Why CMOs should consider a side hustle

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You don't get to be a CMO by being afraid of adding yet another responsibility to your plate. Successful marketing programs often touch so many aspects of a business from customer experience to employee recruiting, investor relations to product development, that it is easy to imagine your above average CMO already being stretched beyond capacity. So, it is with some trepidation that this CMO-chronicler even suggests the idea of a "side hustle."

Yet, raise this topic with Siegel & Gale's CMO, Margaret Molloy, and she'll share the profound benefits of her extracurricular endeavor, namely #WearingIrish, a program that put a spotlight on Irish designers. Molloy suggests that CMOs should think of these projects as laboratories, to test new approaches and broaden their perspectives. And if managed correctly, the increased personal exposure should also raise the profile of your employer, thus making sure you get to keep your day job.

With a full-time job as a CMO, why take on a project like #WearingIrish?

The "why" is passion motivated and my motivation is simple. I recognize that as marketers, we have a set of skills and capabilities. I have a significant and engaged network, so I have the power to convene and yet I realized that there are world-class fashion designers in Ireland that don't have that access and exposure. I recognized that this was a way for me to give back, to apply my marketing skills, open my network to essentially give fashion designers, who are doing wonderful work, access and exposure. And then the program manifests itself in many ways, but that's the core of the idea.

How did you balance this project and what value did this bring to your role as a CMO at Siegel & Gale?

The first value is #WearingIrish gives me the opportunity to have a lab. I can experiment, and I believe that's vitally important for every CMO to have a sidebar, a lab where they can explore marketing at a level that doesn't incur risk for the company but elevates their understanding. The second reason is it helps me develop my empathy for CMO clients. Day in and day out, I'm talking to CMOs who are in the business of building their brands and I can provide excellent counsel. Today, after doing #WearingIrish two years in, I have a lot of empathy for the bumps along the road and the challenges and what it takes to build a brand. So my counsel is much more grounded and less theoretical.

What were some of the things that you learned as a result of this that you've been able to share?

I also have empathy for people who put on events because a big part of the program was event-driven. How do you drive an audience to an event, which is an essential tool in the marketer's arsenal? I also drove this initiative with zero budget. How to build a following on social media is certainly valuable. Also, how to pick the right partners. So, a significant part of brand building, whether it's #WearingIrish or I would argue, whether it's any company today, is around the ecosystem you are building. How do you develop an ecosystem that's additive or sometimes a little unexpected? Certainly all of those requirements for executing an event and building a brand are very transferable.

How did you find people who were inherently connected to this idea at its core?

Look, it's like a lot of marketing, you want to inspire people. In the context of #WearingIrish, I say, I'm not in the fashion business, I'm in the inspiration business. I had to find groups, many of whom did not have an Irish affinity because that's too limiting and inspired them with the fashion and with an untold story. Everyone likes a new story. My framing of this is: I'm telling the untold story of Irish fashion design. That was intriguing to people because people like to discover. So, a lot of these qualities and emotional reactions you're getting from an audience that I strove to get at #WearingIrish. When you reflect on it, these are the same reactions most CMOs want from their customers.

What is the most gratifying part of this program for you?

The most gratifying part is, on a commercial level, the metrics. Seeing the scale of the audiences that came. Understanding that at least two of these designers now will be picked up by big-box retailers. So many direct-to-consumer customers as a result. That's the short-term gratification. The long-term gratification comes from the fact that meaningful conversations are happening in Ireland right now around supporting the designers.

How can you build a personal brand in such a way that it also enhances the company that you're working for?

I think it begins with having that question in your mind at the onset. Being aware that that's a tension you have to navigate and that's an equation you have to optimize. So, the first part is being mindful of that. For me, it's unequivocal. The work that I'm doing on behalf of "Wearing Irish" or elsewhere is giving me a currency. It's giving people a conversation starter to talk to me. In fact, I would argue it's enhancing the likability of our brand at Siegel & Gale because it is making us very accessible to people and everyone likes a feel-good story. If you can start a conversation with a feel-good story, it may go to an interesting commercial place. So, I see it as mutually enhancing.

Can you summarize the key lessons learned for you through this experience building #WearingIrish?

The first lesson is if you have an idea—do it. Make yourself accountable, put a date in the diary that will give it a forcing function because the number of people who have come up to me and said, "Oh my, I have a similar idea, but I never got around to doing it." That's the first thing. The second thing is, don't underestimate your power to fundraise because there was a significant amount of fundraising involved. Or to recruit volunteers who will help you and join you on the mission, if indeed the idea is inspiring. And the third lesson learned is be thoughtful about your economic partners, be they the folks who give you seed capital or sponsors because they are the kind of people that you're spending time with and lots of lessons learned there.

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