Sue Chidler’s marketing career began more than 30 years ago with a job interview in French. Fresh out of university with two degrees – one in French, Spanish, business and politics, and a post-graduate qualification in international business – she started applying for “anything that looked semi-interesting”, which is when she landed her first job at Puma in 1987.
It came as a bit of a surprise at the time, given the interviewers said they would pay her travel expenses if she didn’t get the job but not if she did, and then asked her how much her train cost.
Chidler refused to tell them, got up and left. But by the time she’d got home, they had already called to offer her the job.
Whether they were wooed by her French or ballsy attitude, Chidler spent the next two years as the sports brand’s marketing services manager, where she worked with a number of big sporting names including Linford Christie, Boris Becker and Paul Gascoigne.
In her mid-20s, Chidler waved good bye to London and moved to Nottingham to start a job at Wrangler, which was trying to take on Levi’s in the midst of the UK jeans war.
This is where she got her first real management position, and where over the next four years she learned a number of invaluable lessons about art, creative, and client and agency relationships, which she says has shaped the way she works with agencies today.
Lingerie brand Gossard marked Chidler’s move into an international role. It was also where she had her ‘viral’ moment when she launched the most complained about ad of the year, accused of causing car crashes, which led to Chidler having debates with Irish priests on the radio.
“I’ve got a very young team now and I do feel like the grandma telling the stories about the way it used to be in the good old days,” she says.
Via Timberland, Chidler joined her former competitor Levi’s in 2002, which was then a very different brand from the one she had known in the 1990s. Sales were down and its image was suffering, but Chidler was ready to make some drastic changes that would turn the brand around.
“It was probably the hardest time I’ve ever had within a business,” she says. “But also where I learned the most.”
Almost two decades on from her first marketing job, Chidler had fallen out of love with big companies. And so she set up her own consultancy in 2005 – Hi I’m Sue – where for the next seven years she worked with brands including Triumph, Timberland and Cath Kidston.
Her consultancy work was what landed Chidler her most recent job at Cath Kidston, as director of global marketing, in 2013. She led a 32-strong marketing team that has helped sales to grow from £50m to £136m over the last five years.
Chidler says it was Cath Kidston that made her fall in love with going in-house all over again.
The days of fax and Telex
Puma, marketing services manager (1987-1989)
“When I first went to work the only person who had a computer on their desk was the guy who worked in supply chain and logistics. We used to have outline sketches that we would colour in to show the colours of all the shoes. I shared a house with the sportswear designer and she would bring these things home and we would sit and colour them in and fax them through. It was like being back at school.
“I remember getting the first Mac [computer] and getting the Telex come in overnight from the Far East, so you would come in the morning and there would just be reams of paper on the floor where all of the information was going backwards and forwards. It was a very different way of working.”
Fighting a war with competitors
Wrangler, marketing manager (1990-1994)
“When you’re in your 20s, you think: where am I going to go to get the broader experience? It was a bigger department, a bigger budget, a bigger brand and it was at the time of the real jeans wars in the UK. Levi’s was doing amazing things with all its classic advertising and Wrangler was very much a challenger brand.