Skip to main content
Deep Dive 10 Feb 2021 - 5 min read

Want to succeed in marketing? Here’s what four top CMOs say you need

By Paul McIntyre & Brendan Coyne
Susan Coghill, Lisa Ronson, Geoff Ikin and Martine Jager

CMO's top tips: Tourism Australia's Susan Coghill, Coles' Lisa Ronson, Myer's Geoff Ikin and Westpac's Martine Jager

What qualities do top marketers seek in their teams, what do they look for when recruiting new talent and what advice would they give their younger selves? Westpac Chief Digital & Marketing Officer Martine Jager, Myer Chief Customer Officer Geoff Ikin, Tourism Australia CMO Susan Coghill and Coles Group CMO Lisa Ronson say be yourself, be courageous – and above all else, stay curious.

What you need to know:
  • Westpac marketing chief Martine Jager says curiosity is key to success, as is diversity of thought and personality: "Always be yourself". Having the courage to "always ask why" is also critical.
  • Myer's Geoff Ikin says understanding context – the bigger picture – and keeping an open mind to possibility can take marketers in new directions. “You can't just learn your craft and live in a bubble."
  • Cole's Lisa Ronson says Covid has hammered the home a need to bake flexibility into every plan.
  • Likewise Tourism Australia's Susan Coghill says the pandemic has underlined the importance of empathy: "Those who can put themselves in other people’s shoes tend to more quickly find creative solutions."
Recipe for success

Ronson, Coghill, Ikin and Jager have some shared history. All four have worked at Westpac, while Ronson and Ikin also spent some years at Tourism Australia, where Coghill now heads up marketing. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that they largely agree on the core ingredients for success and the attributes they prize most highly within their staff.

But they have all taken very different paths to reach the summit of their chosen field and have collectively learned many different lessons.

Aiming to distil their experience into a five minute read, Mi3 asked what advice would they give their younger selves – and to anyone hoping to make their mark in marketing – and what attributes they most need within their teams.

Be yourself – your whole self. I always recruit people who are fundamentally different to me, because it creates diversity of thought and diversity of teams. It makes you smarter.

Martine Jager

Always be yourself

Westpac’s Martine Jager urges people to be themselves at work – and she means their whole, unadulterated selves.

“I always recruit people who are fundamentally different to me, because it creates diversity of thought and diversity of teams. It makes you smarter, and therefore I feel more comfortable bringing my whole self to work as well,” says Jager.

“It’s our job as leaders to encourage that, to clear the way and provide the tools, particularly for younger people who are ambitious and trying to get ahead in a world where they feel like they have to be very corporate. We are reflective of our customer base; we have to be ourselves.”

Ronson wholeheartedly agrees: “Its exhausting trying to be someone you just are not and it’s disingenuous, people see through it.”

It’s okay to be a generalist and jump around a bit – and you just need to embrace that, because it brings opportunity.

Geoff Ikin

See the bigger picture

Myer’s Geoff Ikin would urge his younger self to always try to understand the bigger picture – eyes up and ears open.

“You can't just learn your craft and live in a bubble. You need to understand what your stakeholders are doing, what customers are feeling, how it all interacts. Anyone can come up with a great idea, but how you land it and drive it through your organisation is sometimes the trickier part,” says Ikin. 

“Not everybody sees eye to eye. If you can understand and have empathy for all stakeholders, internal and external, it will make life a hell of a lot easier.”

 

Be open to possibility

Ikin says he received one of the best pieces of advice midway through his career.

“When I started at Westpac, one of the stalwarts in the business took me aside and said ‘there are two types of people in the world: those who have their career mapped out in their mind …’

“And I was thinking, I have no idea, I’m just doing the things I love doing… perhaps I should have a plan… But he said, ‘Well, the second part of the equation is people that don’t, people that are open to what's ahead of them, who follow things down the rabbit holes and keep their options open. It’s okay to be a generalist and jump around a bit – and you just need to embrace that, because it brings opportunity.’

“And that was great advice,” he says. “Because you then stop putting that pressure on yourself to have a plan, to have it all mapped out. Because the one reality as we go through our careers is constant change: Just when you become an expert, suddenly you become a novice again. So the ability to be open to what is ahead of you and shift with it is a good thing.”

Develop a healthy sense of paranoia about everything you do. Dot the Is and cross the Ts. Show that you really care about everything you do, because that’s what separates the great from the good.

Susan Coghill

Own your education, do detail

Tourism Australia’s Susan Coghill would tell her younger self to grasp all development opportunities as they arise – and to proactively make them arise rather than wait for them to come.

Coghill spent much of her career working within creative agencies, where typically, “the training is a lot less structured” versus client-side.

“In the early days, I looked at clients like Unilever or Toyota and they offered great opportunities for personal professional development – and as I’ve moved client-side I’ve been sure to take advantage of each of those opportunities presented to me,” she says.

“But it’s also really important to take ownership of your own career education – and there has never been a better time, with Mark Ritson’s online programme, professor Scott Galloway’s online programme and those from all the major universities. There is a wealth of knowledge out there readily available. Go out and find it because it will expand your perspective – and greatly expedite progress in your career.”

Coghill has one other piece of advice: “Develop a healthy sense of paranoia about everything you do. Always dot the Is and cross the Ts. Show that you really care about everything you do, because that’s what separates the great from the good.”

