Chief marketing officer vs marketing director

Hands on, at all levels: How does the role of a modern CMO differ from that of a marketing director? What are the main challenges faced? Just two questions Maeve Hosea posed to CMOs from various industries to build up a profile of the position.


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The panel (l-r)

Eduardo Conrado, senior vice-president and CMO, Motorola
Barnaby Dawe, CMO, Harper Collins
Nick Eades, CMO, Psion
Helen Kellie, CMO, BBC Worldwide
Pete Markey, CMO, RSA Insurance Group
Martin Riley, CMO, Perno Ricard
Rick Vlemmiks, CMO, Direct Line Group

Marketing Week (MW): What do you think are the fundamental differences between the chief marketing officer (CMO) and marketing director role?

Helen Kellie (HK): Thinking about marketing beyond just brands and products is the crucial difference. It involves setting a much more strategic agenda for the business and making sure the overall consumer and brand strategies are at the heart of things. Becoming an active board member will almost mean letting go of your marketing. That is one of the hardest things to do because you spend the first 15 to 20 years of your career honing your marketing expertise.

Nick Eades (NE): The CMO role is far more strategic in nature, with almost daily contact with the chief executive and chief financial officer (CFO), plus regular contact with the chairman. Operationally, it’s far more cross-functional. You have to be willing and able to work with all of your executive team peers. There can be no ‘marketing silo’ here.

Pete Markey (PM): They should be right in the thick of the action in terms of driving the business and where it is going. Many marketing director jobs do that to a certain degree but in the role of CMO, just being skilled at comms and general branding is not good enough. You have to be a great networker and really pull the business along with you.


Eduardo Conrado (EC): Once you are a CMO and you sit on the executive team of a corporation, the role and expectations increase. This is not just about revenue generation and positioning the portfolio but about having a point of view across multiple topics: product portfolio, strategic direction, acquisitions, human resources. The CMO has a view on customer needs, ever-changing markets and how the portfolio addresses those needs.

Barnaby Dawe (BD): As a CMO, you are responsible for all disciplines across all brands. At HarperCollins, my role stretches across our seven operating divisions, each with their own marketing teams. I will create an overarching vision and strategy for the group to give each division more firepower.

MW: What are the new responsibilities you have and challenges you face in your CMO role?

HK: Fundamentally, making sure all roads lead to building the BBC brand. This translates as making sure we have a clear breast of what the brand priorities are and that each brand in our portfolio is effective. Also, working out what the collective impact is of those brands, rather than just the individual impact.

Martin Riley (MR): Really building and strengthening a marketing community right across the organisation is particularly important when you are in a decentralised structure. The most senior marketing teams, whether in a regional role or marketing or brand company role, need to come together to develop best practice and initiatives. At this level, you have a helicopter view of the whole organisation, all brands and all markets.

EC: Looking across and beyond the organisation: driving corporate, market and product strategy. Also, having a keen understanding of the role the CFO plays in capital markets and having an opinion on that area. The steepest learning curve has been on the financial side – understanding capital allocation.

MW: What really excites you about the role and the impact you can have on the brand?

MR: Our 14 brands have enormous potential and the first thing is working with the teams to really optimise what our brands can do. At Pernod Ricard, I am in a very ambitious role and organisation in terms of objectives and dynamic approach. Also, leading and representing the marketing community across a large multinational is an exciting challenge.

PM: A recent example is how my team worked with our Scandinavian business to re-engineer its customer journey. To be involved end to end in what the journey should look like and how it should be delivered is a great example of how the CMO can have a broader role. It is about getting what a brand stands for absolutely into the DNA of a business.

HK: We have a brand with a really strong consumer loyalty. I am excited by the challenge of how we take the consumer love that is so strong in the UK and translate it to other markets. We need to find out what makes it compelling to a US fan. That balance of global and local in big brands continues to be an exciting challenge.


MW: How do you define your leadership skills and how you are employing them as a CMO?

HK: First, it is about clarity. Next, ensuring I have a great team – I have to know I have the best senior team in the industry. And the third element is pushing the boundaries – continuously bringing in something new. That continuous innovation aspect is critical in a marketing leadership role.

