly.

Take a look at Baudoin and Lange. This niche loafer company has successfully tapped into the premium side of the market and they’ve done so without the tangible presence of a bricks-and-mortar retail space.

Follow in the footsteps (ha!) of Baudoin and Lange, then.

Invest in clever advertising and marketing, you can build your brand authentically, and watch your business flourish.

And remember: you’re a business, not an everything bagel.

 

5. Tap into Big (and Small) Data

Amazon is all about that Big Data. And you can be too.

As Jeremy Goldman at Inc. writes, “at this point, all brands need a strong data strategy.”

But tapping into data and making it work for your business doesn’t mean you need to invest in costly AI software. Even something as commonplace as Google Analytics can be of use.

Once you’ve decided what kind of data will be of most use to your business, you should start setting Google Analytics goals.

For example, do you want to know about newsletter signups or are you more interested in seeing who’s visiting what page and for how long?

The information generated by doing so can then inform your long-term decisions. What did you find out about the people signing up for your newsletters? Tailor your copy to them or diversify and personalise your newsletter delivery system based on which page they signed up from. The options are limitless.

Tap into social media too with software like Twilert which helps track mentions of your brand or search terms related to your business. From there, you can boost engagement, nip any emerging problems in the bud, and use the comments you’re generating to inform further business decisions.

Just remember that the data game can be heavily dependent on trial and error though, especially for smaller businesses with limited resources.

While making a data generation and utilisation strategy can be incredibly useful to begin with, be prepared to deviate from the plan if things aren’t working out.

 

6. If you really can’t beat Amazon… join them.

That’s what mega-brand Nike decided to do, despite initially thinking Amazon would devalue their carefully crafted brand. However, they quickly realised they were missing out on massive sales, and, in the process, being undercut by not-so-reputable third-party sellers.

Besides, Amazon is currently pushing for vendors to sign up with Brand Registry. As Digiday reports, this is “a program that lets brand owners and licensees submit proof that they are authorized sellers of a brand’s products”. So, it seems the time is ripe to take control over your company’s Amazon presence.

In reality, beating Amazon would be a long and impressive journey. If you’re there already don’t need to worry about this blog! (And cheers to you!)

But if you’re not quite there yet, my advice is to learn from Amazon’s journey and use their powerful reach to your advantage. After all, if it’s good enough for Nike, then why shouldn’t it be good enough for you?

And remember, I’m always keen to talk to people about this stuff, especially as a lot of you know far more than I do! So, give me a shout on LinkedIn or on andy@vertical-advantage.com if you want to chat.

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Your ultimate guide to CV writing

If you’re looking for a job, you’ll most definitely need a winning CV. Whether you’re writing your first ever CV, or you’re a seasoned professional; it can make or break your chances of securing that ideal job. Therefore, it’s important that you get it right.

A CV is essentially a document that outlines who you are, what relevant experience you have and what you can bring to your next role. It’s most definitely not an autobiography of your life and employers will often spend under 30 seconds skimming through it.

With this in mind, there’s a number of factors to consider when writing your CV. From framing the content in the right way, to including the correct information and tailoring it to the job you’re applying for. If you’re hoping to secure that exciting role then read on for our advice.

Stick to a clear CV structure
Firstly, ensure that you stick to a clear structure. There are plenty of kicking about online; so have a search and decide which is best for you. For example, if you’re straight out of education and have little experience, your focus is going to be more on your studies and skills.

Alternatively, if you’ve been working in your industry for some time, you’ll likely stick to a more traditional format; starting with your personal profile, before moving on to your experience and then your education.

Either way, the top of your CV should always include your name, contact number and email address. You don’t have to state your full address on your CV if you don’t want to, though do try to include the town you live in, especially if it’s close to where the company is based. Also, you may wish to include your professional title, if appropriate.

Perfect your personal profile
The first main section of your CV is your personal profile. Keep this short, no more than three sentences long and provide a brief summary of who you are and what you can bring to the role you’re applying for. Alongside this, if you have any career goals, be sure to include these.

