Blue skies ahead: CMOs reflect on the year behind us and what’s to come in 2022

Last month, Mumbrella's Andrew Banks spoke with CEOs from across the marketing and media industry in our We Ask the CEOs series. Now, in the first installment of a two-part series, Mumbrella's Kalila Welch speaks to some of the marketing industry's biggest names to find out their take on the year ahead.

Last month marked the start of what we all expected would be a year almost free from the suffocating weight of a global pandemic, as much of Australia settled into long awaited vaccine-sanctioned freedoms.

While January did not turn out to be the smooth start to the year for what the industry would have hoped, things are slowly starting to get back on track, and the glowing horizon of “business as usual” seems near.

The year ahead will present its own challenges, but many in the industry are feeling optimistic. Mumbrella spoke with a number of CMOs to learn of the challenges they overcame last year, and what they foresee for 2022.

Lisa Ronson | Coles

Lisa Ronson, CMO of Coles. Board member at Flybuys. Board member at the Australian Association of National Advertisers.

Biggest challenge of 2021: Like most industries and professions, it’s definitely been the continuation of the pandemic and ensuring we are supporting the physical and mental wellbeing of our whole team. 2021 again was a manic year with our customers still dealing with the pressures of lockdown and our business needing to work with government to adapt to changing COVID rules and important safety protocols. Keeping on the front foot and communicating with our team and customers in a timely and empathetic way has been critical. I really don’t want to speak too soon, this time last year we thought we had seen the worst of it. Having said that, with vaccinations at the point they are I’m hopeful – like everyone- that there will be a lot more “normality” – if we can remember what that is!!

Most exciting marketing opportunities for 2022: I do think the world is a different place having gone through what we all have, and whilst there has been negatives, there are also a lot of positives. At the basic level from a Coles perspective I’m excited about making a big deal around special times of the year when we can physically get together to entertain with family and friends. As a brand, we are very fortunate that we touch the life of almost every Australian and being by their side to help them live happier and healthier lives is the focus for us.

The biggest challenges brands will face in 2022: I’m not sure if it’s different to any other year, but I do think customers’ expectations in some areas are a lot higher. Brands need to speak with authenticity, have empathy and understand their role in their customers’ lives. Targeting and reaching customers given the changes in the industry calls for much greater personalisation and with that comes great opportunity – but to my earlier point – also great expectations. Another big one will be really understanding customer sentiment, attitudes and behaviours. There’s arguments on both sides of the fence around whether Aussies will “snap back” to how they were before COVID. I don’t think it’s that black and white. I think some behaviours will endure – flexible working is an example, and others won’t…..Zoom drinks anyone? I think socialising will be done in person, well I hope so anyway!

Andrew Warden | SEMrush

Andrew Warden, CMO at SEMrush.

Biggest challenge of 2021: I would say the single biggest challenge facing our profession as marketers is our inability to gather. We are a creative, analytical, and generally speaking, a social type. It is not about socializing but about enriching one another with our energy.

At the risk of sounding passé, the inability to come together as a broader team – even regionally, forget about internationally – was a very difficult reality for most leaders and most teams. I see this continuing into 2022 for the first half. But I am cautiously optimistic that the world will begin to open up again for teams in the second half of the year

Most exciting marketing opportunities for 2022: I see incredible opportunities for short- and long-term wins with digital marketing, whether a business is just beginning, or they have been marketing using digital channels for years. The pandemic has catapulted digital as one of the most effective ways to reach consumers for virtually any business. Digital will continue to outperform many other channels and will be the primary way to be visible for customers.

I see tremendous opportunities for brands to break into short-form (and I am talking very short-form) content in 2022 and beyond. TikTok is exploding.

The biggest challenges brands will face in 2022:

  • Eco marketing: sustainable products that promote eco-awareness
  • Transparency: no marketing tricks that deceive customers
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: intra-company culture and its approach to customers, suppliers, and the rest.

Essie Wake | JC Decaux

Essie Wake, CMO at JC Decaux Australia.

Biggest challenge of 2021: An interesting professional challenge I faced in 2021 was a sign of the times and something many of us likely experienced – maintaining energy levels and managing a calendar filled with constant back-to back video calls. It takes a real mindset shift on my part but in 2022 I’m already seeing the benefit of diligently booking out meeting-free space in the diary and encouraging my teams to plan for more action-orientated conversations and succinct presentations.

