Pandora revolutionised Internet music streaming when it launched roughly 15 years ago. With more than 250 million users today, the brand has been built on a a foundation of progressiveness and digital intellect.
As such, it’s a fitting platform for Nicole McInnes, Pandora’s marketing director, ANZ, to pursue her quest in smashing the glass ceiling while thriving at an executive level in the technology and media sectors.
In an exclusive interview with CMO.com APAC, McInnes discussed why having women in leadership roles is vital to business success, the symbiotic relationship between marketing and sales at her organization, and the upside of poor management.
CMO.com: As a leading marketer in a hotly contested space, how did you come into this role?
McInnes: I’ve always had an interest in getting back into tech after my time at Dell. I sort of took a detour into telecommunications (AAPT), finance (American Express), and media, most recently as chief marketing officer at out-of-home media company Adshel. Now I'm back in tech and media with Pandora, which feels like my natural home. I also threw myself into the hiring process. It was terrifying, but I knew it was a good fit, so I was wholehearted and did a lot of work. I even sang a song during the presentation, and that is not normal for me–trust me.
CMO.com: What makes that mix of tech and media at Pandora so enjoyable?
McInnes: With tech today, like the Facebooks and Googles of this world, the product is king. So sales isn’t king; it’s actually a support function to the product. Marketing is the voice of the product to the consumer. Sales is the voice of the product to advertisers.
At Pandora, if marketing is not working, then sales doesn’t have inventory to sell, so they have to work together, and they have to rely on each other. For the first time in ages I have a great relationship with our sales directors. It’s much more symbiotic here, and the product is king. If the product is not good and doesn’t make people’s lives better we–sales and marketing–may as well just pack up and go home.
The other element that I love is the data. To a certain extent media sales is still a relationship business, but it’s getting more and more data-driven, and so those relationships are not as central anymore. It’s down to sales utilising the data that marketing delivers to then tell the story to advertisers and deliver ROI. So it’s all a bit less combative in a data-driven business like ours because the data doesn’t lie. Data fuels creativity and kills politics, so for me it is a beautiful thing.
CMO.com: I wonder if the traditional sales and marketing relationship is an appropriate analogy for women and men in the industry. What do you think?
McInnes: Marketing and advertising in Australia have, for a long time, been male-led. I don’t really know why or where it came from. I suppose it just didn’t keep pace with other industries that started to integrate women a lot earlier. So, for example, there were less women in the creative department than in engineering companies when I was in advertising in 2005.
CMO.com: You’d think–these days, especially–more companies would want to leverage what women can bring to the table.
McInnes: I know, it’s really odd, and I could never work it out. I actually asked a CEO of a mainstream ad agency back in 2008, “Why do you not have any women in creative?” He basically said, “Oh, what I’ve found is when women have children they’re just not interested in their career anymore. They’re not hungry anymore.”
I hadn’t had kids at that point; maybe my reaction would have been worse. But I was very surprised at his response. Now I do have two gorgeous boys, and I’m still intensely interested in my career, so he was at least wrong about this woman.
It has been proved with research (PDF) that if women are in leadership in companies, it actually affects the bottom line in a positive way. I remember just seeing that and thinking, “Look, it’s in black and white that companies that have strong diversity actually are more successful.” So I think it will just take some time for companies to learn and apply it.
CMO.com: What then is the consequence for companies lacking in diversity?
McInnes: Well, the research has shown that they’re not as profitable over time, so that’s one consequence. I think the second consequence is that their decision-making will always be of a certain ilk if they don’t have diversity in the C-suite. That’s when companies can make poor decisions. If they don’t have proper representation across their audience, then it’s going to be very one-sided in decision-making. It’s not only gender. For example, if marketing is shut out of the C-suite or marketing’s voice is not heard in the C-suite, which I’ve definitely experienced–where finance has a stronger voice or sales has a stronger voice–[if] the strategic brain power that marketing can bring and the consumer voice that it represents [is] not heard, then the company will lose that essential customer-focus.
I firmly believe that they can only pretend for so long. Eventually the stories come out, eventually the consumers find out, eventually a documentary is done about, you know, the way they’re treating their workers in Asian countries. Stuff starts to happen, and it may be a slow demise, but eventually companies are going to get punished by their customers for it. And every customer has a global voice now–they are not to be trifled with anymore.
CMO.com: Is it ever obvious in marketing campaigns? Do you think more balanced companies produce more creative work?
McInnes: That’s where the innovation and the expertise of marketers and diversity across the C-suite can be really leveraged. The companies that are doing that, like the Proctor & Gambles of this world and Dove ... it just shows they understand what makes humans tick. Great creative is built off an amazing insight that, by its nature, resonates with the target audience. Women better understand women and men better understand men, so unless your target audience is just one gender, you need diversity to find that killer insight and build creative that is relevant.
Marketers are also fantastic at integrating corporate responsibility into campaigns. With the current zeitgeist in the global community, it’s key to align business goals with making the world a better place, and the only way to leverage that is through amazing creativity and finding those intersections between the world and how your company is contributing to that.
CMO.com: Speaking of giving back, what about mentoring? It can be difficult for women in junior roles to imagine themselves at the top if there are hardly any women at the executive level.
McInnes: Yeah, mentoring is really important. I'm excited about having gone on this journey as a woman in marketing [because] I want to share it as much as possible. I don’t want other women to give up when there is a way through.
In saying that, I’ve had as many bad experiences with women managers as I’ve had with males in the C-suite. There are some nasty ones out there, but they have their own history and fears that they usually haven’t dealt with yet. My boss said recently at a talk on her career, “You should remember that the toughest situations are the ones you learn the most from.” So when faced with poor management, you can end up with an unwitting mentor, as it forces you to be the adult in the situation. Your growth and journey have to be your focus, as it is the only one you can control, so take what you can from every situation, good or bad.
CMO.com: How prevalent is this issue–not just in Australia, but around the globe?
McInnes: I think it’s definitely a global issue. When I did some research back in 2006, the advertising industry is the only industry I dug into from a data point of view, and the US was way ahead of Australia at that point. But when you look across the tech industry in Australia–I’ve got my boss, Jane Huxley, she is the MD for Pandora; Kate Vale is the MD for Spotify; Karen Stocks is the MD for Twitter; Maile Carnegie is the MD for Google Australia. So suddenly there’s a truckload of top women in the digital industry, which I think is fantastic. So I think it depends on the industry rather than the country.
CMO.com: How does Pandora celebrate women in the company?
McInnes: We celebrated women in leadership at Pandora in April, and I'm doing an e-book about all the women that have inspired our staff across Australia and New Zealand. We’ve done a Pandora ANZ Women Who Rock station. We’ve got strong diversity at Pandora, and Tim Westergren, the co-founder of Pandora, actually wrote a personal note to all the staff about his view on women in leadership–it’s really important to him, and culture is defined from the top down.
CMO.com: For you personally, are you optimistic about the future for women in marketing?
McInnes: Yeah, absolutely. I do believe I’ve come full circle. I remember when I was really young in my career; I definitely believed discrimination didn’t exist, and that it was just a state of mind. Then I went through some pretty interesting experiences and realised that it absolutely does exist. But it’s important not to buy into it. I think that’s the message. Don’t give it any energy. If it’s there and it’s blocking you, you have to say: “You know what, it’s their loss, and it’s also their journey that isn’t going to be as cool as yours.” So off you go and find somewhere that values you.
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