CMO interview: How Deloitte’s marketing chief is looking to inspire inquisitive, creative thinking

Recently installed CMO at the global consulting firm talks about the balance of creativity, culture and commercial acumen marketing leaders must embrace

Matt McGrath
Photo by Briana Russell
Matt McGrath Photo by Briana Russell

If there’s one skill Deloitte CMO, Matt McGrath, would like to see his marketing brethren strengthen, it’s inquisitive thinking.

“CMOs are no different to other senior executives in that they don’t want to get things wrong. But as CMOs, we have to constantly push the boundaries and try and test things in the framework of an intelligent decision,” he tells CMO. “We never do enough inquisitive thinking.”

It’s clear the gap between understanding exactly what’s working and what’s not remains a challenge for many marketing leaders. That’s where McGrath sees creativity – whether it’s across your internal team, or your agency partners – coming in.  

 “Great marketing comes from great creative people being always interested in what’s working, why things are the way they are, what’s happening in different industries and categories,” he says. “You have to be empowering – it’s really important. Get the best people, then let them do their job. And support them.”

Because that creativity requires freedom, McGrath says. “I do think it’s important to give people that. You do want them to be challenging and surprising you.”  

How creativity manifests is in the freedom to think in new and different ways about the brand, according to McGrath. “A lot of it is storytelling and bringing something to life, animating it, communicating a great story or convincing someone of the need to do something,” he adds.

Creative processing

Fostering creativity and undertaking inspiring creative, encouraging stronger collaboration among the team and tapping into knowledge across the consulting firm’s global organisation and employees, are top of the list for McGrath as he enters his eighth month as Deloitte’s chief marketing officer.  

Initially a creative copywriter, McGrath spent 20 years in advertising agencies, working his way up to creative director then managing director, before taking on a CEO role running a region for Y&R brands. It was a time when direct marketing was the “black sheep” of the advertising family, he recalls. Well, not anymore.   

“I could see it was as important to do great work in that area as TV, as that’s the future of what’s happening,” McGrath recalls. “That was a precursor to digital and social.

“Advertising has changed a lot. Being on the other side has been incredibly refreshing, working for some big brands and boards on how to get a strategy and creative marketing approach. Marketing is this incredible driver for growth and it can transform businesses.”

McGrath went client-side when he joined Channel Ten as chief brand officer in 2013, working alongside long-time colleague and former CEO, Hamish McLennan, as well as head of programming, Beverley McGarvey, to rebuild the embattled broadcaster’s appeal. While admitting the financial model pressure on media businesses hasn’t yet been solved, McGrath takes pride in growing Channel Ten’s audience by 22 per cent. Key successes during this time were commissioning The Bachelor, securing the Big Bash Cricket, and relaunching Masterchef.

“All the marketing, brand issues, and launching of new programs with the levers of social, digital and traditional advertising mediums, are things we really needed to pull in order to rebuild that audience,” McGrath explains. “The audience was in freefall at that point.”

Last June, McGrath joined Deloitte, filling the void left by the global promotion of long-serving CMO, David Redhill, and departure of his local replacement, Frank Mellish.  The remit, according to McGrath, was to bring the passion and creativity seen under Redhill, with the process driven by Mellish.

“I pride myself that while I have a creative background, I’m always inquisitive about what works and also embrace new technology and ways of connecting with customers,” he says. “Channel Ten was a great way to learn a lot about process. One of the insights I hadn’t realised was because of the position of the business, we couldn’t fail in launches.

“It was a huge amount of pressure and there is always a lot of pressure in TV, because you get instant feedback from your audience. Building a process to launch programming also taught me a lot about understanding and finding the data that’s important to determine outcomes for marketing activities.”

Brand, diversity and culture

McGrath has strived to put his stamp on the Deloitte role through creativity and culture. The consulting firm’s diversity and inclusion remit sits within his function, and recently, marketing and moved onto the same floor as the people and performance team.

“That connection with the workforce and engaging everyone is really important. It’s a performance driver,” McGrath says. “It’s a bit like an airline – you can have the planes flying, but do you get great service in-flight and at the desk? There’s no point having one without the other.

“You can never forget it’s a people business, wherever you’re working.”

McGrath also points out a strategic pillar for Deloitte CEO, Cindy Hook, is diversity and inclusion and he notes his own appointment was an example of “lateral hiring”.

“We will be able to come up with different answers for our clients if we have such a diverse range of voices to listen to,” he says. “Being different today as an organisation is much harder than it was before – information is transparent, everyone is catching up and copying so quickly. Having a diverse and inclusive workforce really isn’t just a nice thing to have, it’s a big competitive advantage.”  

Within marketing, McGrath has brought people in from outside of professional services. “We have the IP from people with a traditional background, and now we have those coming from different walks of life. It’s all a matter of creating that melting pot,” he says.

In addition, Deloitte’s marketing team is embedded across the whole firm, undertaking everything from corporate affairs to pursuits, account management, social media, digital and design. With such breadth, it can be hard to maintain culture, so communication is critical, McGrath says.

“You can get the structure right, but if you don’t have the culture, you won’t have that same interaction you need,” he says. “The other thing is it’s important to maintain a challenger culture in an organisation where people are hungry and want to learn and engage. Here, there is that challenger mentality and a recognised need to keep working hard to improve.”

Role of the CMO

It’s the pace of change that’s arguably transformed the role of CMO the most. “You have to be in top of things and be able to react to changes in the marketplace,” McGrath says. “If you operate on a timeframe of 3-6 months, the whole world has shifted in that period.”

McGrath describes his approach to build agility as “streamline and codify”. “When we understand what works and begin to codify it, that gives time back,” he says.

“When you have time in your function, you have the ability to begin to do lateral thinking, and gain an ability to reflect on what’s going on. I’m really big on finding out what’s working, codifying it and streamlining the process, and that gives us the time to do the thinking, reflect, then look at alternatives to innovate and do something different.”

What’s also different for CMOs is heightened accountability. McGrath claims everyone in business is far more accountable than they were 5-10 years ago and the marketing leader’s job today is all about ROI.

A big plus he’s found is Deloitte’s attitude to brand as a key business strategy and asset.

“Secondly, driving differentiation for the firm is another major priority, and they see brand as another key way of achieving that,” he says. “If they lose any or damage the brand, it has an immediate impact on them and the integrity of the brand.”  

So does that brand emphasis make McGrath’s job as a marketer easier or harder?

“It makes you ever vigilant on how we look after the brand,” he responds. “The other thing is the executive and CEO are very big supporters of doing exciting and creative work. That’s been refreshing – I thought they’d be more conservative. That means support for pushing the brand into the limelight, which is exciting. We will have the freedom to do some interesting things going forward.”  

Up next: What it takes for consultancies to keep up with digital disruption, plus that very difficult issue of CMO tenure

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