How Scott Paper’s Stephen Blythe is cleaning up in paper towels

When Stephen Blythe joined Scott Paper back in 1995, he finally had the opportunity to practise what he had been preaching for years. Blythe moved out to Atlantic Canada to join Scott as key customer manager, after a career in category management at Markham, Ont.-based ACNielsen.

When Stephen Blythe joined Scott Paper back in 1995, he finally had the opportunity to practise what he had been preaching for years. Blythe moved out to Atlantic Canada to join Scott as key customer manager, after a career in category management at Markham, Ont.-based ACNielsen.

‘It was a wonderful opportunity to take all those Nielsen methodologies and put them into practice,’ he recalls, adding that the methodologies entail ‘looking at categories as individual or unique business units [in order] to bring win-win situations to both the retailer and Scott.’

Indeed, this training benefited Scott Paper, which quickly grew its business to record levels in the east.

Adds Blythe: ‘We stayed disciplined through the methodology and it paid back in huge dividends. So much so that the organization decided to move me up to the corporate office in 1998 to take on a new role, as national customer resource manager. It involved taking all those category management methodologies and putting them into practice in our key accounts all across the country.’

The move to Scott’s Mississauga, Ont.-based head office was a sort of homecoming for the London, Ont. native, but he still misses the East Coast. ‘It’s a wonderful place to live and have a career. There’s a nice balance between those two parts of your life.’

Although Blythe continues to strive for that same balance in work-crazed Ontario, he still managed to find time to chat with Strategy about the advantages of being employed by a Canadian company, the value of getting Canadians to think of paper towels in new ways, and the dangers of product innovation.

Considering you’re marketing paper towels, your ads have been innovative and creative. How have you been able to do that at a large packaged goods company?

The first thing is, hey, we’re a Canadian company. The decisions on the category for the most part happened at my desk. I’ve been empowered by our leadership team and VP of marketing [Nancy Marcus] to really push the envelope and make Scott Towels a contemporary, confident brand in the Canadian marketplace.

The campaigns from John St. [in Toronto] and Palm Publicité in Quebec have been very successful. If you look at the recall on our advertising, we’re searing that message of ‘getting you out of big messes’ in the Canadian consumer’s mind. The brand is clearly in growth.

[According to John St.'s entry for Strategy's 2003 Agency of the Year, the 'Big Messes' campaign resulted in a 15% growth in volume.]

What’s the key to marketing a product in a mature market?

I don’t necessarily see paper towels as a mature market. If you compare it to other household goods, from a household penetration perspective, it’s somewhat underdeveloped. It’s at about 84%, so there are wonderful opportunities to get consumers to think about using the product in alternative ways.

When you look at our print campaign, with the dog, the paint can and the hot dog, that’s very much what we’ve been trying to do. And if we can do that, it will grow the category and grow our overall volume.

We also just launched a new Web site, Bigmess.ca, and what we’re trying to do is leverage our campaign and make it ubiquitous. On the site, we ask consumers how they use the product. It’s trying to create that emotional link with them.

How important is product innovation to your category?

Clearly it’s very much a part of this particular category. It’s something that we are constantly looking at – what is the newest, greatest, and breakthrough idea? We haven’t launched what I would consider a revolutionary new product recently, but we have ideas that we are looking to launch in the foreseeable future. We haven’t rushed to market, because we’re doing our homework.

As we all know, many products are launched and many fail. We try to stay somewhat disciplined. I think it goes back to talking to and listening to the consumer, and getting insights from them, which can help you lead your product development or your new technologies.

What’s your favourite pastime outside of work?

Golf. And, you know, I have a young family, with three children. Eoin (pronounced Owen) is six, Emma is four and Colin is a one-year-old. I’m very much involved in their activities. I’m a soccer coach, and I’m trying to be that super dad. It’s a huge balance.