Just remember that the reader wants to know why you’re the best person for the job. So, if you fail to impress them at the top of your CV, they’re unlikely to carry on reading.

Shout about your experience
Next up is your experience section: possibly the most important part! Here, you can highlight any relevant experience you have; whether that’s work experience, an internship or full/part-time employment.

You should state your experience in reverse chronological order, starting with your most recent position first. For each section, be sure to include the job title, the dates in which you worked there (month and year is fine) and a short overview of any key skills and achievements. To make it easier for the reader to digest, it’s also best to use bullet points.

Alongside the above, when shouting about your achievements in each role, try using numbers to quantify them. For instance, rather than stating ‘I consistently hit target every month’, try ‘I consistent exceeded my target by 20% each month’. It helps to bring your example to life.

Touch on your education
The next part to focus on when writing your CV is the education section. Again, list your education out in reverse chronological order and include any relevant qualifications. If you’ve only just left education, this section will be your main focus and you can go into detail on any key modules studied at University or grades achieved in school/college.

As you progress throughout your career, employers tend to focus less on your education and more on your experience. So, if you have over 10 years’ experience in the industry, you probably don’t need to include details about school or college.

What else should you include?
Aside from the above, there are a few other sections that some people opt to include in their CV. For example, some wish to shout about their hobbies and interests. Again, if you’re just starting out in your career, this section can be useful to include. However, only do so if you actually have something interesting to say and better still: don’t lie!

At the end of your CV, you may also want to include a reference section. Note that you don’t need to actually include references on your CV; simply stating ‘References available upon request’ will suffice.

Tailor your CV to every role
Hopefully, you’ve got to grips with the basic structure of a CV. It’s definitely worth putting together a ‘skeleton’ document that you can work off of every time you apply to a job. However, it’s very important that you tailor your CV to every different role you apply for.

After all, a generic CV that isn’t relevant to the job won’t impress recruiters. They want to know what you can bring to the business and why you’re interested in the role. So be sure to set aside some time to do this.

Keep it concise
Finally, be sure to keep your CV concise. It’s recommended that you stick to two pages – any longer than this and it definitely won’t get read. Use a clear and easy to read font, such as Arial or Calibri in size 11 or 12. Alongside this, ensure that it’s in a format that’s easy to read. Graphics don’t tend to work well on CVs, especially if the company is using an Applicant Tracking System.

Ready to start writing your CV?
So there you have it; your ultimate guide to CV writing. Hopefully, the above information should be useful to you when you’re looking for work. Remember, stick to a clear format and include only the most relevant information. That way, your CV has a better chance of making it to the ‘yes’ pile; once you’re ready to go, why not register it online and see how you get on – good luck!

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In 5 Minutes, I’ll Give You the Truth About Hiring Someone From An Agency Background

There’s an age-old debate in the marketing world, one which has been pro-ed and con-ed to death in recent years. It goes a little like this:

“Should we bring onboard an experienced in-house marketer or try something new and hire someone with an agency background?”

There are obvious advantages and disadvantages to each, of course. The former will be familiar with traditional in-house business model strategies, while the latter may be able to bring a fresh perspective.

Yet for all the potential advantages that hiring someone with an agency background brings, many clients remain reluctant to consider them for in-house positions.

But…why?

As an advocate of hiring marketing execs with an agency background, let me dispel some of the most persistent myths and, while I’m at it, explain why people with agency experience might be exactly what your company and clients need.

They’re often talented multitaskers
One of the biggest misconceptions about former-agency hires is that they’ll shrivel up with boredom after two days on the job in-house.

I mean, why wouldn’t they? Aren’t they used to working on a variety of projects at once?

Of course, they are.

But that doesn’t mean that working on one project will automatically equal boredom.

They might, like most people, just want a change of pace. Or maybe they prefer the idea of focusing on and dedicating themselves to one brand after honing their talents in a fast-paced agency.

Besides, working in-house doesn’t mean your job narrows its focus that much. From experience, you still have to handle lots of things at once, so it’s not like former-agency hires are going from all to nothing by working in-house.

