Q&A: Why Ivan Pollard Is Joining General Mills

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General Mills Names Ivan Pollard as Global CMO
General Mills Names Ivan Pollard as Global CMO Credit: General Mills

Ivan Pollard is joining General Mills after more than a year of change in the marketing and media organization. The maker of Cheerios and Yoplait selected a new U.S. media agency, WPP's Mindshare, in the fall of 2015. In 2016, it picked MDC Partners' 72andSunny and Redscout as its primary U.S. creative agency, with Joan Creative, Erich & Kallman and The Community working on projects across its portfolio.

Chief Marketing Officer Ann Simonds and Chief Creative Officer Michael Fanuele left in recent months. But the marketing organization isn't the only part of the company seeing major changes. General Mills elevated Jeff Harmening to the CEO role as of June 1, months after overhauling its global structure and cutting hundreds of positions. And later this month, the company will report fiscal 2017 results. It previously said it expected sales to drop 4% in the year, which ended in late May.

Pollard, who hails from England, holds a bachelor of science in physics from the University of Nottingham, and was an Ad Age Media Maven in 2013, officially joins General Mills as global chief marketing officer on July 10. He already lives in the Minneapolis area and had been traveling for work during his tenure at Coca-Cola.

"I've been commuting between Atlanta and Minneapolis for a while. I've always been interested in General Mills. Some of their brands are things I grew up with and loved and some of their marketing has been at the top of my list of things I've admired from a European perspective. So when the opportunity arose it felt like a perfect fit for me," Pollard said by phone on Wednesday, after General Mills announced it was hiring him. The following Q&A has been condensed for length and clarity.

Why did you want to join General Mills?

I was really impressed with the way the leadership team is approaching the things ahead of them. I think there's a real purpose ahead of them. There are challenges they are going to face, and they are the sort of challenges that I love. I think they are good people making good things for people to eat, doing good things to help people to eat better. You can just feel a sense of optimism about the prospects ahead, and marketing is part of the reason that that optimism has come about.

There's been a lot of change at General Mills, particularly in the marketing and media organization. What is it about all of that change that you see as optimism-- some people might be concerned about so many changes.

It's always difficult because you don't know 100% of the story from the inside. From the perspective I've been able to garner going through the process that change has been done respectfully, kindly, and purposefully and I think they've got themselves set up now with an organization that has the possibility of being much more agile, much more able to kind of span the modern world and the kind of traditional world, and I think they've got the good people in the right place to be able to help marketing prosper again and really start to drive the company.

It's Cannes week. How important are awards to a marketer?

I think creativity matters. The ability to create a really powerful story that connects with people and makes your brand relevant and do it in a way that's beautifully told and crafted to get a reaction. That's a skill that we'll never walk away from. We're walking our way back to being able to do that all around the world. Creativity is primary in crafting stories and agencies still have an ability and a capability to do that, to understand, to bridge between what people think and feel and want and need, and what a brand offers, and find a way of telling that in a lovely story. Agencies are still great at doing that … The agencies are still important, creativity still rules. And whilst I've never quite believed that content was king, behind every king is a brilliant queen that is called connection. So getting the right king and queen to work for you to get the right thing in the right place at the right time … that's our job as marketers. We fully embrace the capabilities that are emerging from all sorts of different storytellers, from the most awarded ad agency at Cannes or whether it's the latest teenager doing something incredible on Instagram. We're going to be looking for people to help us tell our stories about our brands.

What did you think of Publicis pulling out of awards shows for a year?

It made one eyebrow go up if you know what I mean. What are they doing it for, what's the motivation? I think that the Cannes of the world are a great playing field on which we can all demonstrate our best game and I think it provides a great fertile ground for exchanging and exploring ideas, but also showing your best to the world. Agencies go Cannes to show their best work, in order to demonstrate to clients what they're capable of. It takes an awful lot of effort to get those awards done and if they're going to fold the effort back into doing great work for clients then I think that's an interesting tactic. What I took out of that was the idea that they are going to put the same amount of effort they put into the awards into making their product better. If they're genuinely able to do that then good for them, and we'll all be interested in seeing what they're doing. They put an awful lot of time and effort into programmatic and they didn't pull out of awards shows to do that.

Have you had a chance to look at General Mills' agency relationships? Are you going to be reviewing relationships on the creative side or on the media side?

The very first thing I'll be doing is working with the people who are in place, who are all great people and are highly competent, and I would ask their point of view on that ... I'm going to go in and ask our people what they think of the people. And if they're happy, then I'm happy.

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