A scintillating interview with Jo Murrell, Country Brand Manager for esteemed British Brand Molton Brown...

Jo Murrell is a bundle of laughs, the straight talking Country Brand Manger for esteemed British Brand Molton Brown is a breath of fresh air, laughing about makeup, gym kits and impending wedding preparations for her April nuptials. She’s also a force to be reckoned with, because this is one business woman with a beady focus on marketing a luxury brand – one who oozes professionalism, efficiency and ‘practical’ (‘you can’t be precious‘) charm. So much so that I almost run out of questions; my usual hour-long interview reduced to a brand spanking twenty minutes. It’s easy to see why the top team at Molton Brown chose her to facilitate the marketing of their recent redesign ahead of their 40th anniversary celebrations this year.

It’s also a few days after International Women’s Day when we meet and Jo (nothing if not a role model herself) must have some thoughts on the matter? What of the glass ceiling? Is it myth? Mirage? Is it really hard for women to succeed in business? ‘I think the harder you push, the sky’s the limit. I think it can be debilitating for people when they say ‘I can’t do that’. If you didn’t think the barrier was there it wouldn’t be. You’ve just got to be really determined.’

‘When I was really young I wanted to be a solicitor,’ Jo reminisces. ‘I wanted to just put the world to rights. But there isn’t as much creativity; I wanted to do something that had a vibrancy.' And this vibrancy extends to her personal idols; amongst them Alexis Carrington. 'I know who I really wanted to be when I was little - Joan Collins; everyone looked up to her; she was a woman in power!’

Determination is certainly not in short supply Jo’s world; so what tips can she impart to other women wishing to scale the heights of a similar career, one which has seen her work in highly esteemed marketing roles for huge global brands, amongst them Penguin, Clinique and Kuoni Travel. ‘I think networking is the most important thing – the more contacts you’ve got the better. When I started out there wasn’t Linkedin or anything, which shows how old I am!’ she laughs. ‘You’ve got to be bold, and ask for recommendations and endorsements. And also don’t be afraid to email someone you don’t know and just introduce yourself.’ Does she herself ever get any unorthodox approaches I wonder and is she open to them? ‘Sometimes we do get strange requests but then again you never know, it might lead to something you want to do, so I always look at the company, and explore it.'

How Jo came to the job is testament in itself to the power of pursuing your goals: ‘When I knew that my role at Clinique was ending I contacted Molton Brown and luckily they had a role. It was the perfect job, with the perfect brand – at the right time... I’ve always worked on brands that I’ve got a passion for, because I think as a marketeer you can’t market something unless you love it.'

So Jo is clearly a ‘Molton Brown ambassador’ of the highest degree – but what does she see as her greatest achievement to date? ‘We launched our new visual identity just before I started [all colourful new packaging, white tiles and gleaming new retail spaces] so it’s really been joining all the departments together. I’ve come along and made sure we have regular meetings and that we talk. I’ve also brought a big idea to each campaign.’

Implementing these ideas is the daily challenge Jo faces. ‘I always think it’s a bit like tennis – you’ve got the balls coming towards you and you’re batting stuff back. I always find that the best part.’ A work/life balance is all part and parcel of the ethic, instilled in Jo from years of working for huge global brands; ‘Last week I sat in the office every night till seven, going full steam ahead, but I don’t mind doing that because I need to get the job done in my head, I can’t go home and leave work unfinished, because I would just be at home stressing about it!’

All in all she’s a pretty inspirational woman, the boss you’d want as a friend, the friend you’d want as maid of honour. One who speaks with particular affection for right hand woman Camille - ‘I’ve told her she can never ever leave! Ever!’ One whose favourite part of her day is ‘coming in and saying hello to my team.’ She’s the roll your sleeves up and muck in kind of boss - never one to defer the task of a making a coffee to a subordinate, never one to pass on an email, beloved of colleagues and superiors alike. Life seems delightfully peachy, but have there ever been any tremors in the land of Jo Murrell? Any insurmountable challenges? ‘Trying to juggle everything,’ she laughs. ‘Because I look after the UK and Ireland and but I’m also looking after Germany at the moment so trying to balance three countries and make sure that you give them the right amount of time...’

Challenges fly in the face of her ‘can do’ approach however; she assesses herself as ‘very practical, I don’t think you can be precious. You can’t be someone who says ‘Oh I’ll have to delegate that’ – you have to jump in and roll your sleeves up.’ Indeed there is nothing she won’t put her mind to; ‘I am willing to do anything from a simple decline email to organising a strategy meeting or signing someone for a 40th event or a sports campaign, but that’s what makes it fun... Because it’s so diverse.’

Diversity is the name of the game, especially when it comes to online and the ever-present challenge of pushing products into an over crowded E-commerce marketplace. ‘We need to develop our website more,’ she says candidly. ‘With customer experiences and videos and behind the scenes activity so it’s more interactive for our users, selling online is a real growth channel for us.’ Molton Brown’s heritage makes it an easy sell however; a uniquely classy, high-quality brand that simply oozes the aspirational qualities that discerning customers hold dear.

With regards to Jo’s professional journey, what has been the most rewarding aspect thus far? ‘Probably when I was working at Penguin,’ she says visibly moved. ‘I got to take Julie Andrews around on her book signing tour. There was a huge crowd waiting to meet their idol and I walked in with her and thought ‘This is great – obviously she’s the name that pulled everybody in, but we kind of created that with our marketing campaign.’ Ever the diplomat Jo gears the question back around to Molton Brown. ‘The pinnacle though is coming up with the 40th anniversary campaign - we’ve got a big party coming up on the 17th of April. I think on that night I will look around and think this is it – this is the pinnacle of my career.’

Interview by Alice Kahrmann

14 March 2013