In fact, their fingers-in-many-pies, multi-tasking past will work in your company’s favour, as they’ll likely be highly efficient and capable of tackling all those things at once!

This is especially valuable if your marketing team is on the smaller side, you can only afford to bring onboard one member of marketing staff for the time being, or you’re trying to get a fledgeling company off the ground.

(Just remember that making one marketing person do everything is not a sustainable model in the long run, though!)

They’re adaptable
Many companies think that one-time marketing agency employees won’t be able to adapt to that in-house marketing life.

But, remember, these are people used to dealing with totally different campaigns from two completely contrasting industries. So if you can handle an 8am meeting with P&G and a 2pm conference call with Shell in just one day, you’ll certainly have the flexibility for in-house marketing.

On the other hand, marketers used to working in-house have likely been moulded and shaped in their former roles.

So, hiring someone from a marketing agency background allows you the chance to shape them to your in-house way of doing things, precisely because they’re not another stuck-in-their-ways marketer used to working in-house.

They’re malleable and, as a result, adaptable, meaning they’ll slot into your marketing team in no time.

They have specialised knowledge and skills
Hiring a marketing exec with years of in-house experience is all well and good. What people assume is they’ve probably got used to the way things work (sometimes a little too used to the way things work–see above!) and they likely have deep and specialised knowledge of their particular industry.

On the flip side, people assume exactly the opposite of former-agency marketers. They assume that they don’t have deeply specialised knowledge.

However, if they come from an agency which focused on, for example, SEO or PR or even data, they absolutely do have more in-depth knowledge and insight into that particular industry. Why? Because they’ll have worked with a range of clients to give detailed business strategies backed up by data.

Furthermore, people with agency backgrounds have to find solutions to business problems that don’t necessarily arise all the time in-house.

This talent for working well under pressure can (obviously) be a huge asset to a business because former-agency marketers will probably approach problems in a distinct way and generally just introduce fresh ideas.

They’ll be an asset when you start working with agencies
A good marketing department should eventually aim to have in-house marketers who can outsource some of the more specialised tasks to an agency. It streamlines the whole process and frees up the in-housers to focus on bigger picture stuff.

So, hiring a former agency marketer can pay dividends when your company starts working with agencies. After all, they can help smooth and improve communication, because they know and understand how agencies work.

This is unlike those used to working only in-house, who typically don’t get truly understand the complexity of the challenges that agencies face.

So, having someone with this background can bridge the gap, improve the relationship and ultimately enhance the quality of work with external agencies, providing better transparency and communication. Basically, a former-agency hire can help make the whole process more efficient.

They’ll relish the chance to see projects through to the end
Something that plagues former agency employees in the marketing sphere–specifically those who previously worked at market research agencies–is the assumption that they can’t see a job through.

In short, clients believe that they lack end-to-end ownership.

For example, if you’re working with a data agency they provide lots of information and insight but, ultimately, it’s the company that decides exactly how to run with it. Which is true.

But, if you were given the chance to see a project you’d put in motion through to the end, in a more hands-on way, wouldn’t you leap at the opportunity?

So would many former market research agency hires.

 

Have you hired a one-time agency marketer?

How did it go?

Or, are you still on the fence about doing so?

Let me know via email at alex@vertical-advantage.com or add me on LinkedIn and we can chat!

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6 of Our Eco Friendly Business Ideas That You Can Copy

Winter is coming, and this time the White Walkers aren’t to blame. We are!

Yes, climate change is an ever-looming threat to society and, when discussing all things ‘oh no, we’ve ruined the earth’, it’s easy to fall into a pit of existential dread.

But there’s no time for wallowing because time is running out and change shouldn’t be limited to the home. It’s down to big business (and small business) to pull their weight too.

At Vertical Advantage, we know that all too well. We do work in the fast-moving consumer goods space, after all, where climate change is proving a game-changer. Within the FMCG sphere, many massive companies are actively working to lower carbon emissions, respond to consumer concern regarding climate change, and prepare for potential supply chain upsets.

We should be doing our part too. Especially when many people spend more time in their office than they do their living room. Fight that existential dread!