A young, introverted girl in our team stepped up in a meeting and questioned a senior exec about the customer value a decision would add. Her intent was pure. It was one of those moments where you can be afraid, or you can make it the norm.

Martine Jager

Take courage

For Martine Jager, curiosity and courage are key staff attributes, and she provides a recent example:

“We work in an agile environment. It’s full of transparency and every fortnight everyone gets the opportunity to present where they’re at and what they’re doing.  One young girl has been in the team about 12 months. She is very shy, introverted, but has a very sharp mind.

“She hadn’t really spoken in a showcase before. But when a senior executive came into the showcase and said they wanted to add further pieces of work, she stepped forward and said, ‘we can do that as well, but I just want to understand, if you wouldn’t mind, what customer value that is going to add? Because I have been working over the weekend to look at the data and it shows…’

“She wasn’t pushing back, she was just courageous in that moment to talk about the customer. She wasn’t afraid that it was a senior executive, because her intent was pure. And it is people like that, who step up when a moment of courage is required, that we need,” says Jager.

Jager says nurturing people’s willingness to constructively question and challenge unlocks positive cultural change and better business outcomes.

“It was one of those moments where you can be afraid and say, ‘holy cow, what just happened?’ Or you can make it really comfortable so that it becomes the norm,” she says. “One of her colleagues did a quiet little clap beside her. And the senior exec, one of my peers, said ‘this is great, this is exactly the kind of courage and conversations that I want us to keep having’. 

“But these are critical moments because as leaders we cast long shadows – and we can make these moments great or not,” adds Jager. “And that moment of courage helped change the culture of the fortnightly showcases – because since then, people are happy to step forward and have a go.”

People that have a point of view and are willing to put themselves out there and show they have done the diligence to explain that decision are stepping up. Leaders have a responsibility to listen to all points of view

Geoff Ikin

Have an opinion

Post-Covid, courage has never been so critical, agrees Geoff Ikin. He’s looking for people that “have the courage to actually have a point of view”.

“Nobody has charted this territory before, and nobody has an authority on what to do. So if you’re in a meeting with a broader group, choose your moments wisely, but have an opinion,” urges Ikin.

“People that have a point of view and are willing to put themselves out there and show they have done the diligence to explain why they are making that decision are stepping up – and leaders have a responsibility to listen to all points of view.”

Whether it is trying to solve big problems or find small, incremental improvements, “that is the kind of momentum you want from your team – thinkers and not just doers,” says Ikin. “That is what we are looking for in this environment – and that’s the reason I think taking the time to understand context is actually paramount.”

The ability to adapt quickly – very quickly in the case of a supermarket during Covid – to best serve the needs of your customers and your frontline team members is invaluable.

Lisa Ronson

Be flexible, have empathy

Given the year we have just had, Ronson says flexibility is another highly prized asset.

“The ability to adapt quickly – very quickly in the case of a supermarket during Covid – to best serve the needs of your customers and your frontline team members is invaluable,” she says.

People that can bake flexibility into decision-making, says Ronson, “is what makes pivoting and delivering on big initiatives possible amid what has been a pretty crazy time for everyone”.

Susan Coghill agrees. “Being adaptable, agile, being dedicated and solutions-driven” are the traits she seeks, “people who are constantly trying to find new and innovative ways to solve our challenges.”

Empathy has also become a critical asset in a post-Covid world.

“It’s been a really trying time for all of us, and the people who have been empathetic have done really well,” says Coghill. “That extends to our agency partners as well, because those who can put themselves in other people’s shoes tend to more quickly find creative solutions – and they also tend to be more empathetic to themselves. We’ve all been under a lot of duress over the last few month, so empathy is definitely a winning trait.”

I tell my teams ‘I have your back, I will cover you whatever it is. Just don’t do anything illegal. I’m not big on visiting jails. But otherwise, just have a go’. What’s the worst that can happen? We fail. But we learn from failure.

Martine Jager

Above all else, ask why

All agree curiosity is a fundamental requirement for marketers – and just about any discipline.

Geoff Ikin says that doesn’t mean trying to find Eureka moments and profound changes around every corner.

“Curiosity, even in a very heavily process orientated role, is to question why you are doing it this way, and whether it could be done, better, faster, smarter. That can have huge commercial and customer impact,” he says.

“Curiosity takes all types and forms. The trick is unlocking that curiosity so staff feel safe to be able to have a bit of a go and not worry they will get hammered for asking a question or putting an alternative on the table.”

Martine Jager says curiosity is an inherent human quality. As any parent knows, children never stop asking why, and neither should we.

“Keep asking why. What is the why? That’s all you need. The worst thing is to not try and never know what might have happened. Be curious and have a go,” she says.

“I tell my teams ‘I have your back, I will cover you whatever it is. Just don’t do anything illegal. I’m not big on visiting jails. But otherwise, you know, just have a go’.

“What’s the worst that can happen? We fail. But we learn a lesson from that as well. So I do believe that curiosity is in all of us, 100 per cent. We’ve got to encourage that from our teams – just keep asking the why.”

 

Since taking part in this panel, Martine Jager has accepted a role at Bank of Queensland as Group Executive of Retail. She is set to commence in April.

Share your reaction (and see how others voted)

Leave a comment (you must be logged in)

Be the first to comment

Search Mi3 Articles

Make it personal

Join Mi3 to receive our weekly edition and personalise your experience