Nancy Marcus retiring from Kruger, with Susan Irving taking over

Nancy Marcus, one of Canada’s best-known and most accomplished marketers, is retiring from Kruger Products. Susan Irving, a former senior marketer with PepsiCo, will replace her as CMO.

The news was announced in a press release early Tuesday.

“Nancy has achieved many accomplishments and received numerous accolades throughout her career, and will be best remembered for her leadership and strategic brand transition resulting in the launch and significant growth of Cashmere and SpongeTowels, said Dino Bianco, Kruger Products’ chief executive officer.

Marcus joined Kruger as vice-president of marketing in 2001, just as the company was preparing to shift away from the famous Scott Paper brands it acquired in 1997 and launch new brands in Canada.

“It was a really dangerous time,” recalled Arthur Fleischmann. He and his partners had just launched their own agency John St., and knew that Marcus was running a review. Fleischmann cold called her.

Susan Irving, new CMO, Kruger Products.

“They were about to lose all of their trademarks, and then those trademarks were going to come back into the market under new ownership and compete with them,” he said. And what did Marcus do? She hired John St.—a startup. “An agency of 10 people, 15 people, who are unproven, to reinvent the brand. Who the hell does that?”

Most people think about packaged goods as conservative and risk adverse, but Marcus is bold and innovative, said Fleischmann.

Together Marcus and John St. produced ground-breaking, award winning work that made Cashmere and SpongeTowels household names. She transformed the category by embracing brand attributes like luxury, premium and fashionable instead of the familiar category traits of softness and fluffy animals. “She just steered the category in a completely different direction,” said Fleischmann. “She is just a major innovator in a category not known for innovation.”

The relationship endures 19 years later because John St. has always wanted to keep Marcus happy, said Fleischmann.

“She very much was committed to John Street’s success as much as her own, and therefore what she got out of us was far more than an agency-client reciprocal relationship,” he said. “Just like you don’t want to disappoint your favourite teacher, you work extra hard, you dig in a little deeper, you push a little bit harder, because the flip-side is she really worked hard to build our people.”

Marcus knows she’ll be remembered for the brand transitions. But asked about her proudest moment, she pointed to Kruger’s deeper transition into a modern marketing operation. “When I joined this organization, marketing didn’t have a seat at the table,” she said. “I’m so proud of bringing a team of qualified people to a level that we are a very consumer focused organization.”

She also cited the work Kruger has done for cancer research, and breast cancer research in particular. The cause became deeply embedded in the organization: from employees, to the events they supported, and even its packaging, Kruger was always contributing to the fight against cancer.

“I could say I’m proudest of exponential sales increase, but we’ve made a difference [contributing to cancer research]. And I’m personally proud of that,” she said.

Aside from her work at Kruger, Marcus has also been an active contributor to the industry, including as a past board member at both the Association of Canadian Advertisers and Canadian Marketing Association, and most recently as chair of Ad Standards.

“I must have done something right to have Nancy as Ad Standards chair, a mentor and friend,” said Jani Yates, president and CEO of Ad Standards Canada.

“Although Nancy is retiring from Kruger, she will have done so leaving an indelible mark of marketing leadership on the Canadian marketing landscape,” said the ACA’s president and CEO, Ron Lund. “Nancy is a brand builder, no doubt, but importantly she gives back to the industry and community—not only with ideas, but putting those ideas into action through personal sweat equity.”

“It’s mandatory,” said Marcus of her extensive volunteer work. She did it, she said, because she felt a deep obligation to get involved. “We have to give back, whether it be in mentorship, whether it be working through our associations, whether it’s attending functions… For me it wasn’t a debate, it was a mandatory part of what I had to do.

“And it helped Kruger,” she added. “It helped my team, it helped us learn best practices… it’s continuous improvement, not just for yourself, but the organization.”

Irving, meanwhile, has more than 20 years of marketing experience, most of which was spent with PepsiCo. She joined the company as a marketing manager in 2005 and most recently held a global role for snack brands and was senior marketing director for the Quaker Nutrition portfolio.

“She is awesome,” said Marcus of her replacement. “She is the perfect person to take over as CMO of our organization and I am elated that she left Pepsi to join us.” Marcus will stay on with Kruger until March 1 to assist in the transition process.

While she is leaving Kruger and the tissue industry, she stressed this isn’t a full shut-it-down-and-move-to-Florida retirement—although the first three months will be a time to slow down and remove herself from the intense schedule she’s maintained for years. There’s some “fun and frolic” planned, including a trip to Africa, but after that, it will be time to “get back to something that is more part-time regimented.

“I still want to do something so I can keep my mind active, I still would like to contribute,” she said. So what happens on March 2? “I’m not getting up at 5:30,” she said. “Maybe 6:00.”



David Brown