General Mills’ New Global CMO Wants to Figure Out What’s Working Before Trying to Change Things

Ivan Pollard joins the CPG giant from Coca-Cola

Pollard formerly worked at agencies like Naked and Wieden+Kennedy.
General Mills

General Mills announced today that Ivan Pollard, former senior vice president of strategic marketing at Coca-Cola, will be its new global chief marketing officer.

Pollard, who officially left Coca-Cola in May, begins his new job on July 10, reporting to newly appointed CEO Jeff Harmening. In a statement, Harmening cited Pollard’s “diverse global experience” with both Coca-Cola and agencies like Naked Communications and Wieden + Kennedy, where he spent several years as a media planner.

The incoming chief told Adweek that he plans to focus first on reviewing the CPG giant’s considerable assets around the world.

“We have a great opportunity to position marketing as a driving force again in making [General Mills brands] as relevant they can be,” Pollard said, citing a “great portfolio of secondary brands” and adding that the team he will soon lead must “learn from each other around the world about some of the [latest trends], be they in marketing, technology or, most importantly, food.”

“We want to sit on top of the wave, start to ride it and regain those glories,” he said.

This means facilitating a greater sense of connectivity within an organization whose influence touches nearly every corner of the world, even as it faces significant challenges in maintaining its global dominance. Last December, the company announced that it would be eliminating 400 to 600 jobs, including that of CMO Ann Simonds, as part of an effort to “maximize global scale.”

"Too often, people come in and want to change things. I want to find out what's working first."
Ivan Pollard, General Mills global chief marketing officer

Pollard cited three dimensions of his plan, the first of which is re-examining General Mills’ portfolio to determine which brands to showcase. “We all get excited about Blue Apron, HelloFresh and AmazonFresh, but that’s what Betty Crocker was 50 years ago,” he said.

The second aspect of this approach involves leveraging General Mills’ existing intelligence capabilities in the interest of “getting those [insights] from point A to point B more effectively,” while the third concerns acting on Pollard’s belief that “CPG companies are massively undervaluing their real-world influence.”

“General Mills has a very significant real-world presence on supermarket shelves and tables,” he said. “Other brands don’t have that … and it’s very difficult to replicate in the digital world.”

Pollard said he’ll focus on combining the power of brand-name recognition with the digital consumer experience to “create a kind of alternate reality” that provides a higher return on investment.

Several times during his conversation with Adweek, Pollard downplayed the common perception of incoming CMOs as change agents.

“My job is to help the team, not tell them to do things differently,” he said.  This outlook also applies to General Mills’ agency lineup following last year’s U.S. creative review, which saw the company assign the bulk of its $700 million domestic marketing business to 72andSunny and Red Scout while tasking several smaller agencies with project-based work.

“Too often, people come in and want to change things,” he said. “I want to find out what’s working first.”

Chief creative officer Michael Fanuele, who played a significant role inthe 2016 review, also left General Mills earlier this year. When asked about the relevance of such a role in an organization with a massive agency portfolio, Pollard said, “I think the responsibility lies with agency-client relationships.” He added, “From Singapore to South America, you can’t tell everyone what great creative work looks like … but you can create standards and best practices.”

Pollard predicts he, like Marc Pritchard of P&G and other prominent CMOs, will continue focusing on data and measurement in setting stricter standards for agency partners.

“[But] the fundamental practice of marketing is the same as it was 30 years ago,” he said. “It’s still about the most beautifully told story about your brand that connects to a human need and compels people to act and create value.”