Training up the industry’s future CMOs

The first Leaders Programme aimed at training up Australia’s next marketing chiefs has commenced in Australia. CMO speaks to two of the up-and-comers

Hot off the heels of its UK success, The Marketing Academy has launched its inaugural Australia Leaders Programme, aimed at training up the next generation of CMOs.

The nine-month program is open to 30 marketing, media and agency executives, each of whom had to be nominated and undertake an intensive judging and interview process to be chosen. Over the course of the program, they’ll participate in 15 days of learning, stretching from an initial five-day bootcamp through to lectures, workshops, mentoring and executive coaching sessions, all of which are provided free of charge by respected and experienced marketers and leaders.

The first Australian program attracted 200 nominates, whittled down by the Marketing Academy’s judging panel to 30. Just over half are from Australian and international brands from a diverse selection of industries, including Suncorp Group, Telstra, Foxtel, SBS, Unilever and Goodman Fielder, and stretch from marketing manager and category marketing management through to digital, operational and social.

To find out what it takes to become a future CMO, we’ll be following two rising stars as they participate in the program. At time of writing, candidates had just completed a five-day bootcamp incorporating a two-day learning leaders course and sessions with leading industry practitioners.

Name: Damon Robbins,

Title: Manager, digital marketing – wagering, Tabcorp

The first thing that comes across about Robbins is his commitment to leadership.

Damon Robbins
Damon Robbins

“I want to make an impact on myself as well as a good impact on other people,” he says. “I’m a highly capable manager. But I want to become a business leader and I have a belief in building high-performing teams, not just in your own function, but right across the organisation.”

Robbins joined Tabcorp in 2008 and is now head of digital marketing. He didn’t intend to get into marketing, however, and joined the Commonwealth Bank’s call centre after high school before moving into a sales and marketing role. It was there he worked on creating campaigns, marketing concepts and strategies.

Robbins then co-founded an online bookmaking business. “I learnt some very valuable lessons in starting a business,” he says.

An opportunity came up to join competitor, Tabcorp, in online technology. This morphed into an online marking manager’s role. “I was thrown in the deep end, young and naïve, and had to spend a lot of time teaching myself the ropes,” he says.

Robbins just completed his Masters in marketing and is flattered about being nominated for the Leaders Programme by two people, including Academy ambassador and experienced CMO, David Morgan.

“They know how much I want to grow as an individual and become a great leader,” he says.

Robbins says the calibre of fellow marketers participating is just as important as the leaders and luminaries providing content.

“Many of the speakers talk about how you need to find yourself and the business leader you can be, and then how you can be successful,” he continues.

One particularly beneficial session was on communication styles most effective in business, Robbins says. In fact, he’s already started using them.

“In my first meeting on Monday [after bootcamp], my GM noticed how I was using different communications style and complemented me on it,” he says. “I’ve stuck this list of communication styles to the back of my phone so it’ll be with me in every meeting to remind me of the types of communication I want to engage in.

“We realised in our breakout sessions that we were just coming up with ideas and talking to each other. It’s not as effective a way of working – you need much more of a ‘pull’ strategy to get information from teams and people.”

Robbins is also sharing presentations and insights with his Tabcorp team to give back to the business. “It’s important to stop, group together and learn from each other, especially in marketing where so much is changing,” he says.

Robbins adds the bonds made through the breakout sessions, where candidates split into three groups of 10, were invaluable. “It proved that if you can have a real relationship with colleagues, how much better productivity, culture and relationships will be,” he says.

Name: Jo McAlister

Title: Head of group marketing, SBS

McAlister says two things attracted her to marketing. “One is that I’m good with people, which is key for a good marketer, and I also love the creative process,” she says.

Jo McAllister
Jo McAllister

McAlister started her career in radio at ABC, then moved to Channel 7. Flush with great content and a big marketing budget, she worked on shows like My Kitchen Rules and X Factor, and the launch of 7Two and 7mate. “I love TV – it’s high energy, and decisions have to be made on the go, but you have to be strategic about it,” she says.

After so many big launches, however, McAlister switched to SBS’s subscription TV channels.

“When the budget you’re working with is tighter, you have to think creatively and strategically about how you are going to improve your reach with the small amount of money you have,” she says. “Those channels were wonderfully rewarding… and more challenging. I thought I could make a huge impact by adapting a lot of the skills I had from free-to-air, but there was a huge learning curve.”

Today, McAlister oversees marketing activities across all SBS platforms and reports to director of marketing, Amanda McGregor.

“I was blown away by the mentor list for the Academy and wanted to be a part of that,” she says. “Many who didn’t make it to the top 30 are amazing marketers, so it’s an honour to be chosen.”

McAlister says each speaker and candidate during the five-day bootcamp brought something different to the table even as they shared a passion for marketing. “If the program ended tomorrow I’d feel I’d got so much out of it,” she says.

“I’ve walked in today so energised about making my work a better place by the way I operate within that framework.”

An early learning was the need to position yourself within the organisation to become a leader, not just a manager, McAlister says.

“Ed Smith [Foxtel CMO] summed it up beautifully: No longer can you be an expert in your field, you have to trust that you have those experts in your team that you can call on to help problem solve. That’s when a real leader clicks in – when they rely on others and feel comfortable to do that.”

McAlister has already identified two areas to improve. The first is to be a better listener. “What we realised when we split into smaller groups to interact was to stop speaking over each other, and conduct meetings and brainstorms in a particular way to get the best out of people at the table,” she says.

“Another key learning is to be engaged. I thought being a multi-tasker was good, but I need to be more in the moment.”

McAlister says the five days helped to verbalise behaviours and common traits strong leaders have. It also helped her better understand marketing’s role.

“One speaker said the role of a marketer is to challenge every part of the organisation: To get something across the line, as a really insightful and active marketer, you need to understand all the areas of the business you can tap into,” she comments. “It’s no longer just about a marketing person saying this is going to happen, you have to convince people it’s good for the organisation.

“It was only then that I realised I can be very dogged about getting something across the line. I’d rather have that conversation to make sure we’re all on the same page.”

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook:, or check us out on Google+:

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