Confessions of a chief marketing officer

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 11 July 2019

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What does a top marketer want from an agency? Will they pay for pitches and how much sway does procurement have? AdNews editorial consultant Pippa Chambers speaks with a big brand CMO to find out more in this series of raconteurs bending the ear of AdNews.

How has the CMO role changed in the past five years?
The role has evolved. Reaching the right customer with the right message at the right time has become as much a technological challenge as it is a creative or messaging one. CMOs now drive much more of the customer experience, the strategy on how to engage and retain, as well as the tech stack that will enable them to leverage the data they need to target and communicate.

Why is it changing and is this a good thing?
Customers change the way they consume media, they are also becoming more sophisticated in how they expect an organisation to communicate with them. There will always be a role for mass reach marketing but developing efficient ways to target consumers and deliver timely relevant messages has to be better for both the consumer and the effective use of marketing investment. That’s harder to do and more complex from a production perspective but necessary.

Are brands good at hiring for CMOs?
I think it varies. Some brands know exactly what they need, others go through the recruitment process to figure that out which can be a massive time waster for candidates. What a business thinks it needs may also not be what will make the biggest difference to them. They tend to know what they didn’t like about the last CMO and then look for the next one to be the same but better. Gradually, more organisations are recognising that the CMO role is more than just the exec that makes the ads which is a good thing and they are merging the CMO role with transformation, CX and digital functions which is a step forward.

How much power does the CMO have and how much can this vary brand to brand?
It varies enormously. Businesses that depend on volume of transactions at low margins who transact through digital channels will rely heavily on marketing investment to drive top of funnel. Also, businesses that rely heavily on brand equity will place greater importance on the marketing function and the CMO. In a business where customer service or a face-to-face sales team are king, the marketing team have less influence. The actual CMO and the value they are able to bring to the table also has an impact though. If they demonstrate an ability to influence and drive outcomes, they will be able to gain power within the organisation but they may also come up against more resistance.

What’s your biggest concern about the future of the CMO role and why?
It is probably changing more rapidly than most. The challenge for a CMO is that the results expectations are short-term, but campaigns still take six months or more from strategy to completion and there are a multitude of external factors that can influence results and change the landscape.

Do agencies make life easier or harder for a CMO?
A bit of both. Agencies have an important place in the ecosystem. They are where the strategy and creative ideas are born. However, they rarely know the business or even the customers as well as the client and so it is a challenge for them to nail an idea from the start. Yet few acknowledge this, so they don’t ask enough questions.

From a production perspective, in all the years I’ve been doing this and all the agencies I’ve worked with, a couple of things remain constant: timelines always extend, costs always blow out, there is always some really important thing that gets forgotten and somewhere along the way, unless you keep an eagle eye on things, the business objective will often get compromised for the creative idea.

Which is better to work with – creative or media agencies?
It’s a right brain left brain thing. Creative agencies are more fun because you are concepting ideas. Media agencies is charts, numbers and data.

As CMO did you ever wish you could have paid agencies for pitch work?
I have paid agencies for pitch work. We felt better about the process when we did this and it meant we had ideas that we could immediately run with. The process was different though as it was more like a competitive campaign brief. It gave us a better feel for how actually working with them would be, rather than sitting through many hours of fancy presentations that we knew where 50% spin.

What are the most important factors you look for when selecting a new agency?
Professionalism, creative talent, chemistry with the team, open mindedness, ability to ask questions, then listen to the answers, interpret them and add real, tangible value.

Do other agencies often try and court you? Despite knowing you have an agency of record?
Absolutely. Having multiple agencies working on your business is normal but they are always trying to expand the scope of work. It’s important to maintain clear boundaries between them. Unless we are in market, I don’t usually bother to engage.

How common is it for the CMO to side with agencies over your own procurement team?

It depends. I’ve worked with procurement teams that get in the way and others that really want us to get the best outcome. It’s sometimes good to have procurement involved as they can do the hard negotiation enabling marketing to maintain a good relationship.

Would you ever work agency side?
Not at this point in my career. It is enormously rewarding to concept campaigns and see how they impact a business. Being a CMO is a much broader role than just campaigns anyway, I enjoy that diversity too much.

Marketing automation and implementing new tech stacks – totally worth it or a huge pain and not worth the effort?
Totally worth it. Consumer channels are diversifying more every year. Reaching people is becoming harder, and measuring how effective you are is critical. Marketing these days is more about test learn, optimise and measurement … without a good tech stack, none of that is possible at scale.

Where do you go from a CMO role? CEO?
Possibly. Depending on the type of organisation, I think it would be an interesting avenue to explore.

Are you a CMO for life?
Perhaps, I thrive on challenge though so as long as whatever I do keeps me engaged, challenged and interested, climbing some mythical ladder is less of a concern.

Any advice for an up and coming marketing director who is gunning for the CMO role?
The most important thing that any CMO needs is a good team. Nothing I have ever achieved has been done alone. How you hire is critical as well as the relationships you build along the way.

Defining a real vision: teams need to know where they are going. Without this, they will flounder no matter how good they are.

Learn how to assess and act quickly: procrastination is death. That doesn’t mean blowing a bunch of money on a whim. Figure out where the roadblocks are in the organisation and focus on how to work through them.

Communication is key: everyone thinks they know about marketing because they consume campaigns however only marketers really understand the thinking that lies behind it.

Demystify what you are doing, make it accessible and transparent. Figure out a strategy for efficiently fielding random suggestions from the board and other execs … they will come, they always do.

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