Moonlighting marketers: from vibrators to boutique hotels, marketers apply skills to their own brands

LONDON - Marketers are employing their business knowledge and creativity to develop interesting brands and businesses beyond their day jobs.

The fact that a team of senior O2 marketers is set to roll out a range of high-end vibrators may surprise some readers. However, it seems that almost every marketing director has an interesting business on the side, or at least plenty of ideas on how to launch one.

In the current economic climate, it makes sense for marketers to have a plan B. Historically, they have a strong track record of branching out into new business ventures. A host of successful brands, from Feel Good Drinks to Gu desserts, has been created by former marketers.

Launching a brand or business venture comes with plenty of potential problems and pitfalls. While marketers are good at embracing innovation, striking out on one's own is not for the faint-hearted.

However, many marketing practitioners are now successfully combining their day jobs with innovative second businesses. These ventures provide them with the rewarding experience of creating a brand from scratch while generating insights that they can use in their day jobs.

While the O2 marketers' plans are still in the early stages of development, others have already taken their ventures further.

Related story: O2 marketers launch luxury sex-toy line in their spare time

Russell Braterman

Marketing director of Phones4U, owns the Kemp Townhouse boutique hotel in Brighton with his partner, Claas Wulff

As marketing director of Phones4U, Russell Braterman has one of the most high-profile marketing jobs in the UK. However, as co-founder and co-owner of boutique hotel Kemp Townhouse, you might also find him serving you breakfast in bed in the morning.

Not surprisingly, role reversal has made for some amusing situations. 'Hotels are great for collecting anecdotes,' he says. 'Ninety-nine percent of people are lovely, but sometimes serving advertising people has been interesting. Some people in the marketing world can be a bit snotty, but their attitude completely changes once they know what my day job is.'

While Braterman works in London for most of the week, at the weekend he helps with all aspects of running the hotel, from PR to HR. He can also be found obsessing over Google AdWords and how best to host journalists. 'The big difference when it's your own business is you don't have to compromise and you can make decisions on the spot,' he adds.

Braterman says the experience has put him on a steep learning curve; creating the Kemp Townhouse from scratch was a project of Grand Designs proportions.

He and partner Wulff completely gutted and refurbished the building in three months with a team of 25 workmen. Every aspect of the overhaul was overseen by the duo and the attention to detail was rewarded with great reviews when it opened last year.

The project was certainly not the result of a passing whim. Wulff quit his day job and invested five years in learning the ropes of the hotel business in Germany.

'A lot of people underestimate the amount of specialist knowledge involved,' says Braterman. 'In itself, marketing [experience] is not enough - you need some on-the-ground knowledge.'

Kevin Harrington

Director of voucher-scheme provider Sodexo Pass in the UK and a former global marketing director of BBC Worldwide, is also the founder of Josaka, a record label, webzine and live music promotion business

Kevin Harrington sowed the seeds of Josaka 10 years ago when he purchased the web domain name and began promoting a band based in Reading. The business is something of an oddity in the cash-draining music industry in that it actually manages to turn a profit.

'It's surprising how creative you can be when you have no money, and the fact I can transfer this thinking to the 22nd biggest employer in the world is great,' says Harrington, who was the marketing director for BBC Worldwide before joining global services giant Sodexo.

The site, which was originally used as a hosting space for a presentation that Harrington was due to give, came to life when he used it to support the band Short People. To attract more traffic, he added live listings and other content about the local music scene.

In 2004, to coincide with the site's first birthday, Harrington and his business partner Jim Bowes brought out a CD of local artists, and in February 2006 Josaka Music Ltd was formed. He also set up a gig to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the business and now these birthday concerts have become an annual fixture.

The experience of running Josaka has provided Harrington with a fresh perspective on his work. 'Music is a great leveller. In the business world everything seems to be about hierarchy, but music is an equaliser,' he says. 'It also tends to introduce you to people you wouldn't meet in everyday business.'

According to Harrington, the most important thing to do when setting up any venture is lend your ears to consumers.

'It all requires a lot of humility and honesty and above all you need to really listen to people,' he adds.

John Wringe

Marketing director of The Mall and co-owner of Pickleodeon, a pickled onion business

Barry Norman is probably better known for his career as a film critic than his brand of pickled onions. This could all change if John Wringe, marketing director of The Mall, gets his way.

'I'm a pickled onion obsessive,' admits Wringe, who, until he met Norman, had been unable to find an onion strong enough to suit his palate. It was, it seems, a fateful meeting. 'After a glass or two of wine we decided to do a Paul Newman and bring Norman's onions to the masses.'

It took six months to develop the recipe, based on one handed down to Norman by his mother. During this time Wringe worked on the packaging and design, and handled negotiations with retailers. The onions hit the shelves in Christmas 2007 and secured £1m of sales in their first year.

Wringe would give any Dragons' Den contestant a run for their money; Pickle-odeon is just one of his business ventures.

He also co-founded Park & Repair, a service located in shopping centres, that fixes cars which have been scratched or bumped, and is set to launch an online business targeting women drivers looking to upgrade their cars.

According to Wringe, marketers are uniquely placed to develop new business ideas. 'You can have an expert who can see an opportunity but it's knowing how to bring them to market that is key,' he says.

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