The CMO50 sum up the impact that was for marketing in 2020

We ask 11 of our CMO50 alumni to share how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted their teams this year

You’d be hard pressed to find a single CMO who hasn’t been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 global pandemic – positively, negatively or otherwise.

As part of this year’s CMO50 profiling, we asked our alumni to try to summarise the impact of the COVID-19 environment on their marketing teams, both from a cultural as well as operational perspective.

Here, we collect 11 of those perspectives, all of which showcase not only the resiliency and adaptability of our most senior, respective marketing leaders, but also the stellar efforts of their teams to keep going in the face of crisis, adversity, change and challenge.

Samsung CMO, Josh Grace

No one could say the volatility and uncertainty of 2020 hasn’t had impact. Some categories flourished; others were challenged. Either way we all had to pivot hard and fast. Fortunately, the personal characteristics that see people succeed at Samsung, suit these times perfectly.

Two in particular – tenacity and adaptability – put us in a great position to meet the challenge this year. Adaptability to find new ways to achieve our objectives in a highly dynamic environment. Tenacity to see those shifts through to execution despite all the barriers posed. It makes sense really when you consider the core purpose of Samsung is to defy barriers to progress.

Suncorp EGM marketing and brand, Mim Haysom

Of course, it’s been challenging and disruptive and every person has had their own unique ‘COVID’ experience. But as a team, I think it’s made us stronger.

I’ve seen great support, empathy and care for each other among the team. I’ve also seen incredible passion and commitment from the team to do ground-breaking work, and to support our customers, and with that has come a great sense of pride in what we’ve achieved. The COVID environment had made us more agile, innovative, creative, and ironically more connected.

Westpac chief digital and marketing officer, Martine Jager

The lessons and learnings go far beyond the marketing team in this situation. What this crisis has reinforced is how incredibly resilient and adaptable humans are. We continue to evolve and it is mind-blowing when you take a step back and look at what we’ve accomplished during this incredibly challenging time.

From a work perspective, the big pivot has been the shift to working remotely. For us, I’m proud we had implemented agile work practices before this happened. This helped the team to transition more readily and continue to focus on delivering for our customers.

The insight for me, and I hope these lessons stay beyond the pandemic, is that because people were working differently and in new environments, they became more in tune with what customers were thinking and feeling. This has given us all a more empathetic view and helped us to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. It also reinforces the importance of care – being kinder to ourselves and each other, which is another piece that I hope we all take away from this crisis.

GraysOnline head of marketing and ecommerce, Natalie Ashes

There have been plenty of positives - and some negatives - as I am sure every team in COVID-19 has experienced.

We have definitely become much closer as a team and as our workload has increased, we really have rallied in lateral ways to address it. We have done this on a personal level, recognising isolation has had individual impacts on all of us. We introduced the weekly kitchen chat, weekly trivia with beers and more check-ins as a team. Introducing mandatory video check-ins, especially during daily stand-ups has really and positively changed the dynamics for our attitudes and positiveness.

We have also done this on a business level with a double-down on talking to customers and understanding their lives in the new reality and in new market conditions. There has been plenty of pivoting and adapting. Big changes, positive changes on both fronts.

Tourism NT executive GM marketing, Tony Quarmby

The marketing team has proven to be even more resilient than I could have hoped. Working in an industry that has been on its knees due to COVID-19 and coming in to work every day single-mindedly focused on supporting local businesses, who employ one in eight Territorians, has been a challenge but with new campaign approaches, incentive sales schemes and business support programs they have reacted stoically.

Even when their roles changed and uncertainty permeated the office, they remained focused on delivering the necessary outcomes.

Tennis Australia chief marketing and insights officer, Josie Brown

Working remotely has brought focus and helped us get really clear on the mission. Delivering on that mission in the COVID-19 environment has been underpinned by strong leadership, at all levels in the team, and commitment to collaboration.

When Microsoft Teams went down for a few hours, we realised how much new ways of working, sharing and connecting have become embedded.

Verizon Media A/NZ director brand innovation and marketing, Anny Havercroft

The impact of COVID-19 has been life-changing. While there are health and mental wellbeing considerations, one of the more positive outcomes of the pandemic for my marketing team is the breaking down of stigma and misconceptions around productivity and remote working. 

The marketing programs we’ve rolled out during this period have been some of the most successful in recent years in terms of performance and brand-building, so we know with certainty that productivity is not an issue. 

As we have all worked from home for an extended period of time, it has reset expectations around genuine productivity and empowered the team to embrace flexibility.  It’s a mindset we are looking to preserve in our new way of working post-pandemic. 

Tourism Australia CMO, Susan Coghill

It’s been exhausting and motivating at the same time. The previous 12 months were intense with the development of a new brand campaign, production of ‘Matesong’ for the UK, not to mention the pivot to domestic marketing while working to repair Australia’s destination brand image overseas after the bushfires. 

But when faced with yet another crisis with COVID-19 directly impacting our tourism industry in a such devastating way, my team worked tirelessly to scenario plan, develop response strategies, re-strategise when circumstances changed, work with our partners, and produce creative marketing solutions to inspire Australians and help rally and support the industry through really tough times.

I think the spirit and determination of my marketing team is reflected in our employee engagement and NPS scores, which were the highest we have ever had, despite this being the toughest year we’ve ever had. Employee engagement was measured at 96 per cent, up 6 per cent, and our employee NPS score was 44, up 23 points.

REA Group chief audience and marketing officer, Melina Cruickshank

Protecting and growing our brands during COVID-19 was an exercise in ruthless prioritisation. The division became very focused on eliminating ‘nice to haves.’ Every individual identified where their discipline could drive greater efficiency and profitability for the business.

Some seriously inspired work has sprung up through this period, purely from a step-change in collaboration with product, engineering and sales. It’s been quite exhilarating with a ton of positives coming from the COVID-19 period. I am consistently stunned with the great work coming out of the REA teams.

Microsoft Australia CMO and communications director, Pip Arthur

COVID has impacted every individual differently and it's so important to recognise this as you think about how you keep a really diverse group of people connected, engaged and productive. 

We relied heavily on Microsoft Teams to keep us connected, and we have run virtual mindfulness sessions to support people's mental health, participated in the 10,000 STEPtember challenge as a team to keep people moving and motivated, and enjoyed virtual cocktail hours and coffee catchups. 

What's been so heartening is the support and care that the team has shown for one another during this time - another reminder of the importance of building a positive and inclusive workplace culture.

Monash University CMO, Fabian Marrone

It's been a period of endurance under incredible circumstances and pressures. The community and public response requirements in a vast global organisation like Monash University has been critical - requiring timely constant pivot and reinvention with a strong focus on community management. 

I’m in awe of the team's passion, commitment and will to support their fellow staff members, students and the whole community. We’ve all learnt new crisis management skills and developed a deep understanding of the need for compassion and compromise and above all to accept that our best must be good enough.  

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