After a quick chat and after reviewing the conversation below, we can see why Tony Hitchin was asked to take on the role as General Manager of Pro Carton.
Tony believes that no marketing plan should be small, for there is no small plan able to change mankind and our general behaviour. Instead, marketing should aim to change lives. It should disrupt, be bold, do what no one else would. Good marketing inspires others; and that is what Pro Carton is fighting to do on a daily basis, to promote the use of sustainable packaging and bring upon a better future for the entire world.
Today we are Getting to Know an incredibly inspirational marketing and brand leader, fighting daily for a greener tomorrow with his team at Pro Carton.
Tell us a bit about your role! What is one typical day like?
Rather different to what it was a year ago. Being a pan-European association, travel was the norm but now, of course, like everyone else, I’m stuck behind my laptop screen on Zoom calls! One of the best things about my role is the variety of things I get involved in. From helping to write the script for a new Carton Campaigners’ video to considering the implications of the latest packaging directive from the EU!
What was the biggest challenge in getting to your current position?
I didn’t get here by design. I was running my own business consultancy and was asked to take on the management of Pro Carton as they wanted a change of direction. The role is a bit different to most trade associations in that our primary role is to promote the many benefits of cartons and cartonboard. So, my work is mainly externally focused, looking at how we can effectively communicate our key messages to our prime target market, who I call “packaging decision makers”.
What is your personal background and what role did it play in your career?
I did Business Studies at university, when it wasn’t yet fashionable, because I figured that I’d probably end up in business of some sort! My favourite subject was marketing and my first ten years were spent working up the marketing ladder with companies such as Dairy Crest and Allied Bakeries (ABF). I then moved into Sales Management before becoming Sales and Marketing Director within the RHM Group (now Premier Foods). I eventually moved out of FMCG into the packaging industry, working for a large multinational, now known as Westrock, where I ran one of the divisions for a period, as well as being Commercial Director for their international consumer goods business supplying cartons to many household brands across Europe.
What is your biggest career-related win? What is your biggest loss?
I’m pleased to say I’ve had a lot of successes in my career but I guess one of the marketing projects that I’m proud of was the development and launch of Kingsmill bread at Allied Bakeries. I took Kingsmill from initial concept through to national roll out and range extension, creating a £100m brand. I think it’s a classic marketing case study based on understanding consumer attitudes and doing things differently from the competition. The product and packaging were both innovative for the sector and our marketing support was very effective in driving trial.
Biggest disappointment was losing some business on price when e-tenders first became popular. We‘d set our minimum offer but the tender went way below that. So, we walked away. Although, disappointing at the time, with hindsight, it was the right thing to do as strategically we wanted to concentrate on added value rather than commodity business.
What is one top marketing tip you learned on the job?
There was a quote that I’ll always remember from early in my career: “Make no small plans for they have not the power to move men." Good marketing needs to be bold and stand out from the competition.
Which individuals and/or brands do you gain inspiration from? Do you have any heroes in the industry?
I don’t have any heroes in the industry unless you’re referring to the music or creative industries where I have an enormous list! Figures that I find inspiring, however, range from Nelson Mandela, who never gave up fighting for what he believed in, to Churchill for his ability to think strategically and make big world-changing decisions, to Steve Jobs who believed in creating the best possible designs knowing they would sell.
How has COVID-19 affected you?
COVID has made me reflect on just how fortunate I am. I really consider myself one of the lucky ones. I live in a nice house with a garden, in an idyllic part of the country and can afford to indulge in the occasional luxury. I feel for those that live on their own or are in crowded accommodation, don’t have a wide circle of family and friends or are struggling financially. So, the pandemic has probably made me more philosophical.
What is your biggest hope for your brand in 2021?
I suppose my brand is cartonboard. I hope it will continue to replace plastic packaging alternatives, helping us move towards a circular economy based on materials that are renewable and don’t leave a scar on the planet.
What is your one piece of advice to aspiring marketers?
Other than the “Make no small plans for they have not the power to move men” quote that I referred to earlier, I’d say re-read your latest brand or marketing plan. I bet it says you’ll increase market share. What do your competitors’ brand plans say? Exactly the same thing. Ask yourself: what in your plan is different to your competitors and going to cause a paradigm shift?
How do you recharge away from the office?
I love playing and watching sport, playing and listening to music, going to the theatre, puzzles, fine food and real ale but like many, of late, have become addicted to various box sets. Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul were brilliant and I’m currently enjoying Call My Agent (or Dix Per Cent as it is called in its native France).
What’s your one big dream for the future of brands?
That all brands are packaged in materials that are renewable and recyclable.
Do you have any websites, books or resources you would recommend?
It’s very old now but I always thought Hugh Davidson’s Offensive Marketing was one of the most practical books about marketing. As for resources, you can do worse than check out the Pro Carton website, especially the Publications sections where there are several interesting research reports. Other than that, it’s key to keep abreast of developments in digital marketing and there are plenty of resources on the internet: a simple google of ‘best digital marketing resources’ throws up hundreds of ideas, so take your pick!