I’m very conscious of where I divert and direct my energy, and what has potential to distract unnecessarily, to allow me time to focus on leading and helping my team succeed.

Most exciting marketing opportunities for 2022: Sustainability will be a big priority for us – we launched our first certified carbon neutral advertising product across Transit through our in-house printer GSP this year, which is an important first for the media industry in Australia. Why should marketers and brands care? Because their future customers care greatly.

This is a good first step, our Transit advertisers will now automatically access a carbon neutral product at no additional cost. We are planning to continue our roll-out this year, to offer more sustainable media solutions, so I’m excited that we will lead our industry with this important environmental initiative in 2022.

Biggest challenges brands will face in 2022: This year we will hear a lot about transformation, particularly the digital and data varieties. The message will likely be about the threat from constant chaos, privacy compliance and disruption. Many brands will come to a critical moment where they realise the key to their continued success is to transform the way they operate in this space.

Over the last 24 months, by doubling-down on our commitment to creating value through audience intelligence, programmatic leadership, ad tech, new digital product capabilities, we have leaned into change, embraced it, lead it. I’m certain our transformation journey will gather pace in 2022 and beyond.


Francis Coady | Havas Media Group Australia

Francis Coady, CMO at Havas Media Group Australia.

Biggest challenge of 2021: After six years of building Havas Sports & Entertainment, then early in 2021 being asked to become CMO by our inspiring leader Virginia Hyland, I found it a rewarding challenge having a wider scope and working across the entire Havas Media suite of services. On a personal front, managing workload and an 18-month-old baby during lockdown was intense but incredibly rewarding.

Most exciting marketing opportunities for 2022: I believe the partnership, integration, and alignment with the entertainment sector, along with tapping into people’s passions across climate and social issues, the Arts, music, film, TV and gaming, will continue to become more and more critical to building brand relevance. Why? Because it positions a brand at the core of what people are interested in, in the first place.

The biggest challenges brands will face in 2022: People would not care if 75% of brands disappeared, and less than half of brands are seen as trustworthy, according to the global Havas Meaningful Brands study in 2021, so as we delve into the age of cynicism brands will have to reconnect and sustain that connection by aligning to customers’ passions in an honest, ethical and purposeful way.

Nikki Clarkson | Southern Cross Austereo

Nikki Clarkson, chief marketing and communications officer at Southern Cross Austereo (SCA).

Biggest challenge of 2021: The biggest professional challenge faced in 2021 was developing and inspiring a growing team to deliver new strategies and outcomes to match SCA’s transformational goals, all whilst working remotely. In order to provide clear goals for all our teams, we focused on developing three key KPIs for the wider business. We then interrogated each of these goals specifically focusing on the marketing function and its required outcomes. We’ve learnt a lot along the way, engaged new partners and recruited well. I see these past few years as having set a great foundation for us to build upon in 2022 and beyond.

Most exciting marketing opportunities for 2022: I’m most excited about the digital transformation at SCA and the opportunities and capabilities this provides all our teams. In regards to the marketing opportunities I am excited to see what the team can achieve in the areas of new audience growth and retention, across both our consumer and trade teams, using a new suite of data and analytics software. These enhanced digital capabilities will deliver a greater depth of audience insights to inform all our objectives and give us even more ability to deliver innovative, informed solutions and positive outcomes.

The biggest challenges brands will face in 2022: The biggest challenges brands face in 2022 is understanding the changing consumer behaviour and values as we return to normality in 2022. This is especially the case in regards to how our audiences will consume media and entertainment, and for our business, ensuring our marketing efforts are focused on the growth of all our brands and platforms.

Clinton Hearne

Clinton Hearne, global head of marketing southern hemisphere at Flight Centre.

Biggest challenge of 2021: Aware that our business brand had become a bit daggy of late, the biggest challenge last year was overhauling it to appeal to a younger audience while taking care not to alienate our core customers who have seen us achieve so much success. For me that has meant tweaking our core brand codes and assets with one hand while growing team culture with the other in a workplace hit hard by change brought about by the pandemic.

