Cannes Lions 2021: The ever-changing role of the CMO

A panel comprising three women CMOs speaks about the changing role in the pandemic, and the way forward

Jun 28, 2021 04:28:00 AM | Article | Eularie Saldanha Share - Share to Facebook

From left: Fiona Carter, Kate Jhaveri, Gayle Troberman and Michael Kassan

The virtual audience at the ongoing Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity saw a panel comprising Fiona Carter, CMO, Goldman Sachs; Kate Jhaveri, CMO, National Basketball Association (NBA); and Gayle Troberman, president and CMO, iHeartMedia. The session was moderated by Michael Kassan, chairman and CEO, MediaLink. The women addressed the changes in their professional journeys as marketers and how they coped with the growing expectations from both, the industry, and consumers.
Lockdown observations
Jhaveri began by narrating how the NBA put the game season on hold so that its players could be safe. She said, “We didn’t know how long the hiatus would last. When we came back after the break, there was no single positive case. We started this season with no fans in many locations, but it’s fantastic to welcome them back. It feels great to see that brand love not only as a person but also as a marketer.
Carter, on the other hand, believes that acceleration was the greatest trend that came out of the pandemic. She spoke about how corporations like AT&T faced the challenge to accelerate at the same pace. “E-commerce propelled its way forward and there was a nervousness to be all over it. However, just like consumers had to get accustomed to the new ways of purchasing, we had to as well,” she added, observing that employees too were picky about how they wanted to work. “There is a tectonic plate shift going on, which will play out slowly over time. We just have to sit back and observe how that would pan out.
Agreeing with Carter, Troberman stated that creativity was one of the tectonic shifts that came back into vogue, with speed. She said, “Creative had to lead the way and all the old data had to be thrown away because consumers’ behaviour changed completely. We had to go back to a world where the idea would lead. We went from a world where true crime trumped all, to one that was needing of happy, positive news.”
She also hopes that marketers don’t swing the pendulum back to just data, but also focus on ideas at the core. “We overthink as marketers. We should follow our gut a bit more. I saw a lot of brands putting credible work out there in weeks vs. months or years, before the pandemic. Trust your agencies, teams and take a leap to see where it’s going,” she added.
Marketing with crumbled cookies
When Kassan asked the panellists how they dealt with no access to first-party data like before, Carter was certain that the key to it was balancing the fundamentals. “The major tools of brand building have been left behind. A brand connects with consumers effectively, when it combines emotions with conversion - the bottom of the marketing funnel. I’m always looking for people who can think in a hybrid manner,” she added.
Jhaveri, on the other hand, believes that emotional residence trumps all. She states that something brilliant comes out of storytelling and not from a banner ad.
Troberman, too, opines that people tune in to stations because they’re live, human and unscripted. “That’s what brands aspire to do – be honest and authentic. The best performing ads continue to be the least produced. If you script it and put the perfect soundscape underneath it, it doesn’t work as well. We’re all finding our way back to more authentic creativity,” she stated.
Consumers spectacles
Talking about how consumers can now distinguish between a genuine ad and the one that’s only trying to sell, Carter said, “We’re at such a war for attention. The only way through is if you truly understand your audience and speak in a similar language to resonate with them.”
Adding to Carter’s view, Jhaveri stated that it was the absolute case for younger consumers. “With multiple screens and other things happening, the cut-through is just so hard, but what these consumers have come to know and love is raw and unscripted,” she added.
Rethinking from the platform’s perspective, Troberman shared how her company’s services were in high demand during the lockdown. She said, “A lot of people tried to find us. All our digital listening went way up. Since people were sleeping longer and wanted to tune in later, we added an extra hour to our morning shows. We built a new behaviour with a lot of consumers who thought of us as a commute vehicle that they can get anywhere, anytime.”
Taking on challenges
Carter, who joined Goldman Sachs during the pandemic as the first CMO, was asked how she managed to connect and build relationships in the lockdown. She said, “I started in person and the office building has been open ever since the pandemic began, with on-site safety protocols in place. I met a lot of people in person, twice or thrice a week. It was a privilege to soak in the brand and learn the people and systems.”
Jhaveri on the other hand shares how a business like sports too, had to change its way of existing. “We had to learn to produce the games remotely and we learnt that all of these things are not only possible but in many ways working well. Since we could not do live, we brought in tech to have non-stop programming on our social channels. Given our huge following, it made sense for us to speak to our audience, but it is also something that we don’t want to stop in the aftertimes,” she added.  
Attention to diversity and inclusion
Carter is certain that there are a lot of people in the marketing industry, who are actively working towards changing the view and the makeup of diversity. “When you bring these tools and tactics, you show the way forward for the organisation you’re in. There’s a lot of talks, but there are also people actively looking to change.”
Speaking of the same, Jhaveri states that the NBA has been standing up for social justice for years. She added, “Fans know when you’re just putting out a statement and not standing by it. We made two significant investments; one with the NBA foundation dedicating 300 million dollars to the economic empowerment of the black and brown communities and second, the NBS coalition.”  
Kassan ended the session by asking Troberman what was expected of a marketer in the current times. She explained how the core outcome hadn’t changed, but how the bar for a marketer has been raised higher.
“You have to understand who you are as a brand, company and who your consumers are. The spotlight is on the marketer to be authentic and to walk the talk.” 


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