If you want to be a CEO then maybe think about a stint in a creative agency

Thinkerbell's Adam Ferrier says the CMO and their understanding of brand and creativity, or consumers and emotions are now becoming the new wave of CEO.

So last week something interesting happened Nicole Sparshott won CEO Magazine’s CEO Of The Year.  Nicky is living proof that business culture in Australia has done a 180 and it’s a bloody exciting time to be in marketing, if know how to build a brand.

When I first started in this industry advertising people were trying to always understand the language of the CMO.  The CMO however, was looking up desperately trying to understand the language of their CEO and ultimately the board.  The CMO’s all went on ‘company directors’ courses, and took night lessons in finance. However, the board refused to take them seriously and they were forever known as ‘the colouring in department’.

However, in nearly all areas of business this has changed significantly (except for struggling tech companies I’ll get onto those in a bit), and it’s the person who best understands brand who is rising to the top of the tree.

The valuation of most business now is largely about brand, and intangible assets.  For big established brands this comes to life on the balance sheet as ‘reputation’ and ‘good will’.  For emerging companies this comes to life as success forecast for sometime in the future.  The valuation of a business is no longer based on capital investment and revenue.

So understanding brand is the new game in town, it’s a marketers weapon of choice to drive growth for the business.  The marketers who know that brands exist way beyond the marketing department are now finding themselves to be increasingly influential.   Further, the secret source of brand marketing is broadly speaking creativity.

This is where things get very interesting.  Give me an old school CEO who loves, and can talk comfortable about, things like marketing, or brand or creativity.   Where do you find such people? You don’t, which is why the emerging business leader has a very different skill-set.

Look at the top CMO’s in the country at the moment, I estimate over half have had creative agency experience. Those that haven’t nearly all have strong creative agency talent within their ranks.  Agency people and their creatively driven ways are getting sucked up (or is it across) the food chain.  Further, the CMO and their understanding of brand and creativity, or consumers and emotions are now becoming the new wave of CEO.

Now the only exception to this is the tech companies.  Unfortunately, many of the tech companies I see still don’t take marketing (brand) seriously. They think a good tech platform is the answer to everything. Marketing is seen as acquisition, and the product team wouldn’t dream of reporting into the brand people. There’s no brand to unify the people. There’s no sustained brand building communications to grow the business once it’s maxed out its customer base. There is no brand to buffer or organise or steer the business when things turn to shit.

So dear agency folk, your next step is running the marketing of large companies if you so wish.  Dear CMO’s your next step is running large companies, if you so wish. For everyone in our industry please keep your eye on the ball. If you want to be a CEO then maybe think about a stint in a creative agency.

Many years ago Nicky and I had fun running the AFA’s Strategic Planning course for people in the industry who wanted to know more about the relationship between creativity and effectiveness in brand building. It’s fantastic to see someone with such a strong creative and marketing background become CEO of the Year.

Adam Ferrier, chief thinker and founder at Thinkerbell


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