Uber picks Beam Suntory exec as its first-ever CMO

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Uber has tapped seasoned packaged goods executive Rebecca Messina as its first-ever global chief marketing officer as the 9-year-old ride-hailing company looks to bolster its global marketing capabilities in preparation of going public next year.

Rebecca Messina
Rebecca Messina Credit: Courtesy BeamSuntory

Messina, 46, has spent the last two-and-half years as global CMO at liquor maker Beam Suntory. Before that she spent 22 years at Coca-Cola Co. in roles including senior VP-marketing and innovation for venturing and emerging brands. At Uber she will be charged with "building a global marketing organization that can support the company's growth going forward," according to statement from Uber.

She arrives three months after Uber parted ways with high-profile marketer Bozoma Saint John. She was named CMO of entertainment conglomerate Endeavor in June.

Saint John was Uber's chief brand officer. The CMO title puts Messina at a higher executive level. Saint John was focused on projects aimed at connecting Uber to pop culture, like an NBA-themed campaign in 2017 that featured pros like the L.A. Lakers' Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma riding in Ubers.

Messina, in an interview, characterized her duties as being more "holistic," than Saint John's. She arrives as Uber "is really reshaping its leadership team and its overall agenda," she says.

"When you have one brand that happens to also be a company brand it's really an opportunity to bring that single mindedness, and to get us really tight on who is Uber what does Uber stand for and how do we do that everywhere around the world," she says.

Uber's CEO Dara Khosrowshahi in a statement called Messina "exactly the right leader to build our marketing efforts globally and to showcase the ways Uber is igniting opportunities for our customers around the world."

Beam Suntory in a statement credited Messina with "taking our brands and marketing capabilities to the next level." The company added that "we are determined to build on her success, and we will commence an external search for her successor."

Messina, who worked from Beam Suntory's global headquarters in Chicago, will be moving to Uber's headquarters in San Francisco. She is expected to remain at Beam Suntory until early October.

Uber has revolutionized the transit industry, giving people in urban areas one more reason to skip car ownership. It is one of the pioneers in the so-called sharing economy. But the company has also dealt with negative publicity stemming from allegations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination that led to the departure of co-founder Travis Kalanick in June 2017. His replacement, Khosrowshahi, stars in a TV ad called "Moving Forward" that began airing earlier this year in which he pledges that the company has a "new culture."

Messina says she did not have a previous relationship with Khosrowshahi but has met with him multiple times since being recruited. "He is super committed to marketing," she says.

In regards to Uber's previous internal issues, she says, "I have found a culture that is just hungry to do the right thing," adding, "I think definitely it's a new era." Asked if there is more work to be done to repair Uber's image, she says, "I would expect there is. A company this big who touches this many people, I am certain it hasn't been able to completely turn that corner."

"This is a brand that has a tremendous place in society and culture so I feel like its got to pull all those forces together," she says.

Beam's agencies include Starcom for media and Adam & Eve DDB as the lead creative shop on its flagship whiskey brand, Jim Beam, which has used Mila Kunis in its ads for several years. Beam also uses an in-house, 40-person agency called Proof. Uber also uses an internal agency. It took the lead on the ad starring Khosrowshahi. Uber does not have an external agency-of-record but has relied on 72andSunny for several projects.

Asked if she favors an in-house or external shop, Messina says, "I am really open minded. Maybe it's a hybrid model. I don't have an answer on that until I see what we need."

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