Keeping it flexible: CMOs talk hybrid work and how they maintain work/life balance

Last week, Mumbrella's Kalila Welch spoke to some of the marketing industry's biggest names to find out their take on the year ahead. In the second installment of this two-part series, we get to know the CMOs a little bit better, and ask how they maintain work/life balance under a new hybrid work model.

Last week we asked some of Australia’s biggest names in the marketing industry about their take on the year ahead, and received a great response.

This week, we’ve taken the opportunity to get to know our CMOs a little bit better.

As workplaces slowly phase back office days under a new hybrid work model, we ask the CMOs about how they get their work/life balance right.


Susan Coghill | Tourism Australia

Susan Coghill, CMO at Tourism Australia.

Honestly, it’s challenging…marketing is very much a people industry that’s built on relationships, which can make working virtually all the time challenging. Someone once said to me that ‘you have to rub sticks together to get fire’ and I love that analogy for bringing creative minds together to spark great ideas. There is no doubt in a creative industry it is really important to get away from the computer screen, and we have learnt a lot since the pandemic began.  We have remained a hybrid workplace even as people have returned to the office and offer flexible work arrangements to all team members to support work life balance.

Where are you hoping to visit now that international travel is back?

Well, I have to encourage all Australians to continue to Holiday Here This Year! I hope these past two years have helped opened our eyes to the wonder that is our own backyard. But given that my family is all back in America, I’m looking forward to that reunion in April! And you can bet I’ll be helping them plan their long-awaited trips down under soon! I also cannot wait to get back into our regions and see our in-market teams as soon as possible. There is nothing like learning a market firsthand and building those relationships in person to be able to achieve great things together.

Who inspires you?

At this point in time, I’d say it’s all the resilient people in the tourism industry who have worked so hard over the last two years to keep their businesses going and to give people meaningful and memorable experiences – something we’ve all needed more than ever since the pandemic began. I’ve seen more ingenuity, innovation and passion from this group than

What advice would you give your past self at the start of your marketing career?

Always invest in education – be it courses, books, talks, conferences, whatever! Stay hungry for knowledge, keep learning, and share what you’ve learnt.

Invest in relationships at all levels of your organisation and your industry. The best jobs, the best opportunities, the best learning, the best times come from those amazing people that you spend so much of your waking hours with. Get to know them personally.

Back yourself in whatever you want to do. You got this!

Nina Nyman | UnLtd

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

Hah – ask me again in six months, right now I have no idea!
I’ve written two post it notes on my desk as reminders. The first one is, ‘Progress over perfection’ and the other one is, ‘This too will pass’. I’ll try to remind myself of those as I figure out this new stage of my life.

Where are you hoping to visit now that international travel is back?

Helsinki and London so Ollie can meet his grandparents for the first time.

Who inspires you?

We’re very lucky at UnLtd to work with some incredible and inspiring change-makers, both on the charity side but also on the industry side. So many of our charity founders have dedicated their lives to helping others and it’s a quality that I really admire. Most recently, I was inspired by the book “Happiest Man on Earth” by Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku – an incredible story and such an inspiring attitude – highly recommend it!

What advice would you give your past self at the start of your marketing career?

Don’t think your opinion doesn’t have value just because you’re younger or more junior. I really admire the younger generation for being more confident in themselves and not scared to say what they think and ask for what they need. It’s something I hope to teach my kids to do better than I did.

Nikki Clarkson | Southern Cross Austereo

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

As the lines between work and life blurred more than ever before during Covid, I find it to be challenging at times, especially in regards to maintaining motivation and focus without the benefit of a separate work and home environment.  However, establishing a solid morning routine has given me a sense of normality every day, and being more relaxed about working from home. Realising home isn’t the office and it’s ok to sometimes be interrupted by family, pets and the delivery person. In addition, I’m much more disciplined now, than at the start of Covid about separating work from home and being more present and focused on each.

Where are you hoping to visit now that international travel is back?

Italy – specifically the Aeolian Islands near Sicily.

Who inspires you?

I’m inspired and often humbled by our teams at SCA. I feel really lucky to be surrounded by a brilliantly talented group of individuals who are all hugely committed, creative, resilient and fun to be around. I’ve seen countless examples of how powerful each team member is – never giving up, having a laugh along the way all whilst continuing to achieve incredible results during this pandemic. One of the things I’m looking forward to most is the chance to be able to connect more often in person.

