More Marketers Tasked With Improving Corporate Culture

CMOs' Role Around Issue Becoming Increasingly Important

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Clif Bar owners Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford. At Clif Bar & Co., exercise is a big part of company employee benefits.
Clif Bar owners Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford. At Clif Bar & Co., exercise is a big part of company employee benefits.

As chief marketing officer of the NFL, Dawn Hudson's primary job is to sell the league to fans via ad campaigns and other marketing. But as the NFL faced an image crisis last year in the wake of player domestic violence controversies, Commissioner Roger Goodell tasked Ms. Hudson with an extra job: Help define the league's internal values.

"I looked at our values and said they are well articulated, but they are long and I don't think people remember long values," Ms. Hudson recalled in a recent interview. So she went to work, holding focus groups with team officials, players and other NFL partners. The end product was a set of tightly written values that the league now uses to guide everything from how ads are crafted to how it builds relationships with former and current players.

The episode shows how CMOs, whose main responsibility was once limited to marketing brands to the outside world, are being called on to help protect and improve the corporate culture in which those brands live. That's because more consumers are shunning companies that they don't trust, no matter how good the marketing is, say experts.

Executive search firm Egon Zehnder recently surveyed 80 senior leaders at the Kellogg Marketing Leadership Summit and found that 95% of them believe a company's perceived culture affects consumer buying decisions. Yet only 60% of those surveyed said they believe their organization's culture supports their brand. And 20% said their culture undermines their brand. While 60% of the marketing leaders said they claim direct responsibility for corporate culture, "all respondents agree that the CMO should have an increased role," Egon Zehnder stated in a blog post.

Culture is "a topic that CMOs are struggling with," Rory Finlay, who co-heads Egon Zehnder's marketing officer practice with Dick Patton, said in an interview. "It's a hard thing to define and it's a hard thing to talk about, but it's increasingly becoming more important."

CMOs, who are used to communicating with the outside world, must now "be an active leader of a company's culture" because companies are "meshing with the marketplace in much more friction-free, seamless ways," Mr. Patton said. "The world now is incredibly transparent and the days of nobody being able to get a peek under the tent in terms of what is going on at an organization—those days are over."

At tequila marketer Patrón, fostering a good corporate culture means ensuring everything is "Patrón Worthy." The stamp of approval is used internally on everything from product packaging to internal documents. The brand first pushed the #PatronWorthy hashtag as part of a consumer marketing program after noticing people using the phrase to describe positive events, like a promotion or birth of a baby.

"We took 'Patrón Worthy' and we applied it internally as a standard of how we need to behave as an organization," said Patrón CMO Lee Applbaum. "If for a consumer 'Patrón Worthy' means the most important moments of their life merit Patrón, then our point is everything we do internally has to meet that standard."

At Clif Bar & Co., a big part of the culture is its employee benefits, which include at least 30 minutes each day to exercise on company time. "What we get is really engaged, energized folks," said Keith Neumann, senior VP-brand marketing. He views it as his responsibility to ensure people are taking the time for themselves, even when things get busy.

But fostering good culture is "more than just the CMO's responsibility," he said. One way the company spreads the leadership around is by holding a weekly companywide breakfast meeting. And everyone in the company takes a turn running the meeting.

Marketing departments are even taking on tasks that had traditionally been left to human resources.

For example, when FIS, a global provider of technology for the financial services industry, recently acquired another company, called SunGard, the marketing department took a key role in onboarding some 13,000 new employees. Tasks included setting up a microsite with infographics and videos explaining "who we are, what it is that we do every day, why does that matter and what's your role in it," said Ellyn Raftery, the company's chief marketing and communications officer.

The messaging had to be simple and memorable, she said. "From my perspective, there was not a question that it was going to be run by marketing."

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