So, while there seems little point in digging into the existential ‘why’ of saving the planet — isn’t it obvious? — let’s dig into the commercial ‘why’.

And, of course, the how.


Use less electricity
Simple? Yes. Effective? Also yes. Think about just how much electricity the average office consumes in one day, between the fridges, computers, coffee machines, and lights.

A lot.

One way to cut down this usage is to simply take stock of just how much energy you’re personally consuming. Do you really need a space heater under your desk? Does the air conditioning really need to be on? (You live in the UK! It’s cold enough!)

Even the smallest reduction in your energy usage will contribute. So, before you leave for the night, turn your computer off completely instead of leaving it to idle on standby while you’re sound asleep.

Another way is for your company to invest in energy-efficient appliances across the board. The short-term expense may be hefty, but the long-term savings will be far more significant.

And another incidental benefit of turning off the lights and other electric accoutrements? Lowered overheads.

I can practically hear the office managers cheering from their cubicles already!


Change energy suppliers
And speaking of those office managers, they might want to look into changing energy suppliers too.

Not only can you win government subsidies if you switch to a renewable energy source, but you’ll also be contributing to…oh, saving the planet.


Cut down on printing
As the old saying goes, most meetings could be emails and, honestly, so could most paper correspondence.

So before hitting print on another inane update, consider simply walking over to your colleague to tell them what you need to instead.

Or, send an email. (But whatever you do, don’t ‘Reply All’. And definitely don’t just print the email anyway, either.)

If you’re really itching to work with a pen and paper instead of a keyboard though — some people are wired differently, after all — try a tablet out for size or invest in a digital notebook instead.

As for those informational leaflets? Consider whether they’re really necessary.

Promotional materials? We’re living in the internet age! Put down the paper.

However, if you do end up using paper, make sure to recycle it afterwards. That goes for cardboard and even plastics (where possible).


Be a conscious consumer
Aside from reducing your paper usage in the office, you should also think about what you’re buying, as well as its carbon footprint and packaging.

Wrapped in reams of plastic? Pop it back on the shelf.

Ahead even of recycling your waste, the best thing to do is reduce it altogether. It’s not called ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ for nothing!

After all, not everything you put in recycling will be recycled. Black plastic is a notoriously difficult material to recycle, for instance.

So, reconsider your consumer habits in the first place.


Get on ya bike! (Or bus, whatever floats your boat.)
Travel is a major contributor to climate change.

With an office full of staff members each doing their own round-trip to work and back each day, those (somewhat indirectly) company-caused emissions add up.

If the option is open to you, try walking to work instead.

Or use the Tube!

At least one of these methods will have you feeling fitter in no time, too.

Alternatively, invest in a bike and a decent helmet.

Here at Vertical Advantage, we have a Cycle to Work scheme where you can get discounts on bicycles.

Save money and the planet in one fell swoop?

What more could you want!

Buses are always a better option than cars too, especially for the exercise-averse.

Let’s put it this way: as long as you’re not chugging along in your city-centre Land Rover every day, then you can probably rest easy regarding your travel habits.


Purge the office kitchen
Does your office get fresh food delivered?

Does your office throw out many a half-mouldy banana at the end of the working week?

If so, you need to change up your attitudes to food waste too.

Order less food or even order none at all! Because once you combine the carbon footprint of that probably-foreign piece of fruit, plus the delivery, you have to wonder if it’s really worth it.

Alternatively, make a concerted effort to use up all the food. Everyone likes banana bread, right?


Go Green
All of the above is about ‘going green’ to a certain extent, but you can also switch out common office supplies for environmentally-friendly ones too.

Biodegradable bin bags and recycled paper and notebooks are great places to start, as is investing in a real set of metal cutlery. That way, you can do away with the plastic disposables in no time.

In short, where the environmental option exists, take it.

 

Like any company, Vertical Advantage is always looking for ways to implement and expand upon the above actions.

But there’s always room for improvement when it comes to our green practices and collectively taking ownership of our company-wide carbon footprint.

Sure, we still have a way to go in implementing a paperless office (the dream!), but we’re on the right path.

Are you?

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