What advice would you give your past self at the start of your marketing career?

The advice I’d give myself when starting out would be to enjoy every minute of this fast paced industry and to take every opportunity that comes along, there’s so much to experience along the way. I’d also tell myself to work hard, be curious and kind to yourself and others and finally, to accept as much help as you can along the way.

Annalise Brown | Dentsu International

Annalise Brown, CMO at Dentsu.

Working with our people to do what works best for them in terms of productivity and a home life balance has been imperative to us. At Dentsu, we launched our “Be the Best You” campaign during 2021 which included support for parents, support for mental health and offering wellness opportunities for our humans to take time for them. This concept is not going away as we come out of the various lockdown situations.

The world has been disrupted. We need to adapt to those changes even when it comes to work/life balance. So many people took no time for themselves during 2021 as they had nowhere to go, nothing to do. This year as borders open – people are going to want to take some time for themselves and rejuvenate.

But moving forward, we also need to look at how we can encourage connectivity, collaboration and ultimately creativity.

Where are you hoping to visit now that international travel is back?

Besides WA? I can’t wait until we can physically go to Cannes, SXSW and other events to reacquaint with some of my peers. They also happen to be in great places on the planet.

Personally, at this point, just lying on a beach anywhere would be amazing!

What advice would you give your past self at the start of your marketing career?

Make friends with everyone in the business – collaboration is where you get the best results.

Be open to other areas of thinking. With the speed at which we are moving, it’s important to understand emerging industries, technologies, platforms, anything that pushes you out of your comfort zone.

I was also lucky enough to have financial training, but I’d urge every marketer to definitely spend more time with the CFO as early as possible!

Essie Wake, CMO at JCDecaux Australia.

Throughout the pandemic, our priority has been the well-being and safety of our people. Like most organisations, some of our employees have chosen to return to the workplace quickly and others prefer or need to work remotely. Our aim for the future is to give employees a high level of flexibility, where practical, allowing people to work wherever suits them. But with that, of course comes challenges. When we think about the importance of belonging, and the learning by osmosis that happens in a thriving and dynamic workplace, that really can’t be replicated via Teams calls. I do believe you need to strike a balance.

I’m personally finding hybrid working very productive and conducive to a calmer family dynamic. I have two teenagers and I know they appreciate me being around the home a little more. It’s the small things, they don’t have to ring me feeling hangry to ask what’s for dinner – if I’m home they can likely see it in the oven!

Where are you hoping to visit now that international travel is back?

I am dreaming of (and currently researching) a 2023 family holiday in the Salento region in the south of Puglia, located in the ‘heel of the Italian boot’. Salento is a little off the beaten tourist track, meaning it’s less busy than other parts of Italy. I like the idea that things move slowly there, I want a holiday where time is not important, and we can feel at home in a little villa, and spend a few weeks exploring, and eating, our way around the many small towns and beautiful beaches scattered throughout the region.  “Amo l’Italia!”

Who inspires you?

I’m inspired by many, but when it comes to business, it’s really the people in my team. We’ve built the JCDecaux marketing team with an equal balance of data know-how and creative, brand smarts. Over recent years I’ve found great joy in seeing them collaborate and break down silos. Data and creativity – they bring it all together – and that’s where the magic happens. It’s inspiring to see them realise the immense potential of our many technological and communication innovations. Every day they are creating solutions and product initiatives that have really made a difference to the success of our customers and our industry.

What advice would you give your past self at the start of your marketing career?

“Live in the solution rather than the problem.” I think this phrase came from a leadership book, or a blog post published some years ago. But it stuck with me. Living in the solution is really about a career mindset. It means choosing to see problems as an exciting challenge to overcome, an opportunity to create, innovate, solve something and grow with it. I believe if you can harness the ability to always live in the solution, then that unlocks true value to an organisation – it sets an example for others to follow.

Francis Coady, CMO at Havas Media Group Australia.

It has and will continue to be a profoundly challenging time for people, but we are aiming to work our way back to three days a week in the office over the coming weeks. I think this will help to bring a reconnection back to collective creative and strategic thinking of teams, and most importantly maintain a sense of culture. However, being empathetic and understanding towards personality types who function very well, and are incredibly productive, in home or personal space environments, will be key to maintaining employee harmony over the long term. We have been very focused on ensuring people switch off at lunch time, and in the evenings, to maximise personal time, so work does not become all consuming. If this is not managed, people burn out and end up costing the organisation more.