Most exciting marketing opportunities for 2022: This year Flight Centre has seized on the opportunity for our global marketing operations to work more closely. I’m excited by all the great ideas and initiatives that will pop out of such a collaborative approach, as we fuse together all the skills and experience of Flight Centre’s great marketers from North America, UK, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand for the first time. Our customers will be thrilled with the results, while our marketers are going to see a lot of career-enhancing opportunities.
From an external perspective, I’m excited about how our business has prepared, and is poised, to meet the pent-up demand for travel created by that the pandemic. With the eyes of the travelling world now on us, and with our enhanced global approach and revised omni-channel offerings, 2022 promises to be an exciting year.

The biggest challenges brands will face in 2022: I think one of the biggest challenges for brands this year will be understanding how the pandemic has changed customer behaviour. Do they now want to engage with real people more and online less – or is it the other way around? I don’t think we know for sure yet.

Alison Balch | Pentanet

Alison Balch, CMO at Pentanet, founder at Ampersand Collective.

Biggest challenge of 2021: My biggest professional adventure in 2021 was the lead up to Pentanet’s public listing on the ASX, which brought not only new challenges but also new opportunities. It will continually impact our life at Pentanet for the better, keeping our team accountable to the strength of our vision and true to our value of impactful innovation.

Most exciting marketing opportunities for 2022: I’m excited about the fields of neuromarketing and behavioural science, in particular, the moral and ethical minefield brands face in a time of growing concern around consumer privacy and consent. Using deeper insight into consumer behaviour in order to engage with an audience on a much more meaningful level can enable the next-level of personalisation, but it has to be done with good intentions and clear boundaries.

Gamification is already a big part of our brand strategy for GeForce Now, and I’m really keen to explore marketing’s role in the blend of real and digital worlds, especially within the Metaverse. So many compelling executions so far, but we haven’t even scratched the surface of what’s to come.

From a strategic view, the ongoing adoption of cross-functional collaboration into the CMO role is really exciting for me. Bringing CX into the marketing fold as a key component of brand value, driving a company’s growth potential, and contribution to the innovations driving organisational success will enable marketers to create real and measurable impact.

The biggest challenges brands will face in 2022: The ever-changing landscape of life in general has had an exhausting effect on consumers, as we try to navigate a new normal that changes so frequently. Brands need to stay authentic and true to their vision, while remaining agile and able to rapidly adapt to change. Supply chain logistics have been an ongoing challenge for many industries and continue to keep us on our toes, but we know our subscribers rely on us to educate, engage and deliver.

Consumer trust is also going to grow as a challenge for marketers. The prevalence of fake news, manipulated content (ie. deepfakes), AI, and even influencers blurring the line between genuine recommendations and undisclosed spon-con, means earning and keeping consumer trust should be vital for every brand.

Susan Coghill | Tourism Australia

Susan Coghill, CMO at Tourism Australia. 

Biggest challenge of 2021: Like many marketers, my biggest professional challenge in 2021 as we faced the pandemic was getting the balance right between strategic and being reactive and nimble.

There’s a famous quote from Mike Tyson that I think summed up 2021 for me – “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Luckily, we have done the hard work on our strategic foundations, so when we were punched by the pandemic, and again with border closures and lockdowns, we were able to react and make meaningful pivots. Yes, our plans changed, and we had to improvise a little, but we were clear on our mission to deliver for the tourism industry and we had a strategy to guide the way.

Most exciting marketing opportunities for 2022: In light of recent news – I am most excited about marketing Australia to the world in earnest again and welcoming travellers to the best destination on Earth!

The biggest challenges brands will face in 2022: Three things:

  1. Understanding what, if anything, has changed about your consumers since the pandemic. There is a lot of rhetoric out there about everything being different, nothing will ever be the same. Good marketers will want to get under the hood of that and understand what it means for their customers’ needs and their business. And I think you might find that in some ways consumer behaviour hasn’t changed as drastically as some say. Understand how your customer journey has changed or evolved and adapt accordingly.
  2. Building flexibility into your strategy and your processes. Good scenario planning upfront can make the inevitable pivots so much easier to make.
  3.  The battle for great talent – finding them, nurturing them, keeping them. It’s hard to build great brands and drive results if you’re constantly hiring and training new people.

