Katriona Windsor on Chief Marketing Officers

Katriona Windsor on Chief Marketing Officers

We sat down with Kat Windsor to talk marketing: how to hire and retain the best leaders and what to keep front of mind during a recession.

Katriona Windsor

What is a CMO?

To me, the Chief Marketing Officer is the person who is ultimately responsible for the direction of the entire marketing function in the organisation.

They play a pivotal role in the business’ growth. They put together the marketing strategy, using market research and data, work with the CEO / CFO to define budgets, and report (as and when necessary) to key stakeholders such as investors on impact.

What do the great ones have in common?

Great question. There are a few key things that I would pull out.

More so now than ever before, great CMOs must have the ability to evolve, shift and learn. With the ever-fragmented media landscape and digital transformation, CMOs not only have to be able to keep up with these changes, but they have to embrace them and understand how to use them to their advantage.

Secondly, we’ve noticed a rising demand for marketing leaders who are analytical and who understand how to use and translate data in order to prove that their strategy is working, or if not, make changes. That can be hard - with the amount of data that’s now available, it can be really challenging to make decisions.

Thirdly, marketing leaders are required to understand how to drive growth. They need to be able to really understand the overall business objectives, identify areas that might drive growth and execute this plan.

Fourth, I would say that they have incredible people skills. Not only be great communicators - they need to be able to communicate their vision and bring a business along with them. They also have the ability to attract and retain world-class talent, especially in a hugely competitive market. And let’s not forget about leading talent in a new hybrid working world.

Lastly, be humble, recognise when something isn’t working and be able to course-correct quickly.

When’s the right time to hire a CMO?

This is a question that we are often asked. Firstly, we often see early-stage businesses that want to hire a CMO when actually they are looking for a marketing person to solve a very specific problem for them. That could be raising brand awareness quickly or generating some leads. That problem could be solved by hiring someone who is focused on just that problem.

The point at which you need to hire a CMO comes when you are confident that you have a product-market fit. When you’re ready to build out a team (across a number of disciplines) that means you’re also ready to commit a significant budget to marketing. I think most importantly, you really understand what value a strategic marketing leader would bring to the business, and you really understand that investing in marketing is a way in which your business will grow.

How are the best companies attracting and retaining great marketing talent?

We’re finding that marketers are being increasingly selective about where they want to work. They want to work for brands that have very clear values and want to ensure that the founder has communicated a clear vision and mission. Candidates are also increasingly purpose-driven – especially post-pandemic.

Marketers are still drawn to roles where they have a real opportunity to disrupt. Somewhere that allows them to really flex their commercial and problem-solving skills alongside their creative ones.

How do marketing functions adapt during recessions?

I would say that dropping your marketing budget during a recession is a risky move. It can of course be inevitable but then there becomes a need to spend smarter. Also, there is a need to really double down on making sure that you retain those loyal customers. During an economic downturn, retention strategies are absolutely critical.

Has the fragmentation of the function impacted the way start-ups hire marketing professionals?

It can be very difficult to hire marketing leaders. The ‘laundry list’ can often be longer than across other functions! When we talk to start-ups, we really have to understand what role they want marketing to play within the organisation. What is the job that they want this person to do? What impact do they need to have? What’s been working well for them so far?

We’re often approached about finding a Chief Growth Officer - this can mean a lot of different things, so it’s very important for us to interrogate what the business needs this person to do.

What excites you about the function?

It’s so dynamic. Forever changing. Hugely creative, commercial and innovation-led - you get to apply creativity in so many ways. I also love that when everything comes together, and it clicks - it can absolutely transform a business.

Are there any CMOs that inspire you?

Julia Goldin - Lego. I’m an enormous fan of the Lego brand and think that the work that Julia Goldin has led there has been phenomenal. In her role as Chief Marketing and Product Officer, she hasn’t only been responsible for continuing to drive that incredible positioning around the power of creativity and play through a number of global campaigns, but has also continued to drive that through a number of new product launches, for example combining the physical and digital as well as launching new lines for adults. When I think of a brand that encompasses creativity, I think Lego. So clever.

Zoe Harris at On The Beach. Zoe is a great example of a truly commercial and creative leader. She understands the full gamut of the marketing mix but at the same time really understands what it takes to drive growth. She’s also a great customer champion and has that real ability to understand and influence.