Marketers: the boardroom door is open, step inside

With more marketers taking top jobs, Suki Thompson, CEO & founder of Oystercatchers, says it's time to take control and step inside the boardroom.

Oystercatchers: It's time for marketers to step up and take the top roles
Oystercatchers: It's time for marketers to step up and take the top roles

In 2011, only 14% of FTSE 100 CEOs had a marketing background; in 2014, this had risen to 21%. In 2011, 53% of CEOs came from a finance background, this has now dropped to 32%, according to a recent survey by Spencer Stuart.  In the next two hours of your life the creative industries, including marketing, will generate £16m for the UK economy.  The industry, which includes marketing, film, television, music, is now worth £71.4 billion per year to the UK economy.

In order to achieve the status we may yearn for, we need to make sure that marketing is perceived to be a maker not just a spender. 

Maker not a spender

In a world where technology is everywhere and a single person can influence the opinions of millions it seems that this is marketers moment to make a real impact on business, but in order to achieve the status we may yearn for, we need to make sure that marketing is perceived to be a maker not just a spender. I agree with the view that marketing has the ability to bring the inconvenient truth to a business. Today where people face a tyranny of choice it is marketers who understand the customer journey and should be the voice of the customer within the organisation.  Feilim Mackle, Telefónica UK sales and service director, suggests, "Marketing divisions can now play an even more pivotal role as consumer expectations grow". 

Marketers excel at shaping culture

Last week, at an Oystercatchers Club evening I hosted a provocative debate on "How to raise the profile of marketing" with a high profile group comprising David Wheldon managing director, brand, reputation, citizenship and marketing, Barclays Group, Pete Markey, CMO Post Office, Debbie Klein, CEO Engine Group and Martin Glenn, CEO, United Biscuits. Martin stated that "almost all business failures are marketing failures". Suggesting that it is the job of marketing to make sense of external change and make it happen inside the company. It is culture, not just strategy that can make the difference between success and failure, and marketers excel at shaping culture. Many of the 21% of CEOs from marketing backgrounds talk about the importance of the customer and culture regularly.  Gavin Patterson, marketer turned CEO at BT, cites the importance of ‘purpose, goal, strategy and culture'. Bang at the top of strategy is "broaden and deepen our customer relationships", he says.

To understand more about what marketing can offer to an organisation we spoke to business leadership with non-marketing responsibilities and asked a simple question: if you were CMO of your business for one year what would you do to increase marketing’s impact?

Six insights came to light:

  • Use customer focus and insight to drive business forward
  • Cultivate T-shaped leadership – broaden skills beyond marketing
  • Use partnership to success
  • Inspire, collaborate and be confident
  • Take time to listen. Get closer to the markets and understand key business drivers
  • Build business skills into junior marketer training

It seems that appreciation of marketing is often based on admiration for the handling of implementational complexity, but there’s a belief at board level that marketers need to define what marketing can deliver and educate on how to assess its effectiveness. In short, marketing needs to define its territory and how it wants to be judged. Andrew Duff, Chairman of Severn Trent suggests that "marketers must have the confidence to demonstrate how marketing works best".

We don’t need people who over-index on creativity. We need a skillset able to judge creativity and link back to business strategy

Business models are becoming matrix driven, and there is strong advice that marketers should decamp from central office and listen to commercial operators on the front line. According to Paul Pomroy, McDonald's senior vice president, UK chief finance officer, "We don’t need people who over-index on creativity. We need a skillset able to judge creativity and link back to business strategy".

The power of marketing beyond the campaign

At Oystercatchers Club I asked what marketers could do to become leaders in business. Pete Markey said, "Be curious, nurture partnerships across the business, get involved and show the power of marketing beyond the campaign". David Wheldon echoed the need for cross-functional skills "learn the language of the boardroom". Martin Glenn’s view was simple: work in finance, sales, distribution, franchises as credibility and experience catapults. On the role the agency plays in supporting the marketer, Debbie Klein’s view was that the boardroom seldom understands the power of the consumer, "Agencies can help educate clients on the changing role of the consumer in a very different world".

Step inside

The very best marketers, that I observe, are those who collaborate as part of goal focused teams, are confident to act rather than just talk, who focus on the detail as well as being visionary. They drive demand, are customer focused, do not fear failure and don’t speak marketing bullshit. Barack Obama said, ‘Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.’ The door to the boardroom for marketing and marketers is open; it is up to us to step inside. 

Read next

Why Siemens, Tesco and O2 are going back to school


Cancer Research to take contactless donations through shop windows

cancer research contactless payment

Become a member of Campaign from just £45 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to ,plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

Partner content


1 Why creative people have lost their way

What better way to kick off the inaugural issue of Campaign's monthly print offering than with another think piece on the current failings of our industry, written by an embittered, pretentious creative who misses "the way things used to be"...


1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).