Diageo marketing boss Syl Saller on bravery: 'ignore the little voice in your head'

Marketers who "bring their whole, authentic self to work", can be better marketers and better leaders, Diageo's chief marketing and innovation officer Syl Saller said.

Syl Saller on stage at the Marketing Society's Brave Conference
Syl Saller on stage at the Marketing Society's Brave Conference

Saller spoke in front of an audience at the Marketing Society's Brave Conference 2017 today at London's Science Museum.

As president of the Marketing Society, Saller talked about how the notion of bravery — the theme of this year's conference — had taken her into a "whole new territory we've not been in before".

"'Bold' is a safer word for me," she said. "But 'brave' is the word to use because it helps me step outside my comfort zone.

"Bravery takes it into a whole new territory we've not been in before. We've spent the whole year talking about taboo subjects like mental health and failure."

Asked how she had been brave during her career as a marketer, Saller was self-effacing. "I don't self-identify as brave," she said. "When I think about what drives me – growing up without a lot of money ingrains the thought that you have to earn your pay check and embolden you to do brave things."

Saller, though, admitted that she was not always imbued with courage, having spent a part of her career turning down internal job offers, until she took on her current role at Diageo.

"For my first two years as chief marketing officer I didn't have great results," she said. "What I'd say is that those demons never go completely away but they do get less and less, smaller and smaller."

Wrapping up the session, Saller offered further advice for delegates.

"Ignore that little voice in tour head, the one saying 'You can't do this,'" she said. "I promise you, while you might think something might be a risk for the company, the truth is that it's risky for you. The people we've let go are no the ones who've tried to do audacious things.

"The second thing is not to think about it too much. I've been quoted saying that 'growth begins outside our comfort zone' and I'll admit that it's a fridge magnet quote."

Quoting Hunter S Thompson, she added:"'Buy the ticket, take the ride.' Just go for it."

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