Mastercard’s Raja Rajamannar: ‘Talent keeps me up at night’

During Advertising Week, Digiday sat down with Mastercard Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Raja Rajamannar to talk about the challenges the company is seeing. On top of his mind: difficulties with finding talent and brand safety.

What would you say is one of the top challenges you are currently facing?
Talent keeps me up at night. Finding talent is huge and a very big challenge. Marketing in the past three to five years has dramatically changed. There are all these specialties that a marketer has to be good at. We’re looking for super human beings, and these super-humans aren’t readily available. And even if they are available, they might not want to join your company, they might want to build their own startup, for example.

Which skills are critical?
Data is very critical. Not only to understand the privacy issues, the legal issues but the power of data. Also, in the olden days, marketing and PR were two different departments. Mastercard brought those two together because if you’re on the marketing side you need to understand the communications side as well, and vice versa Then you have to know digital, and the classical topics like brand positioning, design and then finance. Classically trained marketers aren’t necessarily strong at numbers but now we expect them to understand.

How are you addressing the talent issue?
We’re investing a lot in training programs. We are putting people through formal training programs or self-studies or through university. We’re also trying to rotate people through different roles so they have new experiences. For new talent we bring from outside, we are constantly on the lookout. We are not waiting for openings. If someone is really good, we say ‘let’s get the good talent and then figure out a role for them.’ Lastly we’re collaborating a lot with universities like Harvard Business School, Yale, NYU, Columbia and international schools as well.

How is MasterCard working with these universities?
Most of the time, the curriculum being used needs updating and upgrading. At Harvard and Yale, for instance, we created case studies so students can learn exactly what is the latest and the best. We’re also having some professors come and shadow me so they can see what the life of a CMO is like.

One area of concentration around talent is to build out MasterCard internal content marketing lab Storylabs first launched last February.
It has exceeded our expectations. We use Storylabs to create everything from content for our corporate blog to podcasts for consumers. The original Storylab is located in our Purchase headquarters. Not only have we expanded, and still is expanding the Storylab to be bigger in the headquarter office, but we’ve opened new spaces across the organization in different regions. Although the Storylab in St. Louis is the only other region that is up and running, there will be more opening up in the next couple of months.

What’s another challenge?
Brand safety. It’s a combined effort that has to happen on the publishers, brands and platforms side. It’s the beginning of the journey but there’s a lot to go. We’re working with all the associations like the ANA to find out which is the best way to tackle it. Nobody would want to jeopardize relationships with marketers, the platforms are just being attacked by bad actors.

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