CMOpinion: who’s on your personal board of advisors?

In her regular Mumbrella column, Optus' head of marketing - CMO Melissa Hopkins urges marketers to look to and curate their support network in moments big and small.

One of the greatest tools a CMO can have is their very own board of advisors.

This board is rather informal with no quarterly board meetings, no money passed, no pre-reads or directorial responsibilities – in fact, I am not sure the members currently even know that they are part of my board of advisors.

When leading any brand, particularly when you have a more senior role and remits, there are risks: the risk of becoming blinkered in your category alone, the risk of losing independence of thought and that deadly one of not gaining constant inspiration and perspective outside of the brand you lead. As marketers we know our job is to be the voice of the customer and have our ear to the ground of the wider market as a whole, build distinctive brands that drive commercial growth – thankfully we have a number of commercial relationships that help us achieve our goals.

Additionally the importance of having that crew as a shoulder to lean on, to provide a fresh perspective or quite frankly give you the kick up the backside you need is invaluable. Sitting as a CMO and thinking you know all of the answers or additionally thinking only the people that you pay formally have them for you, usually ends up stunting growth and development.

Some boards are created with intent and others organically. The latter is how I have developed mine. I currently have 14 that sit on my crew. My informal board has grown over the past five to six years with some of my so-called advisors rotating on and off depending on conditions. To be honest I suspect they have no idea that they sit on my little imaginary board, but I am certainly not afraid to shout them out.

Many of us say that we are only as good as the people that surround us – something I know is true in my case. Part of my success has been surrounding myself with amazing people that I can be humble with, transparent and call on them for advice on a particular issue I am trying to navigate through, even if it’s as simple as “I am finding X or Y really hard at the moment – is it just me?”

Your own informal board must be diverse like any other board and there must be an unspoken trust between you. Whilst the relationships are likely to have developed through business, some existing and some past, no money is passed for their opinion, perspectives or views when you reach out. You need to set clear boundaries between whether this is a business engagement or calling to gain an informal perspective.

I find that too many CMOs are fearful of reaching out for help. There is a fear that they will be judged, found out as not knowing what to do next or that it could work against them – but the strength is in reaching out and asking your advisors for their advice on the not-run-of-mill questions associated with your day job. Founders and CEOs of large global firms, presidents and prime minister; sporting and acting greats all have their informal network of advisors. So why not CMOs?

My board of advisors are a special bunch of people and just writing this article makes me appreciate how damn lucky I am! In fact, I may need to organise an evening for all of them to get together – I have a feeling it would be pretty amazing.

I have media partners on my board – but my advisory questions are never to do with media spend and spots and dots – it is for their wider industry views, the mood of the nation, what is keeping editors and news directors up at night or a simple – any idea how another brand may have solved this?

I have one advisor that is amazing at giving me the pep talk just when I need it – reminding me of how far the team and i have come, sharing his views on the industry and other large companies, setting a vision for my future growth.  Another is on my speed dial when the market is not playing the way it should be, when I am truly flummoxed as to why demand and performance is zagging when it should zig. A couple more provide a much needed regular global perspective; one reminds me that being a CMO is at times a tough gig and the importance of sharing our experiences.

Another trusted advisor is a dear friend of mine – but the one that I call for a weekly check-up either on a high, sometimes a little distressed or frustrated. The final two you may argue hold the keys to my existing role, many may say you only ever want to present your best – but they have both taught me that reaching out and asking for help and advice allows you to grow even more – and if ever I find myself in a world that is not Optus they will be there sitting on board right there besides me.

Mel Hopkins – CMO Advisory Board 

Ken Roberts – Chairman Forethought; Lou Barrett – MD Sales News Corp; David Morgan – Director and Founder Mac Morgan; Kurt Burnette and Nat Harvey – Chief of Revenue and National Sales Director Seven West Media; Kimberly Chang – Partner Tech & Media Deloitte; Pat Guerrera – CEO and Founder Re; Thomas Bauer – Partner Marketing Performance McKinsey Europe; Susan Coghill – CMO Tourism Australia; Kelly Bayer Rosmarin and Matt Williams – CEO and MD Optus

Special Advisors: Vickie Fry – EA to Mel Hopkins; Richard and Eleanor Hopkins – Husband and daughter to Mel Hopkins 

Melissa Hopkins is the head of marketing – CMO of Optus. CMOpinion is a regular Mumbrella column.


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