Webinar: Marketing success in 2021: Strategic moves CMOs are making

Webinar: Marketing success in 2021: Strategic moves CMOs are making

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Friday, January 29, 2021 | BrandActive

Nobody saw 2020 coming. As we collectively continue to learn and adapt through the global pandemic and the results of the US election, businesses need to find ways to survive – and thrive – in the face of this uncertainty. Regardless of the industry, 2020 put new pressures on marketers. In many cases, it spawned innovation and accelerated the realization of many of the organizational needs that marketers have been emphasizing and looking to drive for years.

Our panel of senior marketing executives covers how they went to market, overcame shifts in consumer priorities, planned for a new reality and ushered in a new era of innovation.

Our expert panel:

  • Paul Matsen, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Cleveland Clinic
  • Bob Bejan, Corporate Vice President: Global Events, Studios and Marketing Community, Microsoft
  • Paul Suchman, Chief Marketing Officer, Entercom
  • Margaret Norton, Chief of Staff, Mass General Brigham
  • Chris Hummel, Former CMO and CSO, Schneider Electric, SAP, United Rentals
  • Moderated by Philip Guiliano, Partner, BrandActive

Full transcript below:

Chiqui Cartagena:

Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening for those of us tuning in from Europe. My name is Chiqui Cartagena. I am the Chief Marketing Officer for The Conference Board, and the leader of our marketing and communications center. Welcome to Marketing Success in 2021. You have an amazing panel waiting to talk to you. I’m going to be very brief. Today, we will be discussing how to pivot and remain relevant to customers during the current paradigm shift. We’re going to talk about balancing immediate needs, like short-term revenue generation with strategies that produce longer-term value.

Chiqui Cartagena:

We’re going to explain how to plan for the unknown. That’s going to be good. That are on the roadmap for many marketing teams and companies. We’re going to exhibit how technology is being leveraged differently this year and within your future strategic plans. And of course, we’re going to show what marketers are doing to bring efficiency, repeatability, and cost savings to how they operate. As you heard in the video intro you can also earn credits. Here is just a quick reminder of what you need to do, to do that. And of course, we want you to ask questions. We have a ton of great resources for you to download.

Chiqui Cartagena:

Please start a group chat and share with your colleagues. Let me go ahead and introduce this amazing panel we have for you today. We have Margaret Norton, Chief of Staff of Mass General Brigham, Chris Hummel, former CMO and CSO of Schneider Electric, SAP, and United Rentals. Paul Matsen, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at the Cleveland Clinic, Bob Bejan, Corporate Vice President Global Events Studios and Marketing Community from Microsoft, the guy with the best job here. And Paul Suchman, Chief Marketing Officer of Entercom. And to kick off the conversation, our own Philip Giuliano, Partner at BrandActive. Philip.

Philip Guiliano:

Awesome. Thank you, Chiqui. And thanks to The Conference Board for allowing all of us to come together today. As you can see from the introductions that Chiqui gave, this panel of executives spans the gamut, particularly when you consider not just the roles that Chiqui shared, but you know what I mean? Paul Matsen being former CMO of Delta, and Margaret Head of Comms at Eversource, brand that she created through the amalgamation of five utility companies, and Bob’s experience across agencies and Paul Suchman being WPP CMO of CVRE, agency experience as well. And Chris, across everything. And then there’s me.

Philip Guiliano:

And I’m here to go. I’ve had the pleasure of working with most of these people on this panel, sometimes multiple times in their careers. I’m helping them really operationally plan and manage some of the large changes that they’ve been through in my 15 years here at BrandActive. And before that, I was an org change and management consultant for about six years. This is perhaps the most diverse group of people that we’ve ever brought together with experience across healthcare, airlines, utilities, technology, entertainment, content, B2B, B2C, everything.

Philip Guiliano:

And I think it’s important to call it out. This is a large panel. We’re going to lead you through a conversation today that touches on leadership through the crisis of 2020, digital transformation, how some of these executives have been able to use 2020 to set them up for 2021 and beyond. And this is not a pandemic webinar, everybody. This is really a discussion about managing, innovating, planning, and executing through crisis and uncertain times.

Philip Guiliano:

The content share today is applicable across industries, across different crises now and in the future. And I’ll lead us through this dialogue for about 30 to 40 minutes. And the intent of that is to lay out enough content for all of you in the audience there to get creative with your questions. I can not emphasize enough the importance of the Q&A feature. Use this and use it liberally. If you have questions that you want to ask our individual panelists, or you want to ask the group, throw a question in there. We’ll sort through all the questions, pick out the ones that we have time for.

