CMO50 luminaries share their top cross-functional allies

16 of Australia's top marketing chiefs detail the very wide list of allies helping them drive growth and business impact

Being a chief marketing office is an exercise in cross-functional collaboration, relationship building and influence. Just ask any of our CMO50.

As part of this year’s profiling of Australia’s 50 most effective and innovative marketing leaders, we asked all to provide insight into their top allies across organisations today, and why they’re so important to the job of marketing. As was made clear both from CMO50 submissions and their responses, it’s a very wide field.

From technology leaders to the CEO/MD, board, operating chiefs, finance, sales, R&D and product management, modern marketing chiefs are truly connecting right across businesses today to get the job done in a way that drives business impact. Here, 16 of our CMO50 for 2021 share their top allies right now and why they’re key to the role of CMO.

Ally 1: The CEO/MD

For Google senior marketing director A/NZ, Aisling Finch, her top ally would have to be her local MD, Mel Silva.

“Mel encourages all of our leadership team to ‘act like an owner’ and think beyond individual functions,” she says. “Specific to marketing, she has a strong belief in the value of insights and ensuring we have debate, then alignment on strategy. Finally, she has an appreciation for the craft; be it copywriting, storytelling, design, user experiences or events.”

It’s a similar story for H&R Block marketing and digital innovations director, Louise Cummins, who rates her managing director, Brodie Dixon, as a vital backer in her quest to transform the tax services provider.

“He’s given me the flexibility to build the right marketing, agency and cross-functional teams plus the freedom and resourcing to deliver to our vision,” Cummins says.

Tourism and Events Queensland executive director marketing, Michael Branagh, says it’s impossible to do what his marketing organisation does at a tourism body without CEO support.

“Our CEO champions creativity, encourages us to be bold and influences the greater stakeholder community to back what we do,” he comments.

Freedom GM marketing, Jason Piggott, is another who counts himself lucky enough to have the CEO as his greatest ally.

“The CEO has a strong understanding of marketing that extends beyond advertising. Everything the team and I have achieved over the past 18 months wouldn’t have been possible without building trust around ‘doing what we say’, delivering transparent communication that is both open and robust and most importantly a history of delivering projects, initiatives and results the builds confidence has ensured that there is strong support,” Piggott says.

“This isn’t to discount the robust conversations that also happen to get to this point, conversations that are built on mutual respect for each other’s opinions and a commitment to holding each other to the highest possible standards. The CEO has been instrumental in clearing the path for the marketing team to deliver, from influencing at the board level to push through major branding changes such as our logo right down to amplifying the brand purpose into every area of the business.”

Officeworks GM marketing and insights, Jessica Richmond, agrees it’s critical to have the support of the managing director to ensure marketing has a seat at the table.

“I’ve been tremendously lucky to have a leader that not only ‘gets it’, but who is a strong and vocal supporter of not only the role of marketing as a trade driver, but as a driver of long-term brand value and our role in understanding and connecting to customers,” she says. “This has helped us unlock access to decision-making forums, to funding and enables us to influence at a different level than is often afforded the marketing function, particularly at a retailer.”

Ally 2: The CFO

For Mars Pet Nutrition Company marketing director, Emily Dowling, having a strong relationship with her CFO, Emma Wooldridge, is integral to running successful marketing activities.

“Being able to create value for consumers and the business requires a sophisticated understanding of how to build a sustainable P&L,” she comments. “Trust and partnership between marketing and finance results in great knowledge sharing between functions and the development of high ROI activities.”

Across her career, Kate Whitney has also always sought out a strong relationship with the CFO or finance director. And it’s the case now at Marley Spoon, where she spearheads marketing and growth.

“Marketing is a significant investment for our business, and as an investment, it should be treated as carefully and with as much deliberation and debate as any other expenditure,” Whitney says. “Once finance and marketing are aligned on core metrics for that investment, we realise we are helping each other, the rest of the road smooths out pretty quickly.”  

Ally 3: The chief operating officer

For a more holistic approach to customer engagement and experience management, the chief operating officer has to be your chief ally, says McMillan Shakespeare Group chief customer officer, Julia Edwards-Smith.