BD: Playing a vital role in the vision and strategy of the company – championing the voice of the consumer at board level and ensuring that marketing is the engine of the organisation. At the same time, it’s key to be collaborative with your co-exec members.

Rick Vlemmiks (RV): Ensuring that the vision and strategy is clear and that everyone knows what their role is. I look for my team to take real ownership of their areas and a combined responsibility to deliver across the whole business. This makes me supportive and empowering as opposed to controlling.

EC: You start with collaboration. For any role in the C-suite, your success depends not on your skills alone but on your ability to collaborate across the organisation. It’s all about communication and how you do that across, up and down the organisation to make sure there is alignment around priorities. Then, once aligned, it is crucial to make sure everyone is on the same page.

PM: It requires a kind of leadership that is less hands on but more strategic and vision setting. This is quite interesting as a marketer because classically, I have been quite hands on. My role now is more about setting direction and leaving others to be hands on.

MW: How do you see yourself establishing a strong position in the C-suite?

HK: It is about being a strong marketing leader – setting and leading a strong consumer and brand agenda. But the real difference is about acting beyond marketing and adding value beyond your core day-job remit.

PM: In my role, I have gone from having a few stakeholders to a lot. Those stakeholders are now all of our regional chief executives, a couple of our UK managing directors and our UK chief executive – a broader network who all have expectations of me and my team. Previously, my stakeholders were a managing director and a regional chief executive. What becomes harder in my role is building those relationships when you are not in the same country. A big piece of my remit this year is going out to markets across the globe and meeting people so that they know who I am and what I’m about.

EC: If you look at the traditional marketing role, you just end up talking brand and campaigns and you limit the impact you have on the C-suite. I work hand in hand with HR and am also very active in determining what our portfolio and value proposition should be from the customer point of view.

MR: You have to recognise that this role has to add value, has to make operations more efficient and has to bring aspiration to our marketing community.


MW: Against the backdrop of global financial difficulty, what new challenges does the CMO face and how can marketing remain accountable?

BD: Most people realise that it is important to invest throughout a recession. It is inevitable that your wings are clipped to a certain degree but with that restriction, you tend to be more creative and resourceful. You have to be able to prove the effectiveness, and return on investment of every penny spent is key.

RV: In the current climate, the role of the CMO becomes ever more important. Our job is to uncover un-met needs for customers and align the business around fulfilling them better than anyone else. Understanding exactly what customers value and how best to deliver that is the only way to win, and it becomes ever more so the tougher times get.

NE: Marketing is always accountable, so that’s a constant. The present focus is on building really compelling customer retention strategies, and even more compelling acquisition strategies. We’re being far more systematic about that than we’ve ever been. This is where “marketing as a science” really has to play hard.

It also requires a new approach to data, analytics and focus. There’s still plenty of room for the creative side of marketing, but without the added rigour of a data-centric approach, it would not have a proper context.

MW: What advice can you give marketing professionals aspiring to become a CMO further down the line?

MR: Cumulative experience is important, as is the concept of leaving a positive trace in each position that you occupy – doing something very identifiable, which can be the story of your career so people can identify with your achievements and skills. Added to this, ensure that you are getting training along the way and be aware of the areas and skills that you want to build on.

RV: My advice would be get out and meet customers. You can’t do great marketing in the head office, so go to where your prospects are shopping, talking and living. I spend as much time as possible in our contact centres talking to the agents and listening to calls. Even the best marketing philosophy will only ever be just that – philosophy – unless you do this as well.

HK: Use your time building up your career to learn about other parts of the business. Take the opportunity to learn how the totality of your company works – that will make you a broader contributor.

NE: You have to think like the chief executive, worry like the chief financial officer, understand digital like the chief information officer and have the presence of the sales leader. Yes, you have to be the voice of the customer, yes you have to understand your market, and your product, and your competitors, but if you can’t be respected in the boardroom for your broader thinking – and, especially, strategic thinking – then it might not be for you.

PM: Get a track record for really delivering in your organisation. And don’t forget the other disciplines. Don’t wait for permission, roll up your sleeves and get involved at the heart of your business. Don’t put marketing in a box. Be absolutely involved and add value right across the organisation – the customer agenda and the IT decisions will affect your future propositions.

