CMO50 #4: Ed Smith, Foxtel
“I get energised by new ideas, changes in efficiency and improvement in what we deliver to our customers,” Foxtel executive director of sales and marketing, Ed Smith tells CMO.
Ranking fourth in the CMO50, Smith has worked across a number of industries both locally and abroad prior to commencing his marketing role within the entertainment sector.
“I started off in tourism and was a very passionate skier, so I ended up being a marketing director at Mount Bulla ski resorts,” he says. “I then moved to advertising, going up to China to run DMB&B. When I came back to Australia during the dot.com boom, the CEO of the agency was also running a tech startup so I worked in that. One of the investors in the business was St George Bank, so I moved there as head of retail segments.”
After almost three years at St George, Smith switched to leadership and executive roles at News Digital and News Limited before starting at Foxtel in February 2012.
“One job led to another and the roles are all connected by the people I like working with,” he says. “My role now at Foxtel is very broad and involves marketing, content marketing, customer marketing, Web, product marketing, brand and internal agencies as well, so there’s a lot of different attributes to it. I also have responsibility for sales and it’s a big year of transformation in the sales area, we had incredible growth last year. We’ve closed our door-to-door sales channel, we’ve insourced our kiosk sales channel and we’re rolling out a new footprint of 60 retail kiosks.
“But what energises me the most, in whatever part of the business I’m working in, is where we’re doing something better, easier and faster for our customers.”
Throughout his career, and as he’s moved up into larger and more sophisticated organisations, Smith has seen the role of marketing become a lot more than mere communications.
“There is an expectation now on marketers to really understand the consumer segments, what the needs are and how to work in our product areas to develop things and solve problems for customers,” he comments. “We then need to ask: How do we bring them to market, which sales channels do we use and how do we price them?”
For most organisations, Smith stresses customers are at the heart of everything they do, so marketing needs to not only get involved a lot earlier in the chain, but inject creativity, confidence and passion into the mix.
“I think marketing is getting more and more scientific, you need to create hypotheses, test them and be highly numerate,” he continues. “And if you’re going to enjoy the job, you’re probably going to be into art, writing or creativity or storytelling, and have a passion about that part of the job, as well as the confidence to help when you’re leading a team. It’s probably also good to be able to keep calm when the going gets tough, we usually all carry some pretty big sales targets, and these things are not always easy."
Taking complexity out of digital disruption
With the rise of YouTube, Netflix, Apple TV and the ability for audiences to purchase international VPNs to enjoy the likes of BBC iPlayer, the digital entertainment space is becoming increasingly disrupted. But Smith claims Foxtel still trumps the lot in terms of delivery, timeliness and quality for Australian viewers.
“While there’s a huge amount of disruption and enormous amount of choice in our industry at the moment, this is actually creating a new problem for customers and that’s complexity,” he says. “So if you’re a customer and you’re trying to organise the entertainment needs for your family, you have free-to-air, then you might have Apple TV to replace the DVD shop, you might get Netflix, which replaces the library of DVDs that you have, then you might get some niche bits of content. But then suddenly you’re ending up managing half a dozen subscriptions, three or four devices, and this can all be quite complex for most families to get a good experience.”
According to Smith, the purpose of Foxtel is to entertain Australia and he believes there are two things customers really value about that: Completeness and ease of use.
“Foxtel sees itself as the most complete experience and the strongest aggregator proposition,” he says. “And given all of that content and technology, we want to bring you the world’s best content first and we want to make everything available for every episode ever and anywhere on any device. Then we give you any game live on any device live and uninterrupted. We bring all that together in high quality, that’s delivered over satellite or cable technology, so you get very reliable, cost-effective content.”
From a marketing and communications perspective, one thing Smith admits he worries about is how to better tell the Foxtel content story, given the disrupted digital marketplace.
“We invest so much in bringing the world’s best content to our customers and producing some really great content here, I don’t think we’ve really mastered how to tell that story about the differentiation of the quality and the video on demand service that’s part of what we do,” he says. “We’ve also got incredible sports rights in HD and uninterrupted by ads, but I think we can do a lot more with our V8 Supercar rights, and I think we’ve yet to properly promote our Formula 1 racing rights. So we have a job to do there.”
Smith also spends a lot of time thinking about what television will be like in 5-10 years, and then thinking about how Foxtel can cater to that need better than anyone else.
“Mass disaggregation is well on its way and that’s creating a new consumer problem, which is complexity, and then there’s going to be an opportunity for whoever can re-aggregate the best,” he says. “We were the best aggregator, but the challenge is to stay the best aggregator.
“Telstra TV is having a go there, Apple TV is coming out with some exciting new products, I don’t know what Amazon and Google will end up doing there, so Foxtel is very focused on making sure we’re looking at what customers are wanting and how those needs change.”
When it comes to being a successful CMO, Smith believes there’s no one-size-fits-all approach, and he also doesn’t believe in ‘god’ CMOs or CEOs that have all the answers.
“I think curiosity is really important – and being able to surround yourself with confident, clever people that have different views to you,” he adds. “What also carries all leadership positions and not just CMO positions, is being into people, and getting joy from helping people be what they can be and being able to unite them as a force to support progressing in a shared purpose.”
* Ed Smith left Foxtel in early 2016 after four years with the business to relocate to the UK. Foxtel has since appointed Mark Buckman to take up the marketing mantle as part of an expanded role as MD of customer and retail.