Close-Up with Tom Nightingale, VP-communications and CMO, Con-way

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Nightingale's tune: CMOs should be involved in recruitment marketing Tom Nightingale is VP-communications and CMO at Con-way, a freight and logistics services company headquartered in San Mateo, Calif. He joined Con-way in 2006 after 20 years in the transportation sector, much of it in sales and marketing.

In the following Q&A he discusses why he believes CMOs should be more involved in the recruiting process, why Con-way has moved aggressively into digital and how a new Twitter app is helping the company's freight brokerage business.

CMO Close-Up: You believe that recruitment should fall under a CMO's responsibility. Why?

Nightingale: I've been doing it this way for eight years with two different companies. It's just a superior model. Most companies in America are service companies. Last time I checked, about 84% of U.S. GDP was service-based. As a service company, our employees are our brand.

While we have nice looking trucks on the road, and that's great, it's really not what people buy from us. What buyers of our services pay us for are safe, courteous drivers that use that truck in a manner that delivers their freight to their customers in a time frame that they've specified. And they want us to do it without exceptions—no losses, no damages. If you don't have drivers who can deliver on that employment value proposition, it's pretty unlikely that you're going to deliver on the commercial value proposition.

I think all of the CMOs think of themselves as shepherds of the company's commercial value proposition, but I don't think enough CMOs consider themselves in the end-to-end equation. And if you're a service company like so many of us are these days, if marketing doesn't wedge itself into the employment value proposition—and take ownership of that, and play a major role in the recruitment and then, subsequently, in the internal communications to employees once they've been on board—then I think marketing is seriously compromising its ability to deliver on the commercial value proposition.

In our world in particular, the transportation and logistics industry, our employees aren't just the embodiment of our brand, but we also have the added responsibilities of our employees being the extension of our customers' brands as they reach out to our customers' customers through their supply chains.

CMO Close-Up: How important is custom content in your marketing efforts?

Nightingale: I would absolutely put us in that space. We do thought leadership. We're doing a really big push on thought leadership on safety, some of the anti-texting things and on the vehicle technology that we're implementing. We think we can break through the clutter. That's what custom content can be best at. You have a marketplace that is absolutely supersaturated with content right now. And custom content in my mind gives us the ability to cut through that clutter and try to get those messages to resonate in a marketplace that has too many messages to begin with.

The other part of customized content, which is really underappreciated in my mind, is just the delivery vehicle. Clearly, we're doing white papers, we're doing case studies. They're designed to target specific verticals. So [when] many people think custom content, they think, “Oh, company magazines.” In this marketplace people want different messages in different ways. Some would rather have it in a three-minute, 10-second YouTube video. Some would rather have it in the white paper that they can bring on an airplane and throw away when they're done reading it. Others would [like to] have it through an RSS feed. Others would rather have it through a blog where they actually get to participate in the discussion. It's a variety of channels for us. I don't think we have it mastered, but I think we're making pretty good progress in that space.

CMO Close-Up: How has the economy affected Con-way's marketing program?

Nightingale: It's made a big difference. It has pointed us aggressively in some of the directions we were already going. We've moved into media that have tighter metrics, tighter ROI. We're looking for media with greater tracking, greater responsiveness to market conditions—particularly on the recruitment side. It's really pushed us to do things we were headed to anyway, but we got there a lot faster because of this. We haven't abandoned traditional media. We still use a fair amount of print media, particularly in our commercial and to an extent in our recruitment marketing as well. We've definitely shifted more toward digital and direct, while we've accelerated our willingness to experiment with some of the lower-cost options, including social marketing channels.

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