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Pentland Group, the parent company for brands including Speedo, Ellesse and Berghaus, is ramping up its in-house advertising efforts as it hunts 56 marketers, creatives and designers to join its in-house agency. Its global marketing director Sean Hastings says beyond just delivering efficiencies, it will turn the company into a “more professional brand building organisation”.

Since Pentland’s founding in 1932, the Rubin-owned family business has built a sports and fashion empire. It made a significant investment Reebok in 1981, when it was still a relatively small outfit, and helped deliver its first coloured running shoe. A decade later an acquisition spree saw it snap up brands like Ellesse, Speedo, Berghaus and Mitre. In 2005, it muscled into retail taking a majority stake in JD Sports which now boasts 1,300 stores across 12 countries. Along the way it secured The Canterbury of New Zealand, Boxfresh, KangaRoos, Red or Dead and licenses for Lacoste Chaussures, Ted Baker footwear and Kickers UK.

Hastings said it’s still not done with brand acquisitions but with its current roster it needs to work more efficiently.

Until recently, almost all of its individual brands used their own ad agencies, an exercise in expenditure that Hastings brought to a stop after his promotion from running the Speedo brand to heading up the group marketing function three years ago.

Pentland used to work with “an enormous amount of agencies… we had a huge number, it made no sense, now when we look at ourselves not as individual brands as a group.”

It slashed its roster and developed an in-house team to deliver “quick turn, art working, copywriting, bigger full campaign pieces, photographic and moving image capability,” said Hastings.

It’s a strategy that might sound familiar. In 2016, FMCG giant Unilever embarked on a massive cost-cutting exercise, pulling much of its production work in-house and culling the agencies by over half.  Unilever says its delivered savings to the tune of £250m. While Pentland does not disclose its financials as a private company, its continued investment into in-housing is evidence of its value.

The team is now 40-strong and split across London, Hong Kong and Nottingham. As Hastings looks to scale Pentland's brands (especially in Asia) it has launched a major recruitment drive to fill some 56 roles in marketing, creative, digital, product design and innovation.

The ongoing integration of this marketing talent into the company has also altered how the other teams think about Pentland.

“We’ve went from purely looking at ‘what does the brand look like’ to trying to challenge the brands more and work more as a team. We have massively increased the work going through that internal agency,” he said.

“We have built a consistent way of going from brand planning to execution and we are working on consistently briefing agencies and working with them. If you don’t do that, it will be an absolute disaster. We can only build this roster now we have built consistency; it has been a long process, but it gives us a lot more speed and pace.”

But Hastings stressed that he is not looking for the in-house outfit to become a full-service agency, simply more self-sufficient and strategic with the marketing budgets.

“An internal agency understands the idiosyncrasies of the brand but they can become complacent. Meanwhile external agencies can come in with an impressive roster and interesting views, but they will never know the barriers and intricacies of the business that can make it difficult to get things done… if you give the brief right, you get the best of an external challenger with internal understanding and history.”

Using internal and external talent and channeling it through a private, headstrong family company could arguably slow down the quick turnaround the internal group was created for. Hastings admitted that it is important to know what everyone at the table can do. “You can’t have eight agencies trying to pitch for the same work or competing. That is where the tension is unhelpful and that is where you get bureaucracy.”

While working alongside Mediacom as its lead media agency, Pentland will be looking to add a few more agencies to its roster to help with its active and footwear sections.

Hasting concluded: “The biggest change that we have been going through is internally, how do we use the scale of the group better to benefit the individual brands? How do we move talent and people around in the groups and how do we use our budgets and scale to build our internal and external capabilities?

“As the markets change, we are conscious of giving our brands the absolute best chance to grow and we are lucky that have got really well-loved brands that are in categories that matter to people. How do we get them into more people’s lives?”