Nina Nyman | UnLtd

Nina Nyman, CMO at UnLtd, co-chair Mentally-Healthy. 

Biggest challenge of 2021: Having a baby! Last May I gave birth to our second child – a very cheeky, chubby and noisy baby boy called Ollie. This meant handing over my ‘work baby’ to someone else, so I could look after an actual baby.

Going on maternity leave is one of the strangest professional experiences – you’re leaving but you’re not, you’re still part of the team but practically, you’re not. In the first few weeks I still had grand plans of being involved but after a few months of a colicky baby, an interstate move and a multitude of sleep issues, I quickly realised that this wasn’t going to be possible. Luckily my ‘work baby’ was in safe hands with the rest of the team, my mat cover and our agency partners.

Today is my first day back after nine months. I still haven’t figured out how to deal with two sets of drop offs/pick-ups, accessing my work brain and remembering how to have conversations with grown-ups. It’s safe to say the little one will continue to have an impact on the year ahead. But I’m so excited to be back, even if it is with some extra wrinkles, darker circles under my eyes and hopefully a little more perspective and patience.

Most exciting marketing opportunities for 2022: What excites me most is the positive impact the marketing industry can have to change the world for better.

In the last 15 years, through UnLtd, our industry has generated over $120m of social impact to help children and young people at risk. In the last few years, we’ve really seen what this creative and driven industry can achieve when we work together.

Whether it’s changing perspectives through innovative campaigns like Boys Do Cry, or coming together to create a purpose-driven tea to fight youth suicide, MOOD tea, or even using our skills for good through the various projects for our charities, there’s so much that this industry can do and I can’t wait to see the impact of the next 10 years.

The biggest challenges brands will face in 2022: I think a big challenge, but also an opportunity, is about getting the tone of voice right. We might be getting back to some normality after some challenging years but many of the real impacts of the pandemic, especially when it comes to mental health, may take longer to surface.

Opinions are divided and there are still many challenges ahead so understanding the ‘mood of the nation’ and understanding the human behind the customer will be vital in getting the messaging right.

Hamish Smith | Lumo Digital Outdoor

Hamish Smith, CMO at Lumo Digital Outdoor, CMO at Lens. 

Biggest challenge of 2021: We can find comfort in knowing we have faced what will probably be the biggest challenge in the history of Out-of-Home.

Initially the restrictions and remote working was a bump in the road however we maintained focus and kept faith in our business strategy.

We focused on reassuring clients in the power of the channel and leaned heavily on our partners like Lens Analytics, to deliver real-time audience numbers and keep our clients in the loop as traffic rebounded to pre-Covid levels.

Looking forward – how the government will address mandates in response to new variants is something we can’t control, but one we are well positioned to adapt to it.

Most exciting marketing opportunities for 2022:  We have a number of initiatives in the works for the year ahead at LUMO. These include projects that will focus on supporting the local business community and the work of kiwi entrepreneurs.

As we move past the disruptions of previous years, we will be rolling out these campaigns to help the business community recover and empower advertisers to get the most from Out-Of-Home.

The biggest challenges brands will face in 2022: The challenges for the year ahead sit more at an industry level.
How we can standardise DOOH audience measurement and develop an industry currency that caters for all suppliers and helps get further investment into the channel for all players.

One that answers the requirements for DOOH (~70% of NZ OOH revenue is digital). Initiatives like the IAB NZ Programmatic Steering Committee is evidence we can band together for the good of the market.

Annalise Brown | Dentsu International

Annalise Brown, CMO at Dentsu. 

Biggest challenge of 2021: The biggest challenge was the continuation of the in and out (mostly in) lockdown situation. It led to a difference working cadence for most businesses, which meant we lost some things. The ability to collaborate in person, struggling to have a consistent work/life balance and all the things you take for granted including water cooler moments, impromptu chats in the corridor or a quick coffee meeting with your colleagues in person.
As marketers we are hard-wired to be social, to collaborate together and be connected at all times, that was a challenge in 2021.

We are still coming out of this Covid fog. Couple that with some of the behaviours we have adopted over the last two years, which won’t go away, and it’s going to be important for us to continue this new rhythm.

