CMO50 judges share their tips and tricks for 2021 submissions

Nominations for the CMO50 2021 are now open. We ask several of this year’s judges for their views on how marketers can put their best foot forward this year

It’s that time of year again: CMO50 nominations are open! That means we’re calling on Australia’s finest marketing chiefs to get cracking on their submissions in order to secure a place on this year’s list.

The CMO50 is all about recognising Australia’s 50 most innovative and effective Chief Marketing Officers exhibiting demonstrable impact across their organisation.

Now in its seventh year, our program celebrates those leading the marketing function who are executing innovative work, show strategic thinking, drive business change and commercial success, showcase modern marketing leadership, and enable greater collaboration and better customer engagement as a result.

In 2021, we will recognise great CMOs by considering:

  • Business contribution and innovation
  • A customer engagement-led approach to marketing thinking and effectiveness
  • The application of data and/or technology in marketing strategy and programs
  • Empowered, bold and strategic thinking
  • Resiliency and adaptability in the face of change
  • Inspired marketing and team leadership
  • Demonstration of marketing’s commercial effectiveness

The CMO50 is open to the top Australia-based marketer within an organisation with responsibility for the vision and strategy of the whole company marketing function. In order to be included in the judging process, marketers have to complete our 2021 submission questionnaire. Nominees must have been actively in their CMO position up until July 2021 to be eligible for this year’s list.

CMO50 for 2020 nominations are open until 6 August 2021.

Judges tips and tricks

Of course, every year the bar is set higher for those featured in our list to prove their outcomes and contribution to business growth. So we reached out to several of our highly respected judges to find out what they’re looking for in a CMO50 2021 submission and highlight what they believe it takes to be recognised as a leading Australian marketing chief.

Building commercial success

Long-serving CMO50 judge and experienced CMO and marketing consultant, David Morgan, expects to see the ongoing transformation of the marketing role, along with the longer-term impact of the Covid-19 global pandemic, reflected in submissions this year.

“Each year we do this, we are privileged to see the breadth and diversity of the role the CMO plays in their organisation, and how different that role can be across businesses - which is why the submissions are as rigorous as they are, and why the judging takes three days of our lives,” he comments. 

“However they fulfil their roles, the constants for CMOs are the same: They take unique responsibility for the commercial success of their businesses by engaging and building successful relationships with customers. Some do this by focusing on brand development and top-down marketing funnel management. Others prioritise behavioural analytics and bottom-up personalisation.

“And everyone seems to be in a transformation program - finding the optimum marketing model for their business now while anticipating the rapidity of change for the near future.”

As a result, judges will have their hands full debating once again the rapidly changing role of CMOs, and how our high-quality talent CMO pool find new and different ways to build commercial success with their customers, Morgan says.

“It’s always challenging to judge, and particularly as we now have a full year of Covid impacting so many businesses, customers and marketing teams,” he adds.

Former chief brand and growth officer of The a2 Milk Company, Susan Massasso, who joins the judging panel this year, is keen to have an account of commercial outcomes.

“I’d like to see CMO entries that are just as focused on commercial growth outcomes as any other executive leader would articulate,” she says. “Advertising awards are interesting but demonstrating that they contributed to boosting shareholder value, short and long term, should be the really meaningful prize.”

Avoid the jargon

Former CMO and non-executive board director for several companies including UN Women, Sunsuper and People’s Choice, Georgie Williams, provides a friendly warning about jargon used in conjunction with general information about what CMOs have done. The key is providing evidence of what was achieved and the thinking and methodology that led to that particular implementation.

She also recommends mirroring information that is publicly available and where possible. This could include references to annual reports, media articles as well as other information sources.

While achievement is something the CMO strives to recognise, it doesn’t mean everything is an absolute success, however. Williams also says it’s ok to share the learnings as part of illustrating an ultimately impactful approach.

“Don’t be afraid of things that didn’t work – a successful CMO has usually racked up as many failures as successes, but the story of both informs us better on approach and discipline,” she says.

“This year is a year I would also hope to see a general understanding of the environment and the impact of it on the vast population who earn low wages. I’d be looking for efficiency in and disciplined thinking methodology rather than vast research programs. I’d be looking for customer value add rather than pure shareholder value add.”

Leadership credentials

Managing partner at 100 Percent Partners and fellow judge, Michele Phillips, sees being a CMO as a fine balance of excellent marketing and business-level thinking.

“Being a CMO is different to being any other marketer - you have to have all the exceptional, best-in-class skills of marketing, but here you are also playing at that leadership level,” she says. “What the CEO and board require is the exceptional marketer who is also a team player and aware of the broader financial imperatives of the business.”

On the question of inspired team leadership, Phillips points out many CMO50 submissions historically have commented on working internally with the marketing team, or externally with agencies.

“Those are all important. But marketing is often critiqued for being a silo. Some comment on marketing's ability to partner with the other commercial functions like collaborating with the CFO or supply chain director or sales would be good,” she continues. “If marketing is to be respected as being central to an organisation's success, it must have the respect and engagement of non-marketing functions.”

Driven by data insight

Returning CMO50 judge and business strategy consultant, Lisa Winn, notes over the last couple of years of the program, CMO data and digital maturity has been rising across a number of organisations.

“The frantic pace - and dollars - to build tech stacks and 'digitise' traditional marketing organisations should start to ease,” she predicted. “We also projected that we should definitely start to see the benefits or ROI of this tremendous corporate effort towards big data into improved business insights, strategies and innovative thinking.

“With that in mind, I would like to see many more examples this year of deep insight and bold strategies + marketing decisions that stemmed directly from [new] data.”

Size isn’t the deciding factor

And as judges have pointed out in previous years, the CMO50 is not about purely recognising CMOs with the largest budgets or biggest teams. While a larger resource pool can provide more opportunity, nearly one in five of our 2020 CMO50 had fewer than 10 staff, and 34 per cent had teams of under 25 employees.

Zuni managing director, Mike Zeederberg, recognises while some of the larger businesses represented by CMO50 nominees can cherry pick from an array of work over their previous year, it’s not often as easy for smaller organisations who may only have had two or three major initiatives in a year.

He advises it’s ok to focus on a smaller array of initiatives, just be mindful of the wider areas judges are looking to shine a light on, including innovative thinking, customer-led approaches and strong use of data.

Whatever your company size, industry sector, team make-up, scope of remit, technology maturity and corporate challenges, the CMO50 is ultimately about recognising marketing leaders – and by extension, their teams – who are managing to demonstrate excellence in a whirlwind of transformation. So get those questionnaires completed and submitted now!

The CMO50 2021 questions, along with criteria, judges details, previous years’ profiles and resources can be found in the dedicated CMO50 portal:

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