“Partnering with the COO ensures the marketing and digital team form a true 360-degree view of the customer through providing consultant insights,” she says. “In addition to the COO’s teams being close to the end customer, they are also largely accountable for the business benefits. Therefore, it is critical to partner with the COO to secure future business cases and support innovation and growth opportunities to invest in digital, marketing and data projects.”

Fitness First Australia head of marketing, Matt Fletcher, also cites his GM of operations as a particularly critical ally.

“In a service business, it’s the operations team that makes the brand experience come to life,” he says. “It was rewarding working with the operations teams on the ‘Put Yourself First’ brand repositioning. Firstly, leveraging team members’ insights in the research phase and then working in collaboration to integrate the platform across the business as part of the roll out strategy. This included everything from our product philosophy and fitness class development and to the questions sales teams ask in their needs analysis.”  

Ally 4: The chief information officer

With digital transformation and more connected customers has come growing importance on the relationship between CMO and CIO. For Monash University CMO, Fabian Marrone, having the CIO as his ally has been instrumental in orchestrating his ‘With Monash’ whole-of-university initiative to create audience personalisation, implement end-to-end digital recruitment, establish a single source of lead collection and conversion and demonstrate a clear return on marketing spend.

“We work in unison to implement the digital experience, delight our audiences and delivery for Monash. We have a Northern Star, which is whatever is in the best interest of Monash and our audiences. This means we always come to the best solution,” Marrone says.  

Great Southern Bank chief customer officer, Megan Keleher, is another who found the technology chief critical in the brand overhaul she’s spearheaded at the financial services provider.

“The chief technology officer has been my number one ally as we have transformed our customer experience,” she says. “Our partnership has been integral to achieve our customer agenda through enhancing and modernising our IT capability to attract more customers and maintaining the safety and security of our customer data.”

Ally 5: The product innovation leader

Arguably in complement to technology is product. Mars Wrigley Australia marketing director, Ben Hill, sees his R&D director as a vital ally in driving growth at the FMCG business.

“All of the great insights and strategies in the world don’t come to life if you don’t have a growth-minded R&D director and I am lucky to have that in my organisation,” Hill says. “We share similar risk profiles and support each other on a shared agenda.”

The relationship between marketing and product is absolutely essential to Healthengine chief customer officer, Tara Heath, too.

“Our product team or head of product is my number one ally. Both functions need to understand the customer, create value and ensure communication to market is on point,” she says.

Over at Uber, sernior director and head of marketing APAC, Lucinda Barlow, says the role of marketing is as vital as the c-suite perceives it as essential to widening markets, driving growth and building iconic brands for longevity. Helping her realise this impact are two key allies: The regional general managers for mobility and delivery.

“We meet throughout each week and debate growth bets, new product and market strategies, marketing ROI and impact on the P&L. I’ve built a trusted partnership with them through showing how marketing can unlock outsized growth and they are strong advocates for long-term brand investment and resourcing needs,” she explains.

“Our allyship makes my job super fun. I recently spent a few hours with Saskia, our delivery RGM, jamming on eight radical new ideas. I sit on the UT board in South Korea, with Pradeep. Our friendship extends beyond the functional - they are exceptional peer mentors and are not afraid to give brutally honest feedback.”

Ally 6: Everyone

But of course the most popular ally for many of the CMO is ‘everyone’. This is certainly the case for Menulog marketing director, Simon Cheng.

“My number one ally is actually my entire management team. One of the reasons why we've been able to perform so well over the last 18 months is because of a high-performing, highly collaborative management team,” he says.

“There are no hidden agendas or politics, which means there are no underlying tensions or politics between teams in the organisation, hence a more transparent, open and efficient working culture.”

Medibank senior executive, brand, marketing and customer experience, Fiona Le Brocq, also cites her wider peers as key allies.

“I feel quite strongly that while most people focus on managing up or down, managing across is where we can really make a difference as leaders,” she says. “Our peer leadership team is made up of a broad range of different skills sets and experiences and perspectives, which has driven divergent thinking, a critical dimension when wrestling new kinds of problems as we’ve had to do this past year. I’ve leaned on friendships, sought advice and support and hopefully, reciprocated in ways that helped my friends and colleagues find a way through the tumult.”

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