Most exciting marketing opportunities for 2022:  New ways of engaging consumers that’s also a direct result of new behaviours we all adopted during our Covid years. Brands are also more open to other communication opportunities and are more willing to take risks. They are looking for new ways to connect with different solutions but with creativity and connection at the heart.

The biggest challenges brands will face in 2022:

I see four key areas:

  • For the first part of 2022, it’s undoubtable that supply chain challenges and the impact that’s going to have on brand imperatives will provide complexities, especially where you have to keep driving demand for products that potentially, you aren’t able to offer your consumers.
  • Our people are at the heart of everything we do and how we do it. And we’re all aware of the talent shifts that are going on. There must be a concentration on reduction of attrition and attraction of talent to join. This is where a strong brand narrative, values and a robust EVP are going to be essential.
  • Sustainability is going to be a huge topic for all of us, in every sector. More and more, our people, clients, consumers and the broader society want to know what we are actually doing to support overarching sustainability programs and how they can lean into them and those of our partners
  • Data, privacy, and regulation will touch all of our lives depending on when and where the Government land on these issues. But we can already see that product and policy of some of the big techs are being affected by these.

Stephanie Phillips | AIA Australia

Stephanie Phillips, chief shared value and marketing officer (CMO) at AIA Australia.

Biggest challenge of 2021: Spending periods of time working from home, away from my AIA family was challenging at times. While we could still connect virtually, I find that there is a different type of energy that comes from being in the office. I’m excited for the time when it comes where we can all have days in the office so we can all connect in-person again. In the meantime, however, we are incredibly fortunate to have technology which allows us to continue with our work, without disruption to our customers.

Most exciting marketing opportunities for 2022: At AIA Australia our dream is to champion Australia to be the healthiest and best protected nation in the world. As a life health and wellbeing insurer however, we see the devastating impact that chronic illness has on Australians and their families.

Last year we released our 5590+ report which highlights the benefits of focusing on and improving five modifiable behavioural risk factors – physical inactivity, poor nutrition, smoking, excess alcohol and our interaction with the environment. In doing so, we can help prevent five major non-communicable diseases – cancer, diabetes, respiratory diseases, heart disease and mental health conditions and disorders – which cause 90% of mostly preventable deaths in Australia each year.

In early March 2022, we are launching a new brand campaign that will empower Aussies to improve their health and wellbeing through the power of small healthy choices. We believe we have a social responsibility to partner with Australians to help them live a healthier, longer, better life, so we’re excited about the opportunities this campaign represents.

We also have some exciting new digital, wellbeing and distribution initiatives that will further drive our goal to help Australians improve their overall wellbeing and thrive.

The biggest challenges brands will face in 2022:

There are five key areas that brands will need to focus on in 2022.

  1. Brand purpose – brands need to demonstrate a clear purpose in way that is meaningful to customers. Brands need to show how they are making a difference to their customers, and need to demonstrate how they are having a positive impact on society. Consumers expect and demand to do business with brands that genuinely want to do good. The challenge is not only to demonstrate this, but also to stand out from the crowd. ESG is a prime example of how businesses have pivoted from the more traditional CSR approach to a more holistic ESG approach.
  2. Being truly customer focused – brands need to ensure that their customer is not just at the heart of marketing activity but of business decisions. To be customer-focused, a brand must really know its customer.
  3. Data and insight led – brands should have this information readily available and in a usable format, enabling clear marketing and business decisions.
  4. Digitally enabled – brands should ensure they have basic martech in place for ease of conducting business and to ensure they can respond to customer, market, and business needs in an agile and goal-focused manner.
  5. Motivated and inspired people – having the right people in place with the right skill set and expertise. This includes the marketing team and various Centres of Excellence, along with the agencies and third parties that brands choose to work closely with.

Jamima White | Target

Jamima White, general manager marketing at Target.