Where are you hoping to visit now that international travel is back?

My wife is Brazilian Japanese so first stop will be taking our two-year-old daughter to Sao Paulo to see her aunties and uncle, then Japan to see the cherry blossoms, oh and maybe some snowboarding. Ha.

Who inspires you?

My Mum. She is worldly, has a passion for life, generosity of heart and is incredibly creative.

What advice would you give your past self at the start of your marketing career?

I’ve spent twenty years in the music, film and content space so coming into the marketing world seven years ago was fascinating. The advice I would give my past self would be to have patience, and don’t be afraid to own your creativity.

Lisa Ronson | Coles

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

I’ve always been a huge advocate for flexible working and working from home. Everyone is different and has different ways they like to work. I’ve always preferred to blend work/life. Our son is 20 and back in the day (to make myself sound completely ancient) there wasn’t a lot of flexibility on offer so I would work school picks up, school events etc into my calendar and catch up at night or on the weekend. I’m not one to compartmentalise, I find that too hard.  As Marketers we generally love being around other people for collaboration and generating new ideas so we have instituted heads down days – when you need to work alone, heads together days – days in the office for collaboration, and heads up days – when you need to work on strategy and longer term planning together but this can be done in person or virtually.

Where are you hoping to visit now that international travel is back?

Italy. Then New York.

Who inspires you?

Definitely our teams in store. It’s always so lovely and humbling when you work in store and see how they interact with their communities. So many beautiful stories there. Also…Ted Lasso and Pink

What advice would you give your past self at the start of your marketing career?

This one is really fresh in my mind as I had a session with some of our new marketing grads last week – we have just an exceptional grad program at Coles…but to answer the question – Back yourself, trust your instincts about how to treat people, and be yourself. Trying to be someone else is disingenuous, not to mention exhausting.


Jamima White | Target

Jamima White, general manager marketing at Target.

I think it is essential to work in a room in the house that is not where I spend most of my time outside of work. For me, that is the dining room, but means I may never have another dinner party in the home ever again after six lockdowns in Melbourne! Learning to work out your rhythm of start times, finish times and ensuring that work doesn’t just blur into everyday life is something we all need to be reminded of ongoing as we adjust to returning back to the office in 2022, albeit in a more flexible way than before Covid. Factoring in the office commute into your diary rather than getting stuck into emails early in the morning is a big adjustment for everyone as we take those steps forward. I find that identifying meetings that are either 100% face to face (where appropriate and possible), or 100% virtual helps to engage the team better so that there is some structure to the purpose of the office return. Marketing teams love the buzz of working together and sharing creative ideas and we have all experienced how hard it is to sign off colour palettes working remotely! As a leader I am trying to focus on the fun and positive elements that being back in the office brings to the day, whilst still allowing for flexible working.

Where are you hoping to visit now that international travel is back?

Oh my goodness I want to go everywhere, but if I had to choose one destination it would be France to do a very long food and wine tour over the European summer.

Who inspires you?

As a marketer I am inspired by many people from all walks of life, but probably most by those Australians who have delivered on the world stage and remained so humble along the way. I love tennis so am very inspired by Ash Barty and Dylan Alcott. I love the idea of global success with a down to earth and humble personal style that they both embody so well. In dealing with the pandemic I felt quite inspired by brands such as Woolworths and Coles, who stepped up and led the country in relation to shopping safely, resolving supply chain issues and appeared from the outside to be working together in the crisis. That was real brand leadership. Finally I am inspired every day by my dedicated colleagues and team members who are so engaged in transforming the Target brand.

What advice would you give your past self at the start of your marketing career?

Be confident and go with your gut feeling on reviewing creative, as I have always thought that my first instinct in looking at new propositions was always the right one. Don’t underestimate how much you need to keep your training and skills up to date and focused on the digital future –  as a Marketing Leader I am not doing the work, but I need to know how to evaluate and identify exceptionally skilled marketers that deliver on the detail to attract them to my team. Work hard and be happy with choosing such a fantastic profession – it really is a dynamic and transferrable skillset that can move across any industry, so be brave about stepping out of your comfort zone to get experience!

