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Beth Comstock discusses GE’s plans and her return as CMO

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Beth Comstock last month returned to her post as CMO of GE, following two years leading the digital business of GE business unit NBC. She had served as CMO of GE from 2003 to 2005, when she was named president of integrated media at NBC Universal. Comstock succeeds Dan Henson, who has been named president-CEO of GE Capital Solutions.

BtoB: Why did coming back to this position make sense for you?

Comstock: It made sense for a lot of reasons. It's quite expected and part of the executive development process here at GE that you are asked to go and take on different assignments and develop different areas of expertise. I knew I would be at NBC for a couple of years. In looking at coming back to GE in a corporate role, it really made sense to come back to a marketing leadership role.

BtoB: What will you bring to this position from your recent experience at NBC?

Comstock: I'll be bringing back digital skills, which Jeff [Immelt, chairman-CEO of GE] has identified as a priority for growth. I love the innovation work I did before, and I'm eager to get back into that kind of role and take it to a new level.

BtoB: Is your budget shifting more to online?

Comstock: Every year our budget has shifted to get the right mix. At my last job, where I also oversaw ad sales over our ad properties, we spent a lot of time working with marketing clients to get the right mix. We feel you have to do them in concert. We are seeing a lot more use of online video. It is increasing in importance and impact. The more we can be out front with that, the better. We are also looking at social networking tools and recommendation engines where we can serve up content based on past behavior.

BtoB: What are your marketing priorities for this year?

Comstock: We have to drive new growth for the company. That's where our focus is. The company believes that marketing fuels organic growth. We want to take that to another level, speed up innovation and our work in emerging markets. We are also looking at creating more partnerships, specifically in "ecomagination."

BtoB: What kinds of partnerships make sense for GE?

Comstock: We've already done some work in categories such as eco-homes. We teamed up with home builders, contractors, developers and consumer electronics companies (for a project to help builders and developers design energy- efficient homes).

We could also be teaming up with partners to develop new kinds of fuels and hybrid technologies. We have certain capabilities, and we are looking to team with companies that have market expertise or complementary capabilities.

BtoB: What are some other priorities this year?

Comstock: "Eco" and health care will be two big themes in how we tell our message about how we are creating innovative solutions that help solve some of the world's toughest problems. The Olympics is another big focus this year. A lot of our Olympic work is still in development. Much of our work there is heavily focused on the environment and health. Another priority this year is recruiting and developing great marketing folks. We have an excellent training program, which has about 150 people a year coming into marketing leadership roles.

BtoB: How is GE responding to the economic downturn with regard to its marketing strategy this year?

Comstock: At this point, we're just doing what we have to do to grow our business. We will work like crazy to show that marketing is what you need to grow your company. You really have to focus your energies. Tough economies are a great time to prove what marketing can do to help grow the business.

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