Profile: Lindsay Reisser-Weston, vice-president of marketing at Weight Watchers UK

Reisser-Weston: 'I consider myself a walking brand ambassador'
Reisser-Weston: 'I consider myself a walking brand ambassador'

Lindsay Reisser-Weston, vice-president of marketing at Weight Watchers UK, is reinventing its proposition.

Lindsay Reisser-Weston has been on a diet. As marketing chief at Weight Watchers, the trim, five-foot-tall Northern Irishwoman, along with her 12-strong team, has tried out just about every weight-loss programme available, from rival Slimming World to Alli diet pills.

'We are very active in competitive tracking of other plans, but always come straight back to Weight Watchers,' she adds. However, she is at pains to point out that this is not a compulsory part of the job.

Reisser-Weston, who joined the business just over three years ago and was promoted to vice-president of marketing last year, is currently overseeing what is internally described as the biggest change to Weight Watchers in the past 15 years - the launch of the ProPoints system.

It is investing a record £28m in its 2011 ad campaign, created by McCann Erickson, which broke on Boxing Day and is running for 16 weeks on TV, radio, press and online.

The New Year is, naturally, a vital period for the diet industry as consumers seek to undo the damage caused by festive over-indulgence or resolve to improve their health. But at a time of cutbacks across the board, it is critical for Weight Watchers to get this campaign right. About one-fifth of its base of 2m members is recruited in January and Reisser-Weston has her fingers crossed for bumper numbers.

The recession hit the diet industry hard, with Weight Watchers no exception. 'The biggest competition we face is actually self-help,' she says. 'People are being bombarded with free information and weight-loss plans from newspapers and magazines.'

Although the business is not yet back to pre-recession numbers, it is 'getting there'. The success of ProPoints, which soft-launched in November, is vital to boost membership and make the brand fit for today's more demanding and nutritionally aware dieter. 'The meetings business and online grew by triple figures in November,' says Reisser-Weston. 'It is usually one of our quietest months, but it was busier than the previous January.'

Rather than apportioning points to foods based solely on their calorie and saturated-fat content, ProPoints now takes account of carbohydrates, fat, protein and fibre, as well as the energy used to digest foods. The company claims this is a more scientific, accurate and modern method than the old system. The thinking is that the digestion of foods that are high in fibre and protein burns more calories than items low in these elements, leaving fewer calories to turn into fat. The ProPoints system assigns a lower points score to these more filling foods.

A key change is that all fruits are now 'free' in points terms, a shift intended to encourage healthy choices. 'I love the anecdote we hear about bananas,' says Reisser-Weston. 'Previously, people said they would choose between eating a banana or a small chocolate bar. Now they are opting for the point-free fruit.'

Surely eating 10 bananas a day won't help weight loss? 'People don't come to Weight Watchers because they have a fruit problem,' she says. 'They could well eat lots of bananas, which is fine within ProPoints, but our message is not to over-indulge.'

The early signs look good. Reisser-Weston says that, despite the challenge of recession, the business grew by 15% year on year in Europe, where ProPoints has been in operation since last February. With the New Year campaign under way, she is keen to build on that momentum for 2011.

One innovation in the spotlight is the Weight Watchers NHS referral scheme, piloted five years ago. Doctors in two-thirds of Primary Care Trusts in England can now prescribe a course of Weight Watchers. Reisser-Weston also believes the UK would be receptive to At Work, an initiative popular in the US and Germany. Participating employers offer Weight Watchers as a staff perk, hosting meetings at work and providing online access to staff.

Another concept being considered is the introduction of 'fixed centres'. Essentially shops that offer meetings, advice and branded products, these are already in operation in the US in their own right and as in-store concessions in Australia.

In the drive to show people how Weight Watchers has modernised, 'pop-up meetings' are also on the cards. 'We will be going to places like supermarkets or shopping centres with pop-up stands to show people what we're really like - Weight Watchers isn't just something your mum might do,' she says.

A grass-roots approach is central to the brand's strategy. Under Reisser-Weston, it has created a platform on Facebook and Twitter. 'We're looking to drive word-of-mouth more than ever, so we are returning to our roots - creating advocates. This will mean talking up our members' successes, as well as modernising our meetings business.'

Achieving the right balance between traditional meetings and digital platforms - from online points-trackers and community forums to iPhone apps - has been one of the marketer's main challenges.

Eighty per cent of Weight Watchers' business is through meetings, which will remain its focus. Reisser-Weston knows how important these are to members. She signed up to Weight Watchers in 1996, with a wedding on the horizon, and lost 31lbs in nine months. Enthused, she became a leader in her spare time in the late 90s, while working at Procter & Gamble.

Despite her neat figure, Reisser-Weston still attends meetings. 'I consider myself a walking brand ambassador,' she says.

Not one to sit back, she is in training to run the London Marathon. She aims to beat the 4hrs 45mins time achieved by her brother-in-law, Nestle group sales director Vince Robinson.

This competitive spirit was fostered in Reisser-Weston's teens, when she was a keen hockey player, winning 13 caps for the Irish under-18 and under-21 teams, as well as a dozen caps for British Universities.

Having a job that 'helps people change their lives' is immensely rewarding for Reisser-Weston, who is also taking a three-year life-coaching course in her spare time. While she has a dream of opening a health spa, she admits that this is likely to remain unfulfilled, as she is drawn to the cut and thrust of business too much.

Her responsibilities have grown from the meetings business to also oversee online, customer services and co-ordination for advertising across Europe. 'I would like to develop my career into general management, and my enlarged operations remit around service innovation is part of that,' she says. 'I'd love to be senior vice-president for Weight Watchers one day.'

If she matches the dedication of many of the brand's 2m members, Reisser-Weston has every chance of achieving her goal.

INSIDE WORK

1992-2003: Various marketing roles, Procter & Gamble

2004-2006: Global head of marketing for Clearasil, Boots Healthcare International

2006-2007: Global category director for therapeutic skincare, Reckitt Benckiser

2007-present: Marketing director, rising to vice-president of marketing, Weight Watchers UK

OUTSIDE WORK

Family: Married with two children

Lives: Binfield, Berkshire

Favourite brand: Benefit Cosmetics

Favourite holiday destination: New York

New Year's resolution: Get fit and lose weight

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