Q&A: Will Orr, Commercial Director at British Gas

by Jessica Ramesh
British Gas head of marketing, Will Orr.

In this instalment of Figaro Digital’s series on Europe’s most influential marketers we talk to Will Orr, Commercial Director at British Gas. He tells us about the challenge energy providers face regaining consumers’ trust and discusses the launch of the British Gas’ Hive and ‘me’(mobile energy) brands

What does your role as the Commercial Director of British Gas involve?

My brief is to drive sustainable growth in British Gas, which means I’m responsible for the company’s growth levers. Those levers are marketing, product development, customer value management, customer strategy, sales and partnerships. I lead a team of 1500 people across several sites; the sales team in particular is quite large.

What qualities – personal, technical and creative – does a role like this require?

I think leadership is very important. It’s my job to give people the confidence to do their very best. I need to champion ideas and innovation. I do this by giving people the right support, encouraging them to ask the right questions and giving them ways of selling those innovations into the business. And I make sure to celebrate good ideas when they happen.

Importantly, I’m expected to be the voice of the customer in the business. I also need to drive a degree of pace in terms of making sure that British Gas is a growing company.

What do you think will be the most significant challenge facing marketers in your sector over the next year?

The challenge is regaining the trust of consumers in the energy industry and in the companies in that industry. It’s been a challenging few years where input costs – costs which energy companies don’t really control – have been driving up bills. This comes at the same time that people have had their disposable incomes squeezed by the economy.

What was your first job in the marketing industry and how have things changed since then?

My career started twenty years ago in advertising for a company called BBH. What’s changed since then is that things move faster. When I started people were just starting to get email and the internet pretty much didn’t exist. Companies have to be nimbler now.

I also think it’s worth mentioning that, while things have changed, many things stay exactly the same. Fundamentally it’s about strategy, it’s about good ideas and it’s about good execution. That was the same in 1970, 1990 and 2010. I don’t think that ever changes.

Looking back over your career, is there any one project or campaign that you’re particularly proud of?

At British Gas we are harnessing technology to help our customers understand and better control gas and electricity in their homes. And so we’ve launched a brand called Hive which covers what we call our ‘connected homes products’ like Hive Active Heating that allows you to control your heating and hot water remotely, and then we’ve also launched a brand called ‘me’ (mobile energy) that lets you manage everything to do with your energy bills through an app. I’m very proud of those brands, and in particular of mobile energy, as myself and a very small group conceived of that idea and championed it through the business.

What advice can you offer individuals looking to make it to the top of the marketing industry?

Get in the habit of thinking from the customer’s point of view and bring that perspective into the conversation as much as possible.

Secondly, try and understand what really drives growth in the company you’re working for.

Thirdly, choose people as much as brands when you’re deciding who to work for. Choose a culture you feel happy about working in. Company culture is as important as the brand. You could be working on a very shiny and exciting brand, but if it’s not the right kind of company for you then you won’t enjoy it.

Which other brands’ marketing strategies do you admire and why?

ASOS is amazing. The way they build their online content and integrate that with selling product is very clever. Their results speak for themselves. As online shopping experiences go, they’ve absolutely cracked it.

Another brand that’s great, if slightly off the beaten track, is Hiscox the insurer. They’ve done a very good job, in a category where it’s hard for brands to differentiate themselves and stand out. They’ve indentified a big niche, a particular demographic, and then they’ve developed products, a clear distinctive tone of voice and a set of brand values around that.

After a hard day at work, how do you like to relax?

I like to relax by taking exercise. Then I’ve got three young kids, I find playing with them a pretty good way to switch off.

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

Rory McIlroy for a bit of golf chat, David Bowie, my wife, and then perhaps Eva Green (but don’t mention that to my wife).