Philip Guiliano:

We will stop with 15 minutes left in this, and whatever we don’t get to in the Q&A. We’ll do our best to follow up with. And also, to our panelists have some fun. If a thought sparks an idea, when I direct a question to somebody else, jump in, share your thoughts. Keep those additions a little bit brief. But definitely, be as open as you can with your thoughts and your strategies, your successes and your failures, because there’s learning in all of it. Without further ado, let’s get right into the panel.

Philip Guiliano:

And I’ll start with a traditional starter interview question. Makes me feel like I’m in HR just bringing it up. But I think there’s some nuggets in here. It’s a three-part question. I’m going to address it to each one of you, and we’ll start with you Paul Suchman. Summarize 2020 in one sentence. What’s one thing that you’re really proud of that you did, and what’s one thing that you wish you didn’t do? Oh, Paul, you’re actually on mute.

Paul Suchman:

2020 was the year of the unexpected. It would be my summary sentence of that. Really unexpected some great things, some really challenging things. In terms of what I am most proud of, organizationally, I am just super proud of the way our company came together remotely, really to serve our clients, to serve our listener audiences without missing a B, as a B2B and a B2C company. We’re a better, a more agile, a more client-centric company in 2021 because of the moves and strategies we executed in 2020.

Paul Suchman:

From a marketing perspective as the CMO, we’re at the tail end of some really strategic work that will begin manifesting itself in market in Q2, and we’ll have a big impact on our clients, our listeners, our organization in the industry. And it’s not quite ready to be revealed, but I’m just super proud of it. I’m also proud I learned to play the ukulele last year and I didn’t bring it, but looking at Bob’s background, I probably should have. We could have entertained.

Paul Suchman:

One thing I guess I wish I hadn’t done is, in an effort to stay connected and to stay networked, I really attended a lot of events. I attended a lot of meetings. And I probably should have prioritized them. Things like this meeting today, these are really great nuggets, but having a filter on them and making better choices, which got better as the year went on would be something if I went back and thought about time management, I would have done differently.

Philip Guiliano:

Oh, what about you, Margaret? Sorry. I was on mute again.

Margaret Norton:

I was ready now. I was ready. Hello everybody. And thank you for the opportunity to be here today. I’d have to echo Paul’s comment about 2021, sort of the unexpected. I’m joining you today on a day that’s a little bit of a milestone for us here at Mass General Brigham. This is the one-year anniversary of us standing up our incident command to respond to COVID. Well, we’ve been at this for a year anticipating, but being at this for over a year. But I would say the thing that I’m really proud of is, I have a little bit of a less traditional role with some other folks here. I’ve done marketing, but I serve as the Chief of Staff to our CEO.

Margaret Norton:

I’ve had a bit of a sideline seat in terms of a broad array of activities. And I’m just grateful that I’ve had the opportunity over this past year to, in some small way, contribute to how our frontline workers have been able to deal with this crisis. My role as an information person, making sure that were being responsive and informative, but then also working with our patients to get the word out. I would say that the one thing that I wish I had done a little bit differently in 2020, is that I hadn’t spent so much time thinking about what the deadline was.

Margaret Norton:

Because who would have known that we would still be here a year later. I remember being in my office and one of the members of our staff coming in and saying, when we had declared that we were moving to remote work. She’s like, “I don’t think I’m going to see you till May.” And I was like, “May? That sounds crazy.” But here we’re, and still at it. And so, I think that that was a bit of a challenge. I guess for 2021, what I’m focused on is learning the lesson of patience, and process, and how sometimes the unexpected presents the opportunities that we most need at that moment.

Philip Guiliano:

Absolutely. What about you, Bob?

Bob Bejan:

2020 was for sure the year of the unexpected. I completely agree with the earlier sentence. I think for us to think maybe that I’m proudest of the team was the ability to be creative just, and really what we now say, half jokingly, swim into the torpedo and make really hard decisions very early on. And I think that ended up serving us very well. And that was good. And I think maybe the thing I regret the most is how intellectually lazy I was before 2020.

Bob Bejan:

When I think about how much progress we’ve made in the last 10 months about moving, what we think of as the way we think about creating communications, and how much of it was totally available way before any of this started happening. And I go, “God, I didn’t think of myself as a lazy guy.” But it really has been something I’ve been thoughtful about the last eight or 10 months really. Because it keeps striking me over and over again.

Philip Guiliano:

It’s amazing what we can achieve when we need to.

Bob Bejan:

And how much we don’t when we don’t have to. And that’s the part that I’m so disappointed in myself about that.

Philip Guiliano:

Well, quickly Paul Matsen, let’s hear yours as well.

Paul Matsen:

Our house rule is, if you don’t take yourself off mute, you have to make a donation to our caregiver fund. I hope you guys donate. For me, 2020 I best describe it as a roller coaster. I think everyone knows how profoundly it affected the healthcare industry in different areas. In Ohio, we also were standing up our incident command of this time last year, anticipating a surge, building a thousand bed freestanding hospital on our campus. But we didn’t get a surge in March and April.

Paul Matsen:

We were actually shut down for elective cases in anticipation of a surge by the state, and had a significant impact on us. But it didn’t come. And then a very mild summer and fall, and then of course, the beginning of November through the end of the year, a massive surge occurred in the state of Ohio. It truly was a roller coaster in every respect. For me, the most significant thing we did this year was taking care of our caregivers. They were under so much stress, so much to us. And we transformed the way we do caregiver communications.

Paul Matsen:

We went to daily messaging from our CEO. We did two video messages. We took him around the system, including into a COVID ICU, to demonstrate to the caregivers that we were connected and caring about them. If I think about something that I wish I didn’t do, I think we didn’t do a good job of anticipating what was next, and how quickly it might count. And we’re seeing it right now. COVID cases are dropping in Ohio, but patients are extremely cautious waiting for a vaccine and concerned about the new variants of the virus.

Paul Matsen:

We’re pivoting back to some of the messaging we had done earlier about the safety of the precautions we have on the care environment. It’s safe for them. It’s been very difficult, but I think it’s something we need to be continually looking forward and beyond the moment that we’re.

Philip Guiliano:

No, I think rebuilding that trust is something that we’re going to hit on here as well. Chris, I’m just curious from your perspective, your 2020 and a thing you did and you wish you didn’t.

Chris Hummel:

Oh, well, I love everyone and thanks for having me. I think like everybody else, this was a year that was challenging to the core, is the best way I would describe it. We had politics, healthcare, economics, and even personal. Let’s not forget about funny stories to see kids running in the middle of TV interviews and all those kinds of things. But I suddenly became IT tech support for my four kids. It’s okay. What was interesting, but so many challenges across so many different fronts.

Chris Hummel:

And I’ll speak to my experience at United Rentals since that’s what I was really running most of the year, or the first half of the year when COVID hit. The thing I think we did best was we pivoted the level of transparency around not just safety issues, which had always been core to us, but around everything, around all the operational challenges that our customers were facing, because delivering equipment, healthcare clearly was number one. But we were considered a critical business as well for managing how people set up all these centers, and tents, and all those kinds of things.

Chris Hummel:

And so we really got transparent with our customers, which was great. The thing I wish we had done better was stop tinkering. And we were doing a lot of tinkering, and I think because we didn’t understand the timelines, we close things off to be ready for the next challenge that we obviously couldn’t see, but that was coming right around the corner.

Philip Guiliano:

That makes sense. I think starting off with something like this, again, it just gives the audience a good idea of where your mind is, where you’ve come from, some of the things that you’ve done, some of the things you haven’t. I think we should dive into the forefront of the pandemic on the healthcare side real quick, and just talk about setting strategic priorities and also driving those strategic priorities forward during a crisis situation. This just happened to be pandemics or the context of that, but again, I’d say, the content is applicable pretty much anywhere.

Philip Guiliano:

Starting with you, Paul Matsen, Cleveland Clinic being the innovator that you’re, but also as you mentioned, you’re in the Midwest. You weren’t at the forefront of the pandemic, and then it came to you and really hits you pretty hard. But you were still there as a leader in the information to the whole thing. How did you as a marketer, a strategist, and educator, place your priorities in the right things, and how did that stuff shift in 2020 and the crisis?

Paul Matsen:

I think very quickly we pivoted from focus on our normal priorities of growing the number of patients that we serve, and then expanding our market presence to being a leader in providing trusted content and information to our patients, and communities, and to our caregivers as well. I think one thing that’s unique about healthcare versus any other industry is, we don’t sell like other businesses. We don’t have price, promotions, and deals, and offers. Patients come to us because they fundamentally trust us, and content is the way they engage with us.

Paul Matsen:

And that’s almost entirely digital today. We saw explosive growth on all of our visual platforms, our website, our healthcare blog, health essentials, our Cleveland Clinic news room that we were putting out daily stories for the media. And there was almost an insatiable appetite for information about COVID-19 and of course, and all the changes that were occurring. And we’re very fortunate that we have a staff of medical experts that we can put out to inform the public.

Paul Matsen:

We really turned it off all of our traditional marketing about the second week in March, and didn’t resume that until May, when the governor lifted the stay-at-home order. It was a complete pivot to more of a mission-driven public service posture to educate and inform.

Philip Guiliano:

And Margaret, I know you may have something to add to that. I’ll let you, if you do. But I am curious, really just strategically, you made a decision pre-pandemic, to take the organization and make a pretty big strategic move with a rebrand. And that was announced very early on in the year. And a lot of times in a situation like that, particularly when the organization has so many competing priorities, those kinds of things get pushed off to the side. I’m curious what you would share with the audience here, around how you were able to really make the case to move and drive that forward during a time like this.

Margaret Norton:

Great question, Phil. Thank you. The big strategic move that Philip is referring to is that we had largely been known as Partners, a name that didn’t necessarily have a lot of identity in the healthcare space, largely, a financially strong organization that was a parent company for some great hospitals that you know their brand names well, Mass General, Brigham and Women’s Spaulding, Mass Eye and Ear, McLean, great AMCs and then a network of community hospitals. We made the decision prior to the pandemic’s arrival that we would change our name to Mass General Brigham after much research.

Margaret Norton:

And we engaged a tremendous firm to help us do that, BrandActive, and two other firms in that at the end of ’19, Lippincott, we worked with, as well as our agency of record Boathouse here in Boston. I say that to Philip because Philip and I have that team in that other rebrand that I referenced. We’ve done this once or twice before, but what we did is so many of the things that Paul mentioned, really important way to bring content. We needed to be continuing to push that out, but we also recognize that we’ve made this promise in 2019 that we were going to come together as an integrated healthcare system with patients at the center.

Margaret Norton:

And we had to continue that work because as hard as it was managing this pandemic and the work that our folks were going through, we knew that we would emerge one day, and that we needed to make good on that promise to present this a united integrated healthcare system to the marketplace. Because we had assembled a really strong team, we kept going, but in a very quiet way, because it just seemed to make more sense.

Margaret Norton:

It was important that we continue to shift our focus from being an organization that was rebranding to an organization that was managing a pandemic, but we also made sure that we kept the resources going. And that was why we were able, in May … Paul, we have very similar timelines for this, but in May when we went out to the market, we had a brand that for the first time we were able to use in a strategic way to start to bring patients back in for care, and then in a much more coordinated way than we had historically.

Philip Guiliano:

That brings us into a great segue into trust. Because this isn’t a defective product catching fire on an airplane or a bunch of people getting sick at a restaurant, where you have to rebuild trust. But rebuilding trust in A brand so that people know it’s safe to come back, for those other areas of care that aren’t pandemic-related. Do you have any insight … Directing this towards really the whole panel, but Margaret and Paul Matsen, do you have any advice on how to rebuild that trust?

Margaret Norton:

I used the word patience earlier. I think that that patience as in being patient, but also really getting out ahead of the messaging, we spent a tremendous amount of time. The first time that as a system, we went on air on a broad integrated communications platform was last May, to really use every app channel we could to bring our patients back for care. We had suspended care that we were not able to provide during the pandemic, because that was our focus, our COVID patients. But patients needed us to be out there and telling them it was safe to come back.

Margaret Norton:

And that was really the campaign that we focused on, giving the timing of the campaign that we were putting in market to bring patients back. We also needed to be very deliberate though. Our employees were working really hard in the focus of that, first and foremost, we need to give a thank you to our employees that were delivering that care. We had to explain our new brand and then we had to assure them that it was safe.

Margaret Norton:

We asked a lot of the work and the identity that we were bringing forward, and continue to bring forward. This will be a multi-year journey. But we had a lot of work to do and it continues. But having a deliberate approach to our marketing really helped us unify our voice and think about the patient experience, first and foremost.

Paul Matsen:

I would just get a lid on that by saying our strategy was to lead with information and that’s very much building on what we do every day in our communications and marketing. And the number one source that patients trust of course, is their physicians and nurses, the people that they’re interacting with on the front line, even more than hospital CEOs and certainly more than the government or politicians. We constantly were updating information, everything we knew about the virus, what people could do for prevention, and making it broadly available online through the media and so forth.

Paul Matsen:

Today with the vaccine, we see the exact same thing is true. People want to hear from their medical professionals, and there’s inherent trust in that relationship. Every piece of content we create in clinic is vetted and signed off on by our physicians and medical professionals. And that’s really the backbone of our brand, is the trust that there’s so much medical misinformation out on social media and the internet that our brand represents a source of truth, that reliable information. We’re not alone in the healthcare space in that regard, but it’s a responsibility we have as not-for-profit health systems to serve the community.

Philip Guiliano:

You’re in a very unique position in the sense that it is healthcare, and people do trust doctors, and trust in healthcare has never been higher right now. I’m going to ask one person from the panel that’s not in healthcare. If you think that this strategy of content information being a trusted resource is being transparent and truthful, is that the strategy emerging from crisis for you in your experience? Or do you have anything to add to that?

Paul Suchman:

I’d like to add something. Entercom is in the audio space. We have a very big footprint in broadcast radio. We’re a leading podcasting company, a big digital streaming presence, and a big events presence. We are this audio ecosystem. And during the pandemic, I was thinking about what what everybody was saying about healthcare and that information. And it’s just ringing so true with me. Our news stations in particular, really served as crucial lifelines during the pandemic, during the social issues, providing informative, essential information to all of the communities we serve, social issues, pandemic.

Paul Suchman:

And again, trust was at the center of that because this content was coming from sources, from voices, from brands that people rely upon and trust. As Margaret was talking about, it’s like this combination of having the right content, but delivering it from a brand that you have built equity in as a trusted source. That combination really saw us through this pandemic. And it sounds like it saw those brands through as well.

Philip Guiliano:

Awesome.

Chiqui Cartagena:

And Philip, if I could just jump in the sec. I would say also from The Conference Board perspective, we put up a COVID hub because this was a pandemic that affected all aspects of business, supply chain, human capital, you name it. And we saw very quickly the response from our members. In the first couple of months, we had 300,000 hits. We’re doing now the same with the vaccine. Even though it feels like a healthcare issue, there are a lot of implications for businesses. We’re surrounding the issues with all of our thought leadership, and I think that’s, to what Paul is saying, a way to build that trust.

Philip Guiliano:

Excellent. Excellent. I wanted to get into a panel, but I’m actually going to ask a poll question. But I’m actually going to skip that, and let’s shift, Bob, over to the other side of massive disruption, which is the digital transformation. We could talk about telehealth, but here we are, on a web platform. We use Teams every day, I found a lot of our conversation fascinating. And I think you have a great perspective to share even just about what’s to come for people as they start looking at events and how they collaborate.

Philip Guiliano:

Let’s start with your journey, because, you started off 2020 with the 28 in-person major events that you had to do in the past. And events didn’t even leverage Microsoft platforms, or that kind of stuff. Teams is now playing such a critical role for all of us, well, at least for me, on a daily basis. What can you share with people about being agile and how your role even has changed into product development, for example, as you’ve moved through there?

Bob Bejan:

It’s a wild story. But I would say the root of it is the thing that I said, I didn’t answer to your introductory break, the ice question, which is, we were so fortunate that we collectively as a team peaky squared and said, let’s take advantage. Because it’s so dramatic. And all of us can think back to the beginning of that, the appearance of it, and what was happening in all of the debate is, “Are the events going to stay or are they not? Hybrid, when should we keep going double track planning?” And we were just very early on, I think, because we had so many events going, that we said, “Hey, you know what? This is an opportunity more than anything to focus on the digital world.”

Bob Bejan:

And so we made this bold presentation to our senior leadership team that said, “Hey, our proposal is that we don’t really stop doing live events in total until the end of the next fiscal year,” which will be coming up in July. “And that we just focus on what can we do to move this ball forward in the digital world?” And they said, “Yeah, that’s a great idea.” And then the second thing we talked about was, well, here’s the persnickety part. We’re not really using any Microsoft technology right now. We’d love to, it seems like an incredible opportunity to create a showcase for our technologies, but it means that we’re going to have to get a lot closer to engineering, and we’re going to need some things that don’t probably work on the platforms today.

Bob Bejan:

And again, the company’s total credit, they were like, “We’re going to do it.” And we got quickly partnered with our engineering teams, and then starting with build in April. We shipped on a platform that was built entirely on Microsoft technologies, couple of third party parts that work and iAzure, but really Teams at the center of it all. It’s been a fantastic thing because I think we don’t make events anymore. What we make is interactive television. And I think we’re going to be doing that for a long time.

Philip Guiliano:

I’m going to ask you to be a futurist here in a second, but I do want to get to one of our poll questions real quick. I’ll ask the audience to look at this then and say, pick picks three. What are your top three areas of highest marketing investment shift from 2020 to 2021? Where are you putting your dollars more in 2021 than you would have in 2020? I’ll give you a little bit of time to pick out three things there and submit them. And then we’ll share some of the results. I’m curious, maybe we go to Paul Suchman on this one real quick, just quickly. How would you be looking at this?

Paul Suchman

I’m looking at this list and they’re all important. Everything is absolutely important. We are continuing to invest in our content, in our thought leadership. We are investing in our brand. We are investing in our marketing technology to be better, and value organization and to be better outside in serving our consumer listeners and serving our clients, our revenue sources. And we’re also putting a premium on creative as well.

Paul Suchman

Events remains a question on how we’re going to invest and participate in them, how we’re going to host them. That really remains a question. And I think he put experiential into that a little bit. And the other one is data. Data is super, super important. We’re making a lot of investment in getting smarter with data.

Philip Guiliano:

Everyone out there please do participate in this. Right now we’ve got about 30% of attendees that have responded. Please do respond when we get past 50% or so I’ll stop us here. But Chris, just from your career in growth and strategy, if you were running back as a CMO, where would you be looking in 2021?

Chris Hummel:

Well, I think it ties back actually fill up to the question of trust and communication that people were talking about. If I were … As Paul said, all of these are important, but the one that I’ve focused on most is how do I become more transparent to customers? How do I communicate with them more frequently? Because we’re going to screw up. We’re going to make mistakes. But the reality is they want to hear from us. And then I think the third is to give them the ability to actually engage in real-time.

Chris Hummel:

And so if I’m going to pick one, more than anything else, I would probably go with the digital and social, not just in terms of a website or those kinds of things, but how you can actually start to engage with them through experiences, whether it’s setting up contact with experiences, or whether it’s just communication and engagement. We saw some real massive buying behavior. Again, at United Rentals where a phone call is our lifeblood, in terms of getting reservations.

Chris Hummel:

And we saw the amount of phone calls that were driven by search triple, in the like six months prior to the pandemic, let alone what happened in the pandemic. The volume went up, went down, whatever. But it was so driven by a new behavior that it actually challenged some of our core fundamental beliefs of how we were engaging with our customers.

Philip Guiliano:

I’m going to shift over. We got a little over 50% of people responding. Investments in digital and social data, definitely, content and thought leadership, brand, interestingly. Some of that surprising, some of that, not. We’re definitely finding that investment in brand fairly across the board industry by industry is definitely going up, data, and digital, and social is going through across our client base. That stuff is not surprising. Chiqui, it looks like you might want to say something.

Chiqui Cartagena:

I just wanted to share with everybody that we just released our C-suite challenge, which is a global survey of the C-suite and digital transformation was the number one issue on all C-suite right now. I think this reflects that quite well.

Philip Guiliano:

Bob, back to you. I’m going to ask you to be a futurist, since everybody out there is either planning, or attending, or producing, or leading events. What do you see as the future of events going forward? And what advice would you give people out there in the audience that are watching?

Bob Bejan:

And so, now I look at either two things that at least for us are propelling us forward, if we continue to try and get better and discover what this new medium is and its relationship to live execution. Here’s the two things we’d say.

Bob Bejan:

First, when you look at digital events, the big surprise, at least to us is not only are they much more effective than we expected. And when you start to look at the data of efficacy, and what people appreciate, what they’re digesting, and what they’re picking with them, and the metrics that are important to us, if they’re actually left in many cases way more effective than live events, super interesting. We weren’t expecting that. They’re obviously hugely more inclusive in terms of being able to get the world in into them. And they cost less.

Bob Bejan:

And then the final big one, especially for us in the commitments we’re making in terms of sustainability, this year, it looks like a lot of what we’re doing in digital the space is Microsoft making one of the, if not the biggest contