Climb the steps to great leadership

Two marketers involved with The Marketeting Academy’s fellowship share their tips for senior success and discuss how to become a CEO.

The Marketing Academy runs its Fellowship to help marketers gain board-level experience, working with McKinsey to develop the programme.

The fellow: Katie Vanneck-Smith

Katie Vanneck-Smith is chief marketing officer (CMO) at News UK and a Marketing Academy Fellowship Programme fellow.


Katie Vanneck-Smith is brimming with optimism about marketing in 2014. “It is a fantastic time for us all to be working in marketing,” she enthuses. “There’s never been a time when the consumer has been more talked about in boardrooms. This is the era of the connected consumer.

“We are, as the voices of the customer in our organisations, best placed to be challenging the status quos, creating new business models, products and propositions to serve our customers and invent new customer experiences.”

One such model is News UK’s game-changing paid for content strategy, which has kept its CMO busy since it launched in 2010. “Most of my time is spent making sure that we continue to deliver the sales performance and innovation that goes with being the pioneers of that strategy and making sure that we stay ahead of the game,” she says.

The shift in business model has heralded a new era for News UK, which owns The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun brands. “Much of our thinking is around how we can enhance the product bundle and be best in class around customer experience, as our business changes from being a retail business with anonymous relationships to a subscription business with direct relationships,” she explains.

Vanneck-Smith has played a critical part in the evolution, with responsibility for just shy of 50 per cent of all turnover of the business. Her role spans sales, marketing and customer experience. “I’m not responsible for advertising, but anything we sell direct to our customers – all paid sales and the marketing of brand extensions like Sun Bingo.”

She credits hard work and a fantastic team with the vision to embrace a new model for the brand’s successful shift to a paid-for subscription service. “There are no silver bullets or known answers. I’m proud of the belief that the team have in defying other people’s conventional wisdoms. When we set our stall out and said we were going to do this at The Times three and a half years ago, everyone said we were mad. I’m proud of the courage and passion of the people that I work with.”

The total paid sales of all News UK titles now averages 2.75 million a day.

Vanneck-Smith approaches marketing as she does life: work hard, have fun, make history. She also believes in the importance of finding the right role. “You have got to be in a company and culture where you believe in the purpose because you are going to work really hard. It’s important that you align your personal and professional values.”

You have got to be in a company and culture where you believe in the purpose… it’s important to align personal and professional values

She encourages marketers to inject fun into their day and credits having fun with successful creative ideas. “If you’re having fun as a team, you will do fun stuff for your customers.”

One fun idea was The Hangover Hit Squad. The Sun team delivered survival kits to those complaining of hangovers on social media sites during the Christmas period. “That’s a perfect example of my approach to marketing. If you’ve got people that are working hard, but they’re having great fun, that means they’re having great ideas.”

Vanneck-Smith strongly believes in the power of a business network and the importance of starting one when you begin your career. “I have been very fortunate in that I have often found myself, not only mentored and coached, but also sponsored. Early on, I had people looking out for me, helping me navigate what is a different world.

“There is nothing better than picking up the phone to someone, who might be outside your industry, and having an honest and open conversation where you can ask their advice, because reframing an issue is often the only way to find the solution.”

Her current mentor from The Marketing Academy Fellowship Programme is Tim Clark. Formerly a senior partner at law firm Slaughter and May, he is now a non-executive director of Big Yellow Group and on the board of the Royal National Theatre, among others.

In the future, Vanneck-Smith says she would like to become a chief executive. “I want to continue to learn and do great stuff, whether that’s in my current role or a new one. If you asked people to describe me, they would probably say I was very ambitious. A chief executive position in the right company would be the ultimate job, in terms of being able to have a vision and bring value to an organisation. Great chief executives are great leaders. I aspire to be a great leader.”

The mentor: Ronan Dunne

Ronan Dunne is chief executive of Telefónica UK and a Marketing Academy Fellowship Programme mentor.


“More marketers should make the transition to chief executive,” says Ronan Dunne, a belief that should be music to the ears of senior marketers hoping to move on to boards and that role.

Chief executive at Telefónica UK since 2008, Dunne believes in the power of the brand and its value to companies. “The DNA of a brand is also the DNA of a business. I use the expression ‘we’re a brand that owns a business, not a business that owns a brand’.”

He laments the fact that senior marketers are not always the obvious choice for the top job.

“Often, I think that marketers are seen by themselves and others as looking out, and not always looking at, the power of the brand to look in and influence inside the business,” he says.

“More marketers being chief executives would harness the power of brand more effectively for the economy and society generally, to be a richer place, as a result of a more customer insight, brand-led approach to business and society.”

