How MassMutual Breaks Down Organizational Silos

Brands typically set up their marketing departments in silos, dividing marketing functions by media platforms, such as mobile, online and social media, for example. But this approach isn’t going to work any longer. The lines are blurring.

According to Marie Politis, vp of online experience at MassMutual Financial Group, brands need to break down these silos to ensure that a marketing program is holistically effective and remains true to the benefits and advantages of each media channel. MassMutual breaks down these silos through collaboration between the different marketing functions and even between various departments within the organization, like compliance and marketing, for example. She says it’s the only way to go about it, because otherwise you’re not taking advantage of the different subject-matter experts. That’s why MassMutual’s social media manager sits with the media relations team but reports to Politis.

What’s wrong with the way that brands are organizing their marketing departments?
When teams operate in silos, or there is a distance between the teams, you don’t get the best thinking. You’re not leveraging the different subject-matter experts. We work in a highly regulated industry, and so it’s so important for our marketing and legal/compliance teams to work together. Otherwise, it would be a daily battle to get stuff approved.

What is MassMutual doing to break down these silos?
We have strategies in place to make sure we collaborate and make sure that we have teams that work together. So there’s me, the online experience person, a peer that does the more traditional advertising and a product marketing head, who all report to the CMO. Then, there are the public relations and internal communications people. You can think of these as silos, but we really are trying to break them down. For example, with social media, we have our community manager who is part of the digital marketing team but sits with the media relations team. If she has a question, she can literally roll her chair out and talk to a media relations person without having to go to another floor or having to get on the phone with someone. So she sits with media relations but reports to me. Another example would be the way we are creating our 2013 media plan. You could literally just sit down and do it with an agency with very little personnel. But we all sit down together, talking with our peers to understand one another’s goals and such. We operate as a cross-functional team to build out strategies.

Why do you think that brands are setting up internal silos that divide the marketing function by media platform?
I think in my experience, perhaps in the past you did not need to collaborate like you need to now. The advertising function could be separate from product creation. But you can’t do it like that anymore. The lines are starting to blur. People’s consumption of media is moving to viewing the same content on multiple screens. [Marketing] people like to protect the knowledge they have, but this can’t work in digital. It can’t be isolated.

Everyone keeps talking about IT and marketing having to work closer together. What’s your take?
Oh my God, absolutely. In the same way that all marketers are becoming more digital, they are becoming more tech-focused, as well. The partnership between IT and marketing is getting closer and closer. Our first website was us handing something to IT and them handing something back. Now we work closer to design and create things together. We will be redesigning our website very soon, and our IT partners are giving us one of their resources to lead this project. It’s a more technical person to help us lead and manage the redesign.

Is there even a point of having digital roles within the organization, as the lines between traditional and digital marketing continue to blur?
We are definitely evolving in that direction. If the digital team is the only group that does digital, in five to seven years we’d have all digital people. We have had projects with a product-focused person leading a digital program. Digital is going to become pervasive in every marketing discipline. So a product person will need to figure out how to promote a new product with social media, for example.

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