On Tuesday, May 17, the Chief Marketing Officer Institute will reveal the winners of its "CMO of the Year" award for leadership excellence. As we did last year, CMO.com is publishing exclusive interviews with each of the nine finalists, who discussed with the CMO Journal the strategies and tactics they employed to achieve marketing success at their respective organizations.
>> Category: Small To Midsize Organization
>> Organization Description: Established in 1905, the American Red Cross of Greater Cleveland helps people prevent, prepare for, and respond to emergencies by providing shelter, food, clothing, and mental health counseling to families affected by disasters in Cuyahoga, Geauga, and Lake counties. All disaster relief is free and is made possible by generous donations from the American people. The Chapter also provides CPR, First Aid, Water Safety, and preparedness training to thousands of individuals each year.
>> Highlights: Facing multiple economic challenges related to the recession as well as decreased funding from traditional sources like United Way, the Greater Cleveland Red Cross streamlined its workforce and focus so that FY 2010 was stable and had a balanced budget. Ms. Elder took the lead in revamping the organizational reliance on printed materials, establishing a plan for electronic newsletters for various programs and services; meeting with experts to establish a highly-functioning social media program; and identifying ways to grow the organizational email lists, which were virtually nonexistent before this time. She also pioneered a series of seminars to re-engage lapsed customers and to entice new clients.
>> The Conversation:
CMOJ: Leading the marketing efforts of a nonprofit surely has its own unique set of challenges. As you look back at your own experience working with CMOs at the for-profit organizations, what do you see as the biggest differences between the two environments?
SE: One of the biggest differences between the nonprofit and for-profit marketing environments is that when nonprofits satisfy their customers, they typically deplete resources within their organization. When a for-profit entity satisfies its customers, it brings in revenue for the organization. Otherwise, the marketing approaches between nonprofit and for-profit organizations are not that dissimilar. In each case, a set of activities and processes for creating, communicating, delivering and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, and partners are implemented. Because for-profit marketing efforts are adding resources to the organization, they are better able to demonstrate a return on investment and therefore can garner more resources and budget to support their marketing programs. At a nonprofit organization, we are challenged to come up with adequate budget to support all the marketing tactics we might wish to employ, so we are challenged to thoroughly analyze, evaluate, and prioritize where to expend the limited resources we do have.
CMOJ: In reading your CMO of the Year nomination, it became clear that in many ways you're developing multiple marketing processes and infrastructure from scratch. What's the single greatest challenge you've overcome in building those processes and infrastructure -- and how did you address the problem?
SE: When I joined the American Red Cross of Greater Cleveland there was no existing marketing function, so I did create the function. While there were many challenges, the greatest challenge was educating the organization on the importance of taking a disciplined approach to marketing with the establishment of written plans including goals, strategies, objectives, tactics, timeline, and metrics. The tendency was that staff wanted to jump right into the tactics without thinking through the best and most cost-effective strategy to achieve the goals. I had to consistently send staff back to the planning process and require them to come back to me with a written plan -- it didn't have to be pages and pages -- but a plan nonetheless, committed in writing that we could use to benchmark and evaluate our progress.
CMOJ: Last year the Cleveland Red Cross had a substantial loss of funding from the United Way of Greater Cleveland, which was a dramatic drop in revenue that has few parallels in a for-profit organization. Tell us what actions you took in the first 48 hours after learning of this situation.
SE: The notification of the United Way funding drop was not a complete surprise. We knew they were working through a process to reevaluate their funding priorities, so while we were disappointed in their decision to reduce funding to the Greater Cleveland Red Cross, we were not caught off guard. When the decision was finally announced, we were prepared and had plans in place. We had already engaged our Board of Directors to advocate on our behalf. As soon as we had the official notification and knew the depth of the cuts, we went to our local newspaper, The Plain Dealer, and had an editorial board meeting. We followed up with an OpEd piece to the community that communicated our situation and the vitality of the mission of the Red Cross and the unduplicated services we provide to the community. We scheduled meetings with community and corporate foundations to ask them to increase their support to help us bridge the funding gap. These efforts all proved fruitful.
CMOJ: Describe the relationship you have with your CEO, Mary-Alice Frank. What are her expectations of you and your team, and how are those expectations measured?
SE: The relationship I have with my CEO, Mary-Alice Frank, is a positive and productive relationship. She leads in setting the strategy for the organization, including myself and my team, and turns her direct reports loose to develop plans to implement the strategy and deliver mutually agreed-upon goals and tactics. She hired me for my marketing and communications expertise and has never been one to second-guess my recommendations. We utilize a three-year strategic planning process, which we report on to our board on a quarterly basis. We report our progress in writing in achieving our outcome measurements.