‘Meeting silence, corridor violence’: Marketers on how to avoid tension with finance

relationshipThe relationship between marketing and finance is arguably one of the most fraught, with marketers seeking investment, while the CFO is looking to save money. But unless both teams seek to find common ground in formalised settings, it could bleed out to create disharmony in the wider business, according to a panel of marketers speaking at Marketing Week’s Festival of Marketing.

Nikki Vadera, marketing and digital director for the UK and Ireland for Henkel, explained the need for open and honest conversation within businesses with four words: “meeting silence, corridor violence”.

That’s true for any working relationship, but it’s especially pertinent when the relationship is as close as that of the chief marketing and chief financial officers. Vadera noted that as “marketing is always the first” department to get its budget cut when times are hard, it is imperative the CMO-CFO relationship is open and straightforward.

It is a view echoed by Andrew Geoghegan, chief marketing transformation officer at PZ Cussons International. He noted that “humility” is vital for any discussion between the two departments as, while it is inevitable and sometimes laudable for marketers to push for more investment, it allows the parties to appreciate the needs of the business as a whole.

A recent study by the CMO Council and KPMG found that only a fifth of CMO-CFO relationships are truly collaborative. To ameliorate that issue it suggested the two departments take joint ownership of some assets, including data.

Matthew Chappell, global client success officer for Gain Theory, who was also speaking on the panel, agreed. He stated that data can provide proof points for marketing’s contribution towards the bottom line.

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However, he and Vadera both noted that marketing is as much based around gut instinct as data-led decisions. As a result, the panel pointed out that data cannot be the sole foundation of the relationship between the two departments, but can be used to strengthen it.

Personality power

Geoghegan pointed out that, when the relationship falls apart, it is often simply a matter of clashing personalities. As a result, it sometimes requires that either one person swallows their pride or that a more senior figure steps in to mediate. However, he also stated that “actually the CMO-CFO relationship is usually one of the better” ones within a business, given that the recognition that marketing drives business growth is so widespread.

One of the most common pieces of advice given for ensuring the success of a CMO-CFO relationship is that CMOs need to speak the language of CFOs. In practice that means couching requests for funding by speaking to what it will add to the company’s P&L.

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However, Vadera also noted that it is incumbent upon the CFO to also speak the language of the CMO in return, particularly at times when the financial situation is tight. Chappell concurred, stating that often the cause for any division is simply that marketing frequently speaks in the long term, while in times of financial stress CFOs look for short term solutions.

Moreover, the entire panel noted that the CFO-CMO relationship does not exist in a vacuum, and that each department is also beholden to speak the language of the others.

One thing that each of the panellists agreed upon was the need to focus on the P&L, particularly when times are hard. That, they said, provides both an understanding of why the CFO might be forced to cut marketing budgets, but also the context that can help a CMO justify their requests.