As you might guess if you've been reading this blog for a bit, this isn't my first week as a chief marketing officer. Yet the start of the new year feels like a fine time to return to some unfinished business.
Last summer, a week into starting my new job as CMO of agency MRY, I penned a byline about lessons from a first-time CMO based on a single week's experience. Amidst other columns I was working on getting out then, other deadlines, and the Advice for a New CMO roundup, I didn't get around to publishing it. Here, for the first time, you can read the column in full. It's unedited from the initial draft, so the rawness is in place; perhaps I'll soon get to adding more thoughts about lessons learned since this was published.
By all means, your own experience would be most welcome in the comments, social channels, email, or any other forum you see fit.
First Week Lessons from a First-Time CMO
By David Berkowitz
Chief Marketing Officer, MRY
At the end of June, I joined agency MRY as its first chief marketing officer, a role I’m now holding for the first time. For those taking on new marketing leadership roles and embarking on other transitions, I kept track of the experience during that first tumultuous week on the job. Here’s what I learned so far:
Consider everyone a potential ally. Some of those I started to collaborate with in the first week included the heads of human resources, strategy, innovation, business development, and certain account teams. Granted, the very first person I met was the office barista – another person who can make a big difference in one’s day.
One of the biggest wins is reach a clear understanding with the chief financial officer. Marketing, known as a cost center rather than a revenue driver, isn’t always a CFO’s top priority. I have the good fortune of working with a CFO who already believes in marketing. What’s more important is for a CFO to appreciate the need to be nimble, and even engage in real-time marketing. In return, the marketing team must be willing to keep their books balanced. By finding common ground, my meeting with the CFO proved to be one of the best hours, and perhaps most important, of my first week.
Your relationship with your marketing team will make or break most days on the job. Get to know them well. Support them. Show that you will go to bat for them.
A team is composed of individuals. Treat them as such, even if it’s a group where everyone may wind up stepping in to chip in with other’s jobs.
Share everything you can with your team. Earn trust.
Have a vision, or better yet, a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” or BHAG as Jim Collins says. I had a small, fuzzy, ambitious but attainable goals going into the job. Then I started getting approached with some challenges on the first day that I wasn’t expecting. Addressing those to the extent necessary will require a BHAG. The night after my third day there, I wrote an outline for a BHAG. The next morning, it turned into a minimalist 60-slide deck. Before lunch, I shared it with my team to see if it made sense and get them on board. It is now something I hope to work on the rest of my time in this job, and maybe in many jobs to come. And I never could have thought of it in advance. It came entirely from listening.
Listen to anyone and everyone.
Listen actively. Find something to learn from every conversation. Write it down. Revisit it until you internalize it.
One great way to internalize what you learn is to share it with your team and others. It goes back to the saying that my eighth grade math teacher, Pat Kelly (of blessed memory), made all of her students memorize on the first day of class: “The more senses you bring into the learning process, the more lasting will be the learning.” Repeating what you learn engages more of your senses.
Every day, play small ball. Look for those quick wins. Find a way to say yes to someone and make something happen.
Say yes even when you’re in over your head. Not even 90 minutes into starting there, an opportunity arose to present at a major client’s event in Australia a few weeks later. That meant working harder to get the agency’s story straight, getting immersed in the agency’s work, understanding the client in depth, creating a presentation hitting on the organization’s key themes, and scheduling a trip about as far away as one can travel, all while trying to keep things moving forward with the countless projects and needs arising in the home office. Then again, it was a great way to make a statement as part of an organization determined to go to the ends of the Earth for its clients. Find a way to start with yes.
Prioritize. The first priority? Sit down with anyone and everyone internally who can meet with you. Beyond that, the CMO will have to partner with many others externally to get the most visibility possible for the organization. Many such potential partners will benefit far more once you have a better understanding of how your own organization works. Even if some are hungry to work with you right away, they’ll appreciate you trying to be effective rather than too fast.
Make every minute count. You only get one first week. Use it to define yourself. Set yourself up for success in what will, one hopes, be years contributing there.
Be proud of what you’ve done so far, however subtle or grand. Remember, you were brought in for a reason, and it means at least someone else wants you to succeed.