Go and be with marketers

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 7 September 2015
(L - R) Matthew Hall, Louise Eyres, Sunita Gloster, Matt James, David Scribner, John Broome and Tim Flattery

It’s not what you want to hear, but Australian marketers are five years behind their UK counterparts. The notion that Australia lags behind its US, European and British comrades has always been a noose around this country’s neck, but the perception has now fallen away in some areas. Australia has taken pride that in areas like technology and mobile penetration, we are out in front. But when it comes to the way marketing is perceived within business, and how marketers themselves operate, there’s still a significant lag.

That observation comes from some of Australia’s top marketers. A month ago, the AANA embarked on a new venture to connect marketers from Virgin Mobile, ANZ, Channel Nine, Nestlé, Kmart and more, to some of the brightest and best marketers and agency leaders the UK has to offer, through what it called a Marketing Exchange.

Meanwhile, Mark Ritson – outspoken brand and marketing commentator and associate professor of marketing at Melbourne Business School - gave a talk last week for the Marketing Academy, offering a damning assessment of the state of marketing and marketers in Australia.

The AANA took 12 marketers from Australia and New Zealand to the UK for a week-long program of sessions and workshops, with brands like John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, BT, Sainsbury’s, Decoded, WPP, Santander and The Guardian, with the aim of exposing them to an overseas perspective on how marketers are building strong brands and businesses.

Virgin Mobile CEO David Scribner, who sits on the AANA board and is one of few CEOs in Australia from a marketing background, said the trip showed him that “the poms are doing it bloody good. It was very impressive”.

The trip, which was sponsored by Adobe, GroupM and the Marketing Academy, wasn’t to suggest that marketers in the UK have got it licked, nor was it about showing how another market is doing things better. It was more about seeing how marketers elsewhere do things full stop.

The reality is that wherever you stick a pin in the map, marketers are all struggling with variations of the same challenges.

So there are lessons that all marketers can learn from each other, whatever country they are in. Rather than relying on peers in the same market, there is something to be said for hearing how marketers in other countries have tackled problems; how they have climbed obstacles and what came next.

How did UK marketers emerge out of a recession far more bleak than the impact Australia felt from the GFC? How are they investing budgets, exploring innovation and turning to brand building to grow their businesses? How did marketing genuinely get a seat at the top table?

Partly, according to Kellogg marketing director John Broome, it was the opportunity to get advanced marketing training.

“It gets you out of your myopic focus on your own business, gives you breadth - that is a golden opportunity. In my mind, no one is training CMOs.

There’s general management training but you’re not getting advanced marketing training so spending time in a different environment with some very inspiring people was great,” he said.

That training and further education for marketers is something there is a call for – but there’s not much on the ground here. For that reason, the group was in agreement that it was more valuable than a trip to the US.

“Cancel you’re Silicon Valley trip,” MEC’s head of business development and diversified services, Tim Flattery said. “Go and be with marketers.”

ANZ’s group GM of marketing, Louise Eyres, echoed the value of learning from other marketers - not just tech platforms and startups.

“There is the complexity, the dynamics of a business that only fellow marketing leaders can understand,” she said.

What the UK marketers have in spades, thatthe cohort feels sets them apart from Aussies, is confidence. Confidence that marketing can lead a business into growth. Something that is lacking here in the way business views marketing.

Burning platform

The UK was forced to pull itself up by the bootstraps five or six years ago. When the GFC hit, the UK was battered harder than Australia was. As as a result, it seems, marketing rose to the top as a growth-driving strategy to lead business out of dismal times. This is something that Eyres says hasn’t happened here, but it’s a momentum that marketers are trying to create.

The AANA asked each of the representatives to talk about both their professional approach and their personal journey as a marketer over the last six or seven years. While there were offers to sign NDAs to guard the information that was shared – not one single UK delegate enforced it. Such is their confidence at sharing their experiences to improve
the profession of marketing. The courage to speak openly and confidently about their business is rarely found in Australian marketers.

Scribner acknowledged there is still a void. “I agree that Australian marketers aren’t opening up, they can’t talk about it and be proud of the work they’re doing. But I think it’s starting to grow and it needs to happen. By showing what’s happening elsewhere like the UK, the Marketing Exchange gave a fantastic opportunity to compare and contrast and
say ,’they’re doing it, why aren’t we?’” he said.

The marketer/business pressure off the back of the GFC was seen as a catalyst for propelling marketing up the chain of importance within organisations.

Marketing became regarded as a growth driver. It was highlighted in financial results, marketing directors spoke at end of year earnings briefings and more marketers made it into the C-suite and into CEO roles as a result. That’s something that’s still the exception rather than the norm here.

Eyres was the first to put a time frame on the lag. “My observation is that we might be four or five years behind. The honesty of the presenters and the journey they’ve been on, their journeys seem to start about 2010 - when off the back of the GFC there was a pivotal business shake-up that forced them to think about how the business was going to operate.
Perhaps we haven’t had that but we are trying to create that now [in Australia]. We don’t have the burning platform yet, but we’re trying to create that to get the momentum,” she said.

Scribner offered that the GFC had “empowered” British CMOs in a way that Australian marketers are not.

Flattery said the GFC had aerated the way for MEC.

“It’s the Steven Bradbury effect [Australian speed skater who received an Olympic gold medal because everyone else in the race fell over]. Everyone else just seemed to fall over and now the CMO is leading those organisations,” he said.

Expect the unexpected

The schedule for delegates was a jam-packed week of workshops and sessions with some of the UK’s most prominent marketers and advertising figures, with the aim of bringing that experience back to effect change in Australian business. The three sessions that rated most highly were from consultancy McKinsey & Company, supermarket chain Sainsbury’s and bank, Santander.

The AANA even got Sir Martin Sorrell to give up 90 minutes of his time to drill the Australian marketers.

The UK is stuffed to the gills with talented marketers and a lot of them were on the program. Some globally renowned like John Lewis’ Craig Inglis, the man behind the retailer’s globally lauded Christmas ad strategy, and Ogilvy’s Rory Sutherland, whose
penchant for behavioural economics is known the world over. Others such as Sarah Warby, who heads up Sainsbury’s marketing, might be less famous internationally but her talk was one of the shining lights of the week.

Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop me a line at rosiebaker@yaffa.com.au

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