He considers the role of chief executive as ‘chief storyteller’, a responsibility familiar to marketers, as well as ‘chief cheerleader’, someone who allows the people who work in the business to be the success they deserve to be.

“Both internally and externally, the power of storytelling is important, so that people understand what it is we are about,” he explains.

“Externally, it’s telling the story of who we are and what we are trying to do. It could be talking to chief execs of companies we provide a service to, the business minister, or heads of charities we partner with as part of our Think Big programme.”

At chief executive level, Dunne says the day job is not about ‘doing’ all the time, but influencing, guiding and informing, skills that he proved in abundance when negotiating the delivery of 4G to market in the UK.

More marketers being chief executives would harness the power of brand more effectively for the economy and society generally

“There were a lot of challenges in the approach that was being taken. The danger was that the industry and the country was going to be delayed by a couple of years, and we were all going to end up in court. Instead of the UK having high speed, mobile broadband, we were going to be behind everyone else in Europe.

“The situation reached an impasse between the government, the regulator and the operators. Telefónica was a key player. The decisions we made were likely to influence whether we went forward. I was key in negotiating a settlement and finding a compromise. Within six months, we and everyone else were rolling out 4G services.”

Dunne credits his success as a chief executive to three qualities: being a confident speaker, listening to people and being calm in the eye of the storm.

“It doesn’t mean you have to be the most articulate or extrovert, but be comfortable in taking the role of visible leadership. Some chief executives struggle with that because they have to be CEO for other qualities. I get energised and engaged by challenge,” he says. “The tougher it gets, the more I enjoy it. That doesn’t mean I always know the answer or solve the problem, but it means that I focus on what I can do about it, rather than what happens if I can’t do something about it”.

The best leaders surround themselves with people who are better than themselves believes Dunne, which he has strived to do at Telefónica UK. “My chief financial officer is better than I was when I did that job. Rather than me trying to do their job for them or trying to help them do their job, I focus on trying to help them to be the success they deserve to be in the job. I support and facilitate them being brilliant and that’s the best way, as a chief executive, to be successful.

“It’s often the last thing that people learn because as they have gone up the hierarchy in an organisation, it’s been about what they have done. When you get to the top it can’t be about what you have done but what you have made happen, which is a very different thing.”

A day in the Life: The Fellow

Katie Vanneck-Smith
Chief marketing officer, News UK

My day normally starts with my son Stanley waking me up. Arianna Huffington would be proud because [as she advises] my mobile phone does not come to bed with me. I don’t need an alarm clock because I have a three- year-old and that’s probably more effective.

I commute from Little Venice to Wapping, but News UK is moving to the foothills of The Shard this year, so it will soon be a direct walk out of London Bridge station and into the office.

My day consists of striking the right balance between the immediacy of news and long- term planning. Even though I am the chief marketing officer, everybody is involved in the day-to-day work.

I might be reacting to finding out that Nelson Mandela had passed away or thinking about the budget submission for our 3- to 5-year plans.

I do not sit on the executive floor but with my team. I am just as likely to be having a meeting with our graduate Lily about a programme for student marketing on The Times, as I am with one of my leadership team. There is a lot of external conversations with brands such as O2 and Waitrose as well.

I do not do lunch out, rather I do breakfast and dinner. I try to get home at least twice a week to see Stanley before bed, so around 7pm. I would normally have at least two, if not three, evening work events a week. Recently, I was privileged to go to the Sun Military Awards, which honours members of the British armed forces and civilians involved with the forces.

A day in the Life: The Mentor

Ronan Dunne
Chief executive, Telefónica

I tend to spend three days a week in the office in Slough, one day a week in London and a day a week outside the organisation. Recently, I spent the morning in our London office, getting the train from Weybridge, where I live, to our global digital headquarters off Regent Street.

We start the week with a team meeting to make sure everyone is up to speed with what happened last week and what is going to be happening that week. We try to do meetings face-to-face. Other meetings are often either telephone calls or video conferences because we are in the technology business and because we genuinely believe and invest in flexible working.

I might also have an external meeting. I am a non-executive director of the Guardian Media Group and am discussing going on the board of another company, so I recently met with one of their non-executives as an introduction.

On the same day, I went to see Ed Vaizey, the telecoms minister at his office near Parliament before popping in to Number 10 to see Tim Luke, an adviser to the prime minister, to update him on Telefónica and how things are in the telecoms sector.

That evening, I was at a private dinner of chief executives hosted by Accenture. Sometimes the life of a chief executive can be solitary and there are a number of networks that enable chief executives to get together. In a group of their peers they can be off the record and talk about things that perhaps they can’t with their team.



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