#Marketers: Gumtree’s Claire Cobbledick on leadership
by Julie Pughe-Parry (@pugheparables) In the first quarter of 2017, Claire Cobbledick (@clairecobbles) had her leadership skills put to the test, following a disastrous redesign of the Gumtree South Africa website. Feedback was largely negative and had “disastrous consequences” for the brand and its users at the time. Making it through this challenging time, Cobbledick learnt a key lesson: resilience. “Dig deep and keep going. Face the problems and try to fix them.”
At the time, she was head of core business at Gumtree SA. She outlines the problems experienced as a misalignment between the user needs, and the product and tech team. This resulted in issues regarding the speed of the site and its SEO performance. The new UX confused users, as uncovered by the tracking of key metrics: listings and replies. To tackle the issues, the changes were rolled back and creating small incremental changes became the focus instead, with more-rigorous testing.
Facilitators of connections
The website redesign hasn’t been the only bump in Gumtree’s road. The brand hasn’t been immune to the impact of a mobile-first market and a struggling national economy; however, being a useful online classifieds service strengthens its standing. It sees its role as trade engineers — facilitators of connections between buyers and sellers, explains Cobbledick, who was promoted to GM in June 2018 (she joined in January 2014). Many people have taken to trade to create an alternate stream of revenue. These individuals have been lovingly dubbed “Gumtrepeneurs,” and they embody the vision of the brand.
In talking about the future of the Gumtree brand and business model, she explains that the business model will be expanding to be able to support and empower South African businesses in marketing themselves and connecting with their consumers: “We need to earn our keep in the eBay universe and generate revenue but the principle of helping people and businesses become economically active is a very strong motivating force.”
She has focused on increasing proximity to consumers. “We’re calling it the ‘Season of the Customer’ and we’re making sure everyone feels closer to our users,” she says.
Cobbledick’s career path has taken her on a winding journey through the marketing and advertising landscape of SA. Her past experience, at Red Bull and The Jupiter Drawing Room (Cape Town), has shaped her to be the leader she is today.
Red Bull presented her with the opportunity to really become involved in the business of brands. She reminisces about her time with the company and highlights the less-glamorous aspects of the job as the areas in which she learnt the most: specifically, negotiating with store-owners for shelf space and advocating for the product, right on the front lines. At Red Bull, she often felt a sense of myopia — becoming too immersed in the importance of the brand and not really being able to contextualise. In search of a more-diverse experience, and one that allowed her to dabble in strategy, she joined Jupiter.
Looking back on her time in agency and the state of adland in SA, she has a few observations on the industry as it now stands. With the digital wave building strength and encroaching on more areas of our day-to-day lives, some agencies are experiencing a struggle for relevance. When she started out in industry, “there was quite a big rock-star association with advertising and that has shifted over time.” She notes that it will take more than an epic TV ad to become a ‘Hero of the Adworld’ today, and agencies need to be aware of that.
More natural style
Faced with a “more masculine-defined role” as the precedent familiar to her, she grappled with the idea of being an “authoritarian” leader. This was soon overcome as she realised that leadership would suit her more comfortably if she led in a way that’s more natural to her: “I was trying to play the role rather than just allowing my own leadership style,” she says.
In coming to this realisation, she’s been able to settle into her role and forge a path of her own. She emphasises the importance of soft skills in her approach, and ensures that the understanding of people is a top priority.
Through her career, Cobbledick has challenged herself through a variety of different roles but, underneath all the strategy and structure, is her irremovable sense for people — an understanding of how they think, how they feel and all that it takes to motivate them. She credits this quality as the reason she was moved into leadership roles to begin with. “It’s about focusing on, understanding and orientating around people,” she explains.
Julie Pughe-Parry (@pugheparables) graduated from Vega Cape Town with a BA in creative brand communications in 2017. A copywriter by day and freelance content writer by night, she continues to pursue her passion for the craft of written word.”
MarkLives profiles South African marketers in its regular #Marketers column.
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