Biggest challenge of 2021: In April 2021, I was delighted to join the Target team and become part of a leadership team driving rapid change and genuine transformation. In my first year, my biggest focus was our team’s challenge to reposition Target back in the hearts and minds of Australian mums and their families. Of course, there were also the myriad of Covid challenges that the entire industry faced. Despite this, we are very pleased with the progress we have made in beginning to execute our brand proposition, with the launch of our new brand platform, “That’s Target”, during our Christmas campaign last year. Phase two of the brand strategy rolled out nationally in mid-February with our “Life tested” brand campaign, focusing on the affordable quality for everyday life that Target has delivered over generations for Australians. It is really exciting how much progress we have made in our transformation despite the challenges of 2021. We know that there is still so much more to do and we really want our customers to come along with us on this long-term journey as we reclaim Target’s heritage and showcase Target as a trusted brand for the digital future.

Most exciting marketing opportunities for 2022: I’m feeling very excited about Australia opening up and the ongoing rollout of our Target brand strategy of course, but I am particularly excited about the rapid digital acceleration that Covid has delivered as the new normal for Australian brands. Engaging and interactive content that delivers on both inspirational and commercial objectives, making it easy for people to curate looks, find gifting solutions and meet all of their needs is such a rapidly changing space for marketers at the moment. Similarly, the narrative we are seeing trend worldwide of brands talking about their values, sustainability and community goals is a really worthwhile development in marketing and something that Australian brands have been playing fast catch-up on over the last two years or so.

The biggest challenges brands will face in 2022: Adapting to the new normal of living with Covid and how this may impact customer behaviour and sentiment in the long term is probably the critical thing that is top of mind for all brands this year. Identifying trends that are here to stay, rather than short-term side effects of the pandemic is essential to meeting new customer expectations and delivering on a significantly heightened digital and online CVP (customer value proposition) is paramount. On a practical level, attracting talent into the Marketing profession and particularly in digital, securing and retaining fantastic digital marketers is likely to be one of the key challenges that all brands will face.

Rebecca Newton | Ebay

Rebecca Newton, head of marketing and acting CMO at Ebay Australia.

Biggest challenge of 2021: Personally, I found onboarding new team members really hard to do. eBay has such a great culture and it’s hard to give new hires a sense of this through a screen. I had a little bit of reverse FOMO for them – so I focused on that a lot with my team. Hopefully things settle this year and we can increase office time.

Most exciting marketing opportunities for 2022: More face to face industry time – whether it’s sitting with our agencies and workshopping brand plans, or hearing new speakers at a marketing event – I’ve really missed it during Covid. For me, media and marketing benefits from people connecting – we come up with stronger ideas and we innovate faster.

The biggest challenges brands will face in 2022: Understanding and adapting to changing media consumption. We know there’s already been a shift to online shopping, but as people develop new routines, for example commuting more regularly into city centres, working from home ongoing and travelling overseas, media consumption will dramatically change again. The brands that do best will be agile and able to change at the speed consumers do.

Tim White | 28 by Sam Wood / Australian Life Tech

Tim White, CMO at 28 by Sam Wood / Australian Life Tech.

Biggest challenge of 2021: Leadership & team.

2021 was tough for almost everyone but what I found particularly confronting was the variety of challenges facing people – some faced the chaos of educating kids in lockdown whilst others dealt with loneliness and boredom.

Over the past two years my role as a leader needed to flex to support people in a world I was struggling to make sense of myself! We’re by no means out of the woods yet but I get the feeling the bonds we’ve built (and new ways of working we’ve learned) will benefit us long into the future.

Most exciting marketing opportunities for 2022: We’ve been fortunate enough to achieve sustained growth across Covid and our growth ambitions moving forward remain aggressive.

At the heart of our plans to take 28 by Sam Wood into more households in 2022 is brand and CRM/community.

At a brand level, we’ve long been known as being ‘Sam Wood’s fitness business’ (he is in the name, after all). Sam remains heavily involved in the program but the reality is we have grown significantly in recent years to now house some of the country’s best fitness, mindfulness and nutrition talents. We’ve got a task ahead of us to tell that story better.

When it comes to CRM, we’ve been blessed with a passionate and loyal customer base. Our relationship with customers is stronger than I’ve seen in any other business but 2022 presents an opportunity to modernise/improve the way we manage those relationships. This will free us up long term to invest more time in growing those relationships.

The biggest challenges brands will face in 2022: The world still feels a little crazy and people are reacting to that. Understanding what people want and how they might act feels harder than I can ever remember.

There has never been a more important time to stick close to your customers/prospects – the brands that research and seek to understand will have a clear advantage.



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