Laura Keogh, Methven
Group head of brand
Laura Keogh, group head of brand, Methven
Laura Keogh, group head of brand, Methven
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Laura Keogh reflects on her career as a woman working in the world of plumbing fixtures
HNN Sources
Marketing at many home improvement suppliers over the past five or six years has been an area that has taken something of a budget hit. Retailers' demands for lower prices on mid-quality items has driven suppliers to pare down marketing budgets to a slim 2010s version of their more robust 1990s numbers.

These things are somewhat cyclical, of course, but what has made the current down-cycle more pronounced is both the rise of the super-retailers, and the advent of digital as a major marketing channel. The first has seen store brands become often more important than individual product brands (consumers asking "What does store X sell?" rather than "Which stores sell brand Y?").

The second has caused companies to re-examine their marketing spend, as they realise that older forms of marketing (such as print magazines) don't work as well as they once did. However, not all digital is equal, and making the best choice - or combination of choices - is now more complex.

There is a solution to both these problems. That solution comes down to one thing: people. While it is tempting to see marketing as being driven largely by numbers, the reality is that the numbers are there to measure the creative impact of the individuals who implement marketing. Good marketers are now essential.

Laura Keogh, group head of brand at New Zealand plumbing supplies manufacturer Methven, is one of those good marketers. With post graduate business degrees in both marketing and information systems management, and a wide range of experience in different industries, Laura exemplifies many of the qualities needed today in a modern multimedia marketer.

Laura was kind enough to engage with HNN to tell us the story of her career trajectory, and how she became part of Methven's senior management team. It is a story of persistence, hard work and an ability to turn her academic experience into a very real, lively contribution to the businesses she has worked in. And, of course, true to form, she also provides us with some good insights into Methven's product lines, especially when it comes to its well-regarded showerheads - including their new VJet(TM) technology.
  • Q. You have an interesting background, with both a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Science, but it is evident from your career choices that you have a real love and affinity for marketing. Did you know that was the path you wanted to take when you were at college, or did that develop once you started your first jobs?

  • Marketing evolved into a personal career goal after finishing my undergraduate college education and leading the customer service activities for CellularOne in the late-1990s.

    You see, my undergraduate Bachelor of Arts degree, was in History/Political Science, as I once aspired to be a lawyer. However, with more law students than lawyers at graduation time, I decided to put that dream on ice and enter a business sector where there were more opportunities to kick off my career.

    My first job was with CellularOne (formally Vanguard Cellular) where I started as a customer service agent and moved up the ranks to manager in six years. During that time, I was constantly involved (and sometimes frustrated) with the marketing team. The more I interacted with them, discussing promotions and phone campaigns, the more I wanted to be in marketing. So, I attended night school at the University of North Carolina to complete the curriculum required to apply to Katz Business School at the University of Pittsburgh - known for strategic marketing and IT.

    In graduate school, I decided to complete both the MBA and MS because the world of marketing was about to make a momentous shift towards digital. My MBA was focused on marketing/strategic planning and the MS on information systems management - where website building was a big part of that curriculum. Because I did not want to defer my earnings for very long, I finished both degrees in the same time as one - with distinguishing high marks. This required taking seven courses at once! I had to juggle a large work load through the identification of project synergies. I chose projects that could cross the material of many subjects, giving me and my study team a well-rounded (and efficient) result.

    I am very proud of that time. I proved to myself that I could do anything that I set my mind to and developed a real affinity for working in high productive teams.

    My experience leading up to the completion of my MBA/MS helped develop me into a marketer - I developed collaborative teamwork skills, a penchant for quality customer experience and the desire to create. I am glad I made that decision to pursue marketing. It was the right move for me and 15+ years on - I still love it. Marketing provides a well-rounded set of skills: strategic planning, collaboration, presentation, negotiation, brand communication, financial analysis and, of course, creative. It is a career that really reaps the rewards of personal satisfaction through accomplishment.
  • Q. It is often thought that women can easily find themselves pushed aside when it comes to the "technical" sphere of business. Did you experience that as an information systems post-graduate, or was there a more welcoming culture?

  • Post graduate school, I focused my career on various aspects in marketing, strategic planning, new product development, research and brand communication. I leveraged my MS education (in information sciences) to jump-start my hiring potential and later collaborate and push agencies to their online potential.

    Working at an American airline, straight out from graduate school, did pose some challenges. When I would tell people that I work for an airline, nine times out of ten they would assume as a flight attendant. Funny, it was never as a pilot!

    My first role was in an all-male Planning Department. As an analytical planner, I performed analyses to identify the high traffic domestic routes, recommend upgrade or downgrade plane sizes and assist in the negotiated entrance into new markets. I think the guys thought it was amusing how hard I worked and tried to fit into this male dominated role. It took a while to win them over, but my perseverance did pay off. They were very critical of my work, but over time I noticed that sometimes my ideas became their own - which confirmed my ability and increased my courage.

    They challenged me in many ways. One event in particular springs to mind. For some reason, none of my colleagues were available to attend a scheduled meeting in the Upper Penninsula, Michigan. Although it felt a little like I was a last resort and was finally removed from the game bench, it did not faze me. I accepted the challenge!

    I had two weeks to prepare. The Upper Peninsula is world-renowned for golf and the invitation said to "bring your clubs". So I bought golf clubs and quickly learned some basic golf skills. I used to go to the driving range with my Dad (in primary school) and was a decent field hockey player - so why couldn't I pick up some of the basics? I knew the golf course was the best place to interact with men and build affinity.

    No time for lessons though, I needed to be "game on" with my upcoming meeting with the Upper Peninsula Airport Commission - a group of men - to discuss putting in 69 seater jets into the Upper Peninsula. We discussed this opportunity over a round of golf at one of those beautiful resorts on the water. All I remember is cringing as I struck the ball from the ladies' tees, replacing countless divots and missing putts throughout all 18 holes. However, in the end, our conversation yielded what we both intended. It was not an easy feat! Glad they "gave a girl" a go!

    After a tough 18 months in Planning, I moved into the NPD/Research (new product development) side of airline marketing. That role was a lot of fun. We tracked our sales and NPS (net promoter score) performance versus the competition, initiated development of a CRM (customer relationship marketing) system, tested our new products (seats, menus, wine), new branding, and brand communications with our domestic and international customers. That was the role that really jump-started my classical marketing experience.
  • Q. Do you think the role of women in the workforce has changed during the 21st Century? Or would you say your corporate experience has been pretty much the same over the past two decades or so?

  • That is a great question. I have worked within many different industries in the USA and Australia over that course of time: mobile communications, airlines, FMCG, manchester bedding and now plumbing. In each company, the structure was different based on the number of hierarchy levels and size.

    I'd say that in general, there are lots of women in marketing roles - which makes sense as so many companies are targeting the purchase decision maker (typically female 25-55 years of age), but you rarely see women in the marketing 'C suite'. I hope that picture changes in the future. I think we can all benefit from more women in these top positions.

    To read the full version of this article, please download the magazine, HI News, Vol.4, No.8, by using the link below:
    HI News, Vol.4, No.8: Laura Keogh, Methven
    HNN Sources

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