The Player: Jergens' Kirk makes mark on beauty, publishing worlds

By Published on .

Chief marketing officers turned consultants-such as former Coca-Cola Co. Chief Marketing Officer Sergio Zyman or Scott Bedbury of Nike and Starbucks fame-have written books. But never, at least according to Brad Kirk's research, has an active CMO written one.

That changed earlier this year when Mr. Kirk, VP-marketing and sales of Kao Corp.'s Andrew Jergens Co. unit, published with McGraw-Hill "Lessons from a Chief Marketing Officer." Despite the academic-sounding title, Mr. Kirk, who recently took on the sales role in addition to marketing, makes some surprisingly controversial observations.

On media, he writes: "Advertising spending influences editorial coverage. This is true for movies on late-night talk shows, and it's true for beauty-care products in fashion magazines."

He recommends delving into agency-expense books, though he adds: "Advertising creatives are rare and precious creatures, and you want your agency to be able to afford the best of them." He advises cutting less essential items, such as account planning or even client staffing, to pay creatives.

His realistic approach to package-goods marketing laid out in the book led Kao recently to give him the top sales job. "[Buyers] at power retailers are the best marketing consultants in the world," he said. "Having the marketing and sales functions joined at the hip makes it easier to incorporate buyer insights."

Mr. Kirk, 46, started his career in the early `80s at Helene Curtis, where, as a brand manager two decades ago, he launched the Finesse brand. Except for a stint at News Corp.'s Twentieth Century Fox, he's spent most of his professional career competing against Procter & Gamble Co. at Helene Curtis, its acquirer Unilever, Alberto-Culver Co. and now Kao, where he's only a few exits up Interstate 75 from P&G's Cincinnati headquarters.

Proximity, however, didn't keep Mr. Kirk from taking some shots. Among other things, he pokes fun at P&G for being years behind rivals in going global and paying more than $10 million for the U.K. trademark for Physique hair care, even as the brand disappointed in the U.S.

putting it to the test

Within weeks of the book's publication, Mr. Kirk put his ideas to the test as he launched a review of Jergens' $100 million creative account this spring, ultimately selecting Kirshenbaum Bond Creative Network, New York, and ousting incumbent Interpublic Group of Cos.' Lowe Worldwide, New York. Honoring full agency-client disclosure, Mr. Kirk read Richard Kirshenbaum's book and Mr. Kirshenbaum read Mr. Kirk's book. They found themselves, (pardon the pun) on the same page.

"He's really smart, really seasoned and a really insightful guy," said Mr. Kirshenbaum, co-chairman of the independent agency. "He's enthusiastic and supportive of the creative process. ... We're very aligned in terms of our thinking."

The book, said Mr. Kirk, was helpful in outlining his views, and those of his boss, Jergens President Bill Gentner, as they searched for an agency. But Mr. Kirk, perhaps wisely, avoids telling tales on his own brands. Kao has two index entries in the book, compared with 28 for P&G.

Fast Facts

Name: Brad Kirk

Age: 46

Now: VP-marketing and sales, Kao Corp.'s Andrew Jergens unit

Challenge: Make Japan's Kao a major player in U.S. beauty care

In this article:
Most Popular