CMO50: Top tips from our judges on how to write a winning submission

We ask three of our 2019 CMO50 judges to provide advice on what it take to be in the annual list of Australia's most innovative and effective marketers

It’s that time of year again:  CMO50 nominations. And with it come copious requests to the CMO team on the best way to fill in the questionnaire and ensure a place as one of the year’s most innovative and effective marketers.

So this year, we asked a few of our judges to share what it is they’re looking for in a CMO50 submission, and highlight what they believe it takes to be recognised as a leading Australian marketing chief.

CMO50 2019 nominations are open now until 5 August.

2019 questionnaires, along with criteria and judging process details, can be found here.

Leading from the front

Borrowing a sporting analogy, long-serving CMO50 judge and experienced CMO and marketing consultant, David Morgan, says today’s CMO has the role of “playmaker” on their team.  

“It’s about leading from the front, developing strategy, choosing and directing the plays, while playing the team to its strengths,” he says. “He/she is an all-rounder, and needs to excel as a leader, in delivery, and developing the future. This needs to come across.”  

It’s a position echoed by Andrew Baxter, senior adviser to KPMG, adjunct professor of marketing at the University of Sydney, and former Publicis and Ogilvy CEO.

“It’s not about just being a great marketing practitioner, but being a great marketing leader – of your direct teams, your agency partners, and within the c-suite you sit,” he says.

Demonstrating accountability for business success  

What’s also clear is the CMO role has evolved significantly to incorporate more aspects of customer engagement, corporate strategy and growth. Such customer-centred operational change and leadership needs to be evidenced through strategy, operational planning, new ways-of-working, leveraging of new technology, and setting teams and organisations up with skills and capabilities for now and for the future, Morgan says.  

“Effective CMOs not only drive consumer outcomes, but hold themselves to account for business success,” he says.  

“Marketing’s fundamental role is to influence consumer behaviour to drive sales, so it’s important the ROI of the year’s marketing efforts form part of the submission,” Baxter adds.  

Clarity of mission  

For former Coca-Cola marketing director and CMO50 judge, Lisa Winn, clarity and quality of insight is a critical component in answering any of the submission questions.    

“I look for demonstration of a very clear understanding of the customer/business problem or opportunity,” she says. “Not just a surface-level symptom, but an understanding of the root cause at a deeper level. In my view, the ability to do this well is what sets marketers apart.  

“Of course, the marketing solution, whether a tried and tested technique or something radical and very innovative, should then make perfect sense as a solution to match the opportunity identified.”   

It’s not about the size of your company or team  

As Morgan points out, comparing the size and scale of CMO roles can be tricky for judges. So as part of the judging process, and alongside the scoring systems used by every judge across every submission, there’s much discussion and debate around pros and cons of a hefty marketing team with a plethora of specialist and generalist skills, company might and market penetration, versus the resourcefulness and agility of a small, stretched team.  

“It’s true the larger the resource can provide more opportunity, but then Susan Massasso was awarded third place last year for her contribution to growing a2 Milk from little more than a concept into a global $10 billion market cap business, with a marketing team of five and agencies working on a project basis,” Morgan comments.  

“Now that’s finding new ways for marketing to succeed.”   

Keep it concise  

Against all of this, Winn advises keeping answers short and to the point. “Sometimes it’s harder to write a short answer but it helps enormously,” she admits.  

“Not only is it easier for the judges but it really helps you get sharp on only including the most relevant supporting data, clarifying the insight and articulating the solution and result with no distracting information. Less is more.”  

And perhaps a more surprising one from a bunch of marketers is to watch out for marketing jargon, especially the latest marketing buzzwords. This is particularly important with some of the latest shiny technologies, data sets and ways of working. Judges are also quick to see who’s using these effectively and can articulate why.  

“I’m sure everyone has played a game of marketing ‘buzzword bingo’ in their office,” Winn says. “The judges have all been around marketing teams for years and know there is always a latest shiny trend, term or marketing gadget. However sometimes overuse of these terms and phrases can be a distraction to your submission.  

“Use straightforward, clear language that helps us identify you really know your business and customer inside-out.” 

Final word from the CMO editor

Whatever your organisation size, industry sector, team make-up, approach to marketing, level of technology maturity and adoption, or unique corporate challenges, ultimately the CMO50 is about recognising those marketing leaders who are managing to demonstrate excellence in a whirlpool of transformation.

But judges are not asking for perfection – we know it doesn’t exist. What we’re looking for is ingenuity, leadership, perseverance, innovative thinking, business smarts and those with a passion for their roles and a desire to make modern marketing all it can be. And importantly, those who are striving to improve marketing’s business impact.  It’s not about campaigns. It’s why you’re doing campaigns.

As editor, I know there are who are concerned about not stacking up. Don’t be. Each of the judges is more than aware of the difficulties of orchestrating a strong and sustainable marketing function today, of the challenges CMOs continue to face in executive leadership, of changing skillsets, and of the continued experimentation – and confusion – around what the CMO role really involves. They also know the significant transformative forces of technology, digital, mobile and social continue to challenge what it means to ‘do’ marketing well and are forcing all of us to adapt.

We want to shine a light on those who are pursuing modern marketing excellence. There is no one right answer, nor one way to measure everyone by. We’re all a work in progress and I like to think the CMO50 demonstrates that too.

So get those questionnaires completed and help us ensure this year’s CMO50 captures this spirit and essence of what it means to strive to be an effective and innovative marketing chief.

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