Clinton Hearne | Flight Centre

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

Every individual’s circumstances are unique, so what that means for work/life balance is very personal. Quality time with my kids is very important and I maintain this with some fun traditions – 5:30am family yoga and Friday camp out nights where we all camp in the lounge room and watch movies.

Where are you hoping to visit now that international travel is back?

Choosing your perfect holiday is like being asked to pick your favourite song. It’s my 40th birthday this year and I can’t choose one place, so I am going round the world. Singapore (party), Greek islands (dance on a beach), Portugal (relax and recharge) and New York (sightsee).

Who inspires you?

My kids. They constantly remind me that discovering the world is a lifetime journey.

What advice would you give your past self at the start of your marketing career?

Speak up more. Even the more experienced people around you can run too early with ideas that need more development – don’t be afraid to tell them. They’ll most likely appreciate your concern and insight rather than pulling rank.

Rebecca Newton | Ebay

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

I’m pretty lucky because eBay has always focused on work/life balance, even pre-Covid. We have some simple rules, such as no-one (not even our Managing Director) can send emails after 7pm or at weekends and we have set times where you can’t book meetings. Longer term, we’ll have a hybrid of office and home. On the days I’m at home I spend more time with my kids and the days I’m in the office I get better connection with colleagues – I try to use the rhythm to balance both home and work priorities.

Where are you hoping to visit now that international travel is back?

To be honest, after the last couple of years I still get a small sense of excitement leaving my postcode! But I grew up in the UK and was lucky enough to go back in December – it was a really special trip as my partner and I have had two children during Covid and my family finally got to meet them both. Ultra-long haul travel with small kids though… ouch.

Who inspires you?

It might sound like a cliché, but it’s true. I remember hearing Michelle Obama first use the phrase ‘When they go low, we go high’ back in 2016 – although she was talking politics, she explained she used it to instill a sense of integrity in her family. I thought it was great for all areas of life – a mantra to keep your head up, be true to yourself and know that you can always progress whilst still being kind.

What advice would you give your past self at the start of your marketing career?

Pick roles and companies you genuinely love and don’t fret too much about the long term. Spend time watching those around you – see the traits of the leaders you want to be like (and that you don’t!) Be patient – know that if you focus on doing a great job day to day, progression and recognition come naturally.

Stephanie Phillips | AIA Australia

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

At AIA Australia we are passionate about the wellbeing of our employees. The last two years have been challenging for everyone and I am no exception. Fortunately, AIA Australia has a range of initiatives in place, such as meeting-free Friday afternoons and quarterly recharge days, which help to nurture work/life balance.

Our staff also have access to our digital health and wellbeing program, AIA Vitality, which incentivises and rewards people for completing preventative health checks, moving regularly, and eating well. I have found the AIA Vitality app useful as it motivates me to go for a big walk at lunch so I can increase my step count and to reinvigorate myself by getting out amongst nature.

I do hope however, that as we continue to navigate these strange times, we aren’t too hard on ourselves. There are going to be days when things don’t go to plan. What’s important is that we aim to incorporate some positive choices into our lives and to celebrate them, no matter how small we may perceive them to be.

Where are you hoping to visit now that international travel is back?

I called Hong Kong home for several years while I was the director of corporate solutions for AIA. I’m looking forward to going back to visit my old colleagues and friends, it has been far too long!

Who inspires you?

I’m inspired by many different people and organisations but especially the selfless and resilient frontline healthcare workers who have worked tirelessly over the last two years along with our other first responders. AIA Australia is also incredibly privileged to work with some amazing charities and not-for-profits and I am in awe of their commitment and passion for making a difference in people’s lives.

What advice would you give your past self at the start of your marketing career?

I’ve been fortunate to have some wonderful mentors throughout my career. If I was to give advice to my past self, I would say to really extract the maximum value from those privileged relationships.

Tim White | 28 by Sam Wood

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

I’m slowly getting better at separating my workspace from my homespace but I’ve always been an ‘always on’ type of person so it hasn’t been easy.  I’m fortunate enough to work in a very supportive business when it comes to work/life balance.

Where are you hoping to visit now that international travel is back?

Heart says Spain but with three kids under 6 the head says Fiji!

Who inspires you?