Sponsored viewpoint: John Gambles

John Gamble

Chairman and partner of research specialist Quadrangle

Today, it’s not so much the breadth of the challenges CMOs face as their growing complexity that makes this role one of the most exciting in 21st century business.

The constant battle to stay ahead of competitors and engage with customers, while continuing to innovate and drive up ROI, is putting more pressure on the skills, knowledge and wisdom of CMOs. The successful CMO must navigate and integrate such diverse areas as research and development, brand strategy, marcomms, sales and distribution, customer experience and social media to create – from a customer perspective – a seamless, consistent whole.

There have been profound changes to the market environment. New values such as sustainability and global awareness have come to the fore, while the balance of power has shifted towards the consumer. Digital has compounded all this, democratising information as well as bringing in new channels and new competitors.

This has led to a new emphasis on the role of the CMO in leading their organisation’s ability to understand and respond to customers faster and better than their competitors. The growing importance of this to commercial performance is placing the CMO role centre stage. Research and, more generally, customer feedback may now be the single most powerful tool available to the CMO.

Insight remains central in converting customer understanding into value for the organisation. At its best, insight melds intuition, intelligence and imagination. As well as seeking out external specialists, CMOs need to develop an insight capability within the business, and cherish those who have the talent for it.

Finally, with the emergence of digital and mobile, the traditional model of understanding customers – an ‘asking’ model – is changing, and customers can be heard in near real-time.

The importance of procurement has grown hugely over the past ten years. Done well, it ensures fitness for purpose and optimises value for money. Too often, though, this falls down due to too great a gap between procurement and the internal client – often the CMO. What is lacking is an agreement on what is meant by value beyond the price tag, and a definition of quality that is driven by outcomes not inputs.

Route to CMO – How marketers can reach board level

Judging by the career paths of the CMO Clubhouse panellists, there is no one clear route to the top of the marketing tree. A few have committed to a single company for several years, working their way up to the chief marketing officer position. Helen Kellie, appointed chief marketing officer for BBC Worldwide in 2009, joined the commercial arm from its parent company the BBC, where she was head of brand and planning from 2000.

Similarly, Pete Markey, CMO of RSA Group, held several positions at the insurance firm before clinching his current job. He joined the company in 2006, as head of marketing for More Than and was promoted to director level in 2008.

On his way up to the top marketer position, Markey ensured that he left his mark, winning a variety of awards for his work.

While working at the insurance group, he completed an MBA, and this formal education does seem to run through many CMO Clubhouse panellists’ CVs. Some have used their training to launch themselves straight to the top.

Eduardo Conrado, senior vice-president and CMO at Motorola Solutions, spent three years completing two MBAs – one in marketing and the other in finance – equipping him for the chief marketer position at the company, where he has been working for almost 20 years.

Others have chosen sectors and spent years becoming specialists in those areas. Barnaby Dawe, newly appointed CMO at HarperCollins Publishers, has held various publishing and media positions.

Prior to joining HarperCollins, he was marketing communications director at News International, with responsibility for The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times. Early on in his career, he even co-founded his own publishing house – Cross-Border Publishing – of which he was director between 1993-1997.

Before joining News International, Dawe took on the challenge of vice-president of marketing and communications at Turner Entertainment in 2008 for two years. He has also held the marketing director position at BSkyB, following a stint at Channel 4.

Nick Eades, CMO of computer hardware company Psion, has built his career by becoming very familiar with the world of technology. At the start of his marketing career he held various positions at IBM, where he worked for 12 years, working his way up to head of product marketing. His route to the top marketer position has seen him take on roles at Dell, Fujitsu and BT among others.

While there isn’t any clear-cut route to the top, it is obvious that Marketing Week’s Clubhouse panellists have combined marketing skills with general management experience to stand out from their peers. Their commercial skills have led them straight to the boardroom.



Keep it simple, stupid

Rosie Baker

Keep it simple, stupid or K.I.S.S., if you like acronyms, is one of the oldest rules in the book, but one that is becoming more rather than less important to marketers as retail gets more competitive and technology encroaches on every aspect of consumer experience.