Marketing Matters CMO Spotlight: Talent Today

Aired June 17, 2015

In the second edition of Marketing Matters’ monthly “CMO Spotlight,” WFoA Executive Director Catharine Hays and co-host Jenny Rooney, editor of Forbes CMO, explored the question of talent recruitment in today’s marketing world. As the marketing landscape morphs under the pressure of the digital (or post-digital) age, who is needed in a marketing department, what skills are most sought after, and how talent is being recruited and retained, changes too. Marketing Matters welcomed three guests to discuss how their companies are responding to the new world.

Jenny and Catharine’s first guest was Jeff Diskin, EVP, Commercial Services at Hilton Worldwide. “At Hilton, we have always aimed to share the light and warmth of hospitality,” Diskin explains. “Hospitality has the great advantage of drawing people who already have a spirit to serve, they are positive and always have a smile on their face—they

embody the purpose of the industry.” With advances in technology, the ability to provide a more personalized service—to welcome people to a hotel catered to their specific desires—have blossomed. “Today, people are able to use the

technology they have in their hands as a remote control for our hotel when they arrive, pre-selecting everything from the type of pillow to room temperature.”

In the marketing world, then, “we have shifted from thinking about the perceptions of our brand, to the actual delivery of an experience,” explains Diskin. “While we were certainly willing to deliver the best experience we could, a lot of client confidence was developed by how you shaped the perception of your brand. Now, we are focused in how we can put control in the hands of our customers—and what they can control has to meet very high expectations.”

Data, of course, plays a crucial role in the customization and personalization process. “We call ourselves ‘opinion agnostic:’ data always serves to inform us,” says Diskin. But certain skills Hilton looks for does not vary between data analysts, marketers, or any other department. “In a company like Hilton, which is a matrixed, global company, there are of course functional elements that people really need to be great at, but to grow, they have to be able to see beyond their position,” he explains. “You have to know your role, but be able to think about the bigger picture, and develop interrelationships across teams.”

What then, does the EVP of a worldwide company look for? “What we need in our talent pool are people who can have a degree of empathy, and a degree of creativity about how that can be manifested. We’ve got to have people who can be really nimble and agile,” Diskin explains. “One of the skills I value most across the whole of our portfolio is the ability to apply the highest level of purpose to why we’re here—the warmth and light of hospitality. Applying the Hilton mentality to the most menial, singular task is the thing that ensures people are motivated and inspired to deliver the right experience.”

The importance of a cultural fit was echoed by Marketing Matters’ next guest, John Costello, President, Global Marketing & Innovation at Dunkin’ Brands Inc. “Dunkin Donuts and Baskin-Robbins are two of the most beloved brands in the world,” explains Costello. “It’s the function of the culture and the team that we’ve built. We’ve

John Costello, President, Global Marketing & Innovation at Dunkin’ Brands Inc.
John Costello, President, Global Marketing & Innovation at Dunkin’ Brands Inc.

created a fast moving, results driven organization that’s also very open, collaborative, and fun, so we’re looking for people who can thrive in that environment.”

Part of what makes Dunkin’ Brands an attractive place for young talent to work is how the company so effectively embraces ‘traditional’ and ‘contemporary’ marketing methods. “Often a prospect will have to choose between a very traditional brand that hasn’t adapted to the times, or a new start-up with little institutional knowledge,” says Costello. “At Dunkin you have the opportunity to work on traditional marketing, and also embrace the real cutting edge stuff. We’ve created an environment where people can really grow and develop skills, and build their own careers.”

When asked how he recruits talent, Costello pointed to the changing, and multiple, faces of contemporary marketing. “What really helps us is that ‘America Runs on Dunkin’ is more than our slogan, it’s our brand purpose,” he explains. “Authenticity is more important in marketing today than ever before. It’s almost impossible for a brand to say one thing and then operate differently, the explosion of social media has seen to that.” And authenticity is important beyond the delivery of a purchasable good. “What is crucial to recognize is that marketing is not only targeting consumers, its targeting prospective—and current—employees,” says Costello.

Dunkin’ Brands is a company with just under 19 thousand restaurants worldwide, but growth through innovation is still the driving force of its marketing plan. “We’re an interesting combination of being a company with 60 years of heritage, and one with huge growth potential,” explains Costello. “Both Dunkin and Baskin are global icons, but we’re only in 50 out of 200 countries around the world. That means that long term, we can double our store count.” Imbuing the company with a sense of innovation is an important means of tapping into this growth potential. “We have an innovation lab, a world-class culinary team that’s made up of chefs, food scientists, and operators who are among the best in the business and help us stay on top of trends,” he says. “But we’ve tried to make innovation part of everyone’s job, to create an environment beyond the innovation lab where people are encouraged to take risks and push the envelope so we can make sure we’re on top of trends.”

The final guest for the week was Denise Karkos, CMO, TD Ameritrade, who, like Costello, saw innovation and creativity as a crucial skill for new talent. “In marketing, I look for people who are incredibly curious and who love the craft of advertising because it is changing more rapidly then I’ve ever seen it,” she explains. “You really need talent that is going to understand the evolution of media and how to best leverage and think about the different types—and their different purposes—in a contemporary fashion.”

Denise Karkos, CMO, TD Ameritrade
Denise Karkos, CMO, TD Ameritrade

At TD Ameritrade, a 40-year-old company that offers online discount brokerage, Karkos sees the most important role as the head of data analytics and research. “We have an amazing ability to be nimble and react to not only market factors but competitive factors, and we can move on a dime,” she explains. “But we can’t do that without the horse power to understand how we are doing in real time.” Karkos took the time to find top talent for the head data analytics position, and related how she needed something more than analytic skills. “You absolutely need good cultural fit,” she explains. “If you have a head of analytics who can’t translate their genius to executives, it isn’t going to work. In the trading world, of course, metrics are looked at with an unhealthy frequency, so really being conversant in how the business is faring, really knowing how we make money, and what levers to tune up and down is essential.”

TD Ameritrade has taken very active steps in recruiting new talent and making the company an attractive site for individuals just launching their careers. “We recognize that if all you know is our website, you might not be enthralled to work here, so we have to do some serious heavy lifting,” says Karkos. “So we launched TD Ameritrade University across almost 200 universities throughout the country.” The class teaches students to trade, helping them develop financial literacy. “But it’s more than that,” she explains “its about helping kids take financial control. It’s been a very successful feeder program for us, but its also just a good thing to do: we help kids feel empowered with their finances from a very early age.” As well as this program, TD Ameritrade runs a scholarship program.

Innovative programs like Ameritrade University promote the company externally, but Karkos sees internally-facing brand advocacy as equally, if not more, important. “I’ve always been a huge believer in a brand starting from the inside out. And so, for the last two years I have been the loudest brand ambassador across the company, talking about what we stand for, and why we exist,” she says. “We truly are an objective business model where our team get paid on salary, not commission. We truly are in it for the clients, and there’s no better brand mission than that.” The task can be a challenging one: “you have to go department by department, operation by operation,” explains Karkos. “But once you start to hit the right notes, it is amazing what we can do as a company.”

Across the seemingly disparate industries of hospitality, restaurants, and financial investment, the indicators of good talent are strikingly similar. Agility, adaptability, creativity, and commitment to the authentic value of the company are musts. So, while the digital age is very much upon us, the irrevocably human necessity of cultural fit remains the ultimate marker of a desirable new team member.