I’ve always been a Byron Sharp fan – common sense consumer insight and brand strategy that has stood the test of time.

What advice would you give your past self at the start of your marketing career?

Relax a little.  I was VERY eager to learn/grow in the early phase of my career and often put unnecessary pressure on myself.  I’m a huge believer in owning your own growth but I’ve increasingly appreciated the importance of balance.

Hamish Smith | Halo

Hamish Smith, CMO at Lumo Digital Outdoor.

At the start I struggled to maintain a balance and set some boundaries. As emails keep pinging your phone it’s easy to get sucked into work after hours. Personally, I’ve always preferred working in an office environment, so when working remotely I would try and maintain a routine with exercise, cooking and keeping in touch with friends/family.

Where are you hoping to visit now that international travel is back?

As soon as the borders open, I’ll be on a plane over to Sydney and Melbourne. We’ve been planning to pay a visit to friends and family, and have some much-needed time off.

Following the return to wider international travel first on the bucket list will be New York to catch up with some old friends.

Who inspires you?

We have a number of exciting local entrepreneurs and startups coming out of New Zealand that I really admire.

Two individuals that come to mind would be Kendall Flutey the founder of Banquer and Holly Bennett the founder of Engage.

These two Edtech startups are focused on greater financial literacy in schools and political engagement respectively. These organizations are purpose-led and both have an important part to play in developing our future leaders.

What advice would you give your past self at the start of your marketing career?

I would say – take your time and reach out to people you admire. I’m fortunate to have had a few key mentors over the years who have provided invaluable advice when I needed it and I will continue to lean on them. It’s important to surround yourself with good people who you respect personally and/or professionally as it’s essential to figuring out your own trajectory.

Alison Balch | Pentanet

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

We’ve been relatively sheltered from lockdown life so far here in Fortress WA, but we do have a robust work from home strategy that’s ready to be enacted at a moment’s notice. Fortunately for us, one of the major hallmarks of a successful work from home strategy is a high-performance internet connection, and our team are all well placed in that regard. I’ve also completely mirrored my office setup in my study at home with dual screens, sit/stand desk, and all the peripherals that I know make me my most productive self.

Where are you hoping to visit now that international travel is back?

Ireland and the Amalfi Coast. My fiance and I had to cancel our trip in March 2020, so we have it all planned out – I can almost taste the Limoncello. We just need to be able to get there and also have confidence that we’ll be able to return home. SXSW has always been on the bucket list, so hopefully I can make it there safely next year.

Who inspires you?

  • Martin Lindstrom
  • Adam Ferrier
  • Dara Treseder
  • Sherry Duhe

What advice would you give your past self at the start of your marketing career?

You don’t have to know how to do every single thing in the marketing role – in fact, it’s generally better if you don’t try and do it all yourself. Generalist marketing requires a huge range of skills, and there are many employers/recruiters out there who are looking for a marketing unicorn. Discover what you love to do, lean into that, and help the industry understand why unicorns either don’t exist, or deserve the six figure salary they command!

Andrew Warden | SEMrush

Andrew Warden, CMO at SEMrush.

I love my work, so this is a hard one! Not many people can say that, but I genuinely live, breathe, and love what I do, every single day. But I also have to recognize that I’m human. My body–and most importantly, my brain–sometimes needs a break with all of the video calls. So I give myself permission to stand up and take a walk if I need to get some distance. I put in my air pods and take the call with me sometimes. I’ve realized that the work will always be there. And I also realized that if I am not well-rested, if I am not in a balanced state, I can’t be as effective for my team. And at the end of the day that’s what it’s about, being there for my team.

Where are you hoping to visit now that international travel is back?

It’s been a long time since I’ve made it to Sydney and Auckland, I can tell you it would be wonderful to be reunited with them!

Who inspires you?

Honestly I get my inspiration from those on my team, whether someone has one year of working experience or 25 plus. I thrive off of the experiences of my team members, and the ability to help grow and shape their careers. Each and every person brings their own unique perspective, and I thrive on that diversity every day.

What advice would you give your past self at the start of your marketing career?

Listen more intently. It’s okay to not have the answer in-the-moment. Ask 100 times more questions. Be brave to ask what I would have classified as unimportant or “dumb” questions. The only thing holding you back is yourself, own that and keep moving.


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