‘The corporate narrative had to be more agile’: How the pandemic intensified the content role of CMOs

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While talking shop a while back with a friend who is the editor-in-chief of an international news magazine, veteran marketer Anna Griffin and the journalist realized just how similar their occupations actually were — that marketing chiefs are increasingly the editors-in-chief of their own organizations. 

“The primary role of both our jobs is not only to ensure good content from all of our organization’s creators, but also to ensure that it’s being effectively and efficiently produced across hundreds of different writers covering different topics across hundreds of work streams, and that it can be ready for distribution across a multitude of different platforms: apps, web, television, streaming video, print, mobile. And all of that effort must be relevant to the subscriber or customer opting into our content, because it resonates,” said Griffin, CMO of enterprise platform Smartsheet, during the company’s Engage conference last October.

Shepherding the curation and dissemination of content has become a key role for today’s marketing chief with digitization and the explosion of content channels. And as the pandemic has shaped the future of work over the past year, the content role of CMOs has become even more urgent, as the narrative around daily business and how it is conducted has evolved so suddenly and dramatically. 

For Ian Barkin, chief strategy and marketing officer of Sykes Enterprises, the Tampa, Florida-based business outsourcing giant, a typical work week involves a load of content juggling including the production of four live streams, and his own podcast. He’s also responsible for producing the company’s various videos, newsletters and industry reports and managing its social media presence. 

Barkin said two things have struck him about messaging amid the coronavirus crisis. “The corporate narrative had to be more agile, and more human. Agile because we had to constantly pivot to recognize current events, and do so sensitively. Human because, like very few times in history, we were globally in the same boat. We all needed comforting. Enterprise messaging had to match that need by relating to and supporting us as humans, not as consumers. It was the CMO’s job to navigate this set of forces.”

How all that content resonates is increasingly tied to the very fortunes of the business, according to Barkin. “The onus is on marketing is to be able to show attribution and clear outcomes and the impact on the investment [the company] is making,” he said. “Through views, clicks and engagements, it’s clear the content we’re putting out there is getting the attention of the audience we created it for.”

Other CMOs agree that the fallout from Covid-19 has reshaped their roles. “The pandemic has intensified the CMO’s responsibilities, especially when it comes to the curation of the content ecosystem,” said Dominica Ribeiro, CMO of Breckinridge Capital Advisors, an asset management firm responsible for $44 billion in investments. As an example, in the early months of the pandemic, Breckinridge instituted a rapid response bond market volatility campaign to effectively inform clients during the Covid-19 crisis. The plan included more than 20 pieces of thought-leadership articles, high-touch client communications, live webinars and proactive media relations. 

“When you think about it from a CMO perspective, we are responsible for retention, client satisfaction, new business, brand awareness — and now, feeding the beast of the content marketing machine,” said Ribeiro. “It is a significant component of a CMO’s job.”

And as technology and data have flourished, they’ve come to inform these content decisions, Ribeiro added. Marketers are also using technology like AI to determine which topics resonate with clients and then create content around those conversations. At Breckinridge, Ribeiro has formed an editorial board, which meets every month to consider messaging and content ideas from across the company’s 84 employees. “It’s an opportunity to hear from everyone in the company, regardless of their role or level,” she said. 

Kirti Naik, head of marketing and communications at BNY Mellon Wealth Management, which has $292 billion in assets under management, agreed that data plays an ever more significant role in a CMO’s content duties. “Ultimately, data drives strategy,” she said. “Today, marketing has more access to intelligence and real-time engagement data that better inform our approach to content creation than ever before.” 

The pandemic has further underscored the vital content role of the marketing chief, she added. “CMOs have always needed to adapt quickly to changes in the environment, and taking on ownership of content is no different,” she said. “Gone are the days of pure product promotion and advertising. Marketing needs to drive the narrative as well as merchandize the content for multiple formats.” 


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