Batenborch International talks with Robin de Bruijn

“Marketeers need to be the crusaders against conventional, predictable and uninteresting work.” This week, we had the pleasure of meeting Robin de Bruijn, Head of Marketing Snacks Western Europe at PepsiCo. As an experienced leader in various strong FMCG companies, Robin will share his insights on the industry, marketing developments and his personal growth throughout the years.

10+ "Robin De Bruijn" profiles | LinkedIn


Which aspects of your job give you the most energy?

Very good question, because it starts with energy. First of all, and the most important one, is working with, and developing my team. Creating successes together, and helping them getting better every day. That’s one of the things I like most. Then, not surprisingly, the brand. I have worked with many brands, but the Lay’s brand is closest to my heart. Most people don’t know that, within the Benelux, PepsiCo is mainly a snacks company and Lay’s is the biggest brand. As lead cluster for the North West Europe and DACH region, my team and myself do everything from strategy to execution for this brand, and because we have many resources to work with we can we are really making an impact. Last but not least, the meetings with our creative agencies, striving for creative excellence, really bring sparkles in my eyes.

Additionally, within PepsiCo, I had the opportunity to have all kinds of critical leadership experiences what really allowed me to develop myself. As a professional, but also as a person. For example, I have been creating a 5 year growth strategy for the Nordics to also build a sustainable and profitable snack business there. These kind of experiences take me of my comfort zone, which is something that energizes me. Finally, I feel it is also important to get recognition for the work we do. We work very hard on making our brands a success and it helps when you see the results and get the recognition. For example, we won the Best Achievement in Marketing (BAM) awards, a prestigious internal award within PepsiCo, 2 times already with Lay’s. But also external recognition is important, from our retail partners mainly. For example, we received the wheel of retail four times in a row. That really energizes me.

What are the main factors that contributed to your success as a professional?

One of the main factors of my success as a marketeer, is that I have been able to develop my leadership skills. The further you advance in your career, the bigger your scope gets, the more crucial it gets to develop a high performing team that is able to drive the brand and business results. That’s I think, very important.

I like to be inspired by a quote from Leonardo da Vinci who said “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. To focus on the big stuff that moves the needle on brand and business performance , being consumer obsessed in everything I do. What also helped is that I spend time in customer facing roles, creating joint business plans that add value for all stakeholders, learning from that helps you become a better marketeer and avoid becoming an ivory tower marketeer. Another main factor has been being able to talk the language of business. So really understand how marketing, brand building activities, link to the P&L performance both on the long and short term.

Which mistakes did you make along the way?

When I joined PepsiCo, I got the opportunity to lead a team of 23 people. This was my first experience in leading a large team, but also leading managers that manage people themselves. And when I started that, I thought “I managed a team of 5 before, I did that successfully, so isn’t that the same?”. Well, it isn’t the same. I think that at first I made a lot of mistakes. I was too directive, I was under the impression that I knew it all, I didn’t listen, I sent and directed. These things don’t work, they make your team crazy and you don’t get the results you want. Of course PepsiCo is a very supportive organization, so besides the on-the-job learning experience I got a fantastic leadership development training, where I was really confronted with the things that I did wrong. But, more importantly, I learned a lot from that. Even though the start was tough, I am very happy that I got that experience, because it has made me a better leader.

What challenges is PepsiCo currently facing?

First of all, I think the PepsiCo business is a pretty solid one. We have been growing, and if you grow you get a certain momentum in investments you can make.  But of course there are also a few challenges. As a Corporate, we need to grow each year. That is the main question, how to keep growing each year with 80% household penetration? You need to keep innovating and developing new propositions, but all based on how consumer behavior is changing. Be consumer obsessed again. Which is difficult, because consumers are messy and change easily and rapidly. It is a luxury problem, but a real one. Secondly, it is marketing capability. We are investing a lot in this, because we want to be the best brand building organization in Europe. We really want to stay ahead of the game at all times, that’s why we’re always transforming.

What key competences will be crucial for success in the future?

For marketeers, young and old, it’s to be consumer obsessed. You need to understand and champion consumers. Fundamentals of marketing didn’t change in all those years. Marketing is all about really  understanding the consumer tension and how to solve this. This is also about curiosity, you need to stay curious to keep understanding and knowing the ever-changing consumer landscape. But also to fuel your lifelong learning to stay ahead of the marketing game, because this is also changing rapidly.

Another key competence is Creativity, for a  few reasons. We all know that highly creative campaigns are much more effective than the less creative campaigns. Budgets are constantly under pressure and being creative can really increase the ROI of your media spend. It solves all the interesting problems you encounter as a marketeer. Finally, marketeers should also have a certain boldness, drive and vision. I feel that marketeers need to be the crusaders against conventional, predictable and uninteresting work. They need to be the crusaders of doing only the things that drive the brand and are in line with your brand purpose. Which is not always easy, there are a lot of stakeholders with different needs. Easier said than done.

What do you look at when hiring new people?

Curiosity, creativity and boldness. But I also look for people that have a plan, a plan in life or a professional plan. Because I always like to say if you don’t have a plan, you will be part of  someone else’s.

What is your general piece of advice for young professionals?

Try to understand  the difference between marketing fundamentals and marketing hypes. You have to be very critical and create your own professional opinion about things. This is why you need to be curious, especially in the beginning of your career. You need to try stuff, just go for it. Ideally, in an environment with opportunities and work for a great manager.

Be patient and chase professional and personal development first, before chasing promotion. Then career and financial success will follow.

Robin de Bruijn - Head of Marketing Snacks (North West Europe) PepsiCo

What makes PepsiCo attractive as an employer?

First of all, Pepsico has great momentum and great momentum comes with great opportunities. It’s a solid, well performing business, dynamic and still growing. An organization that invests a lot in marketing capability. To be fair, as the regional leader for marketing capability, I might be a bit subjective, but I do believe that if you want to become a very good marketeer PepsiCo is the place to be. With us you learn marketing for brands from A to Z, from strategy to creative development and execution on big brands that are locally relevant. That is pretty special and allows you to learn a lot. People at PepsiCo are pretty special too, they are smart, cooperative by nature and very fun to work with.