Chase's Kristin Lemkau on CMOs taking a stand

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Kristin Lemkau
Kristin Lemkau

Since rising to the top marketing role at JPMorgan Chase in 2014, Kristin Lemkau's job description, like the industry, has become increasingly complex. The chief marketing officer, a vocal champion of brand safety and agency transparency, is also part of the Gun Safety Alliance, where she uses her work skills to promote tighter gun safety laws.

Lemkau, a 19-year veteran of Chase, will be at next month's Ad Age Survival Summit in Chicago talking about the new breed of marketer. Below, she explains her own path to taking on culturally hot issues.

Why gun safety?

Most people feel passionately about causes outside of work and this is one of mine. My personal view is that gun safety is unnecessarily polarizing—most people agree on some key facts. I think the marketing/communications/advertising community can bring the skills we have in data-driven, fact-based storytelling to help lead to progress.

What are the challenges of linking your personal brand to a cause while being a CMO?

Most people have causes or passions outside of work and support nonprofits, serve on boards or volunteer. My personal causes are gun safety, breaking the cycle of poverty, and finding a cure for food allergies, my daughter has a life threatening allergy, and I support the organizations that do heroic work on them. I'm clear it's a personal passion and the views are my own.

How does this reflect changing role of chief marketing officers?

I think consumers expect brands to stand for something more than just a product. Simon Sinek has that great line, "People don't buy what you do, they buy why you do it." Smart marketers align their brand purpose to the why behind their product. One of my favorites is Method, whose purpose is "people against dirty." That's a much more inspiring way to say "our soap cleans better than their soap."

The Chase brand purpose is "to help people make the most of their money." We take a point of view on issues or moments that align with our brand purpose. Where brands go astray are when they weigh in on issues that are culturally hot but their brand doesn't have a natural place in the discussion, and it looks phony or opportunistic.

You're also concerned with brand safety and maintaining control in the places Chase advertises. Have you found the right balance?

Yes. I think we probably need to go further, actually. Brands need to own where their brand appears and what their ad dollars support.

So what's the next big issue keeping you up at night?

Generally, I sleep pretty well. I worry about the instability of the world sometimes, but I also remember there's never been a better time to be born in the world than today.

Want to hear more? Sign up for Ad Age's Survival Summit May 2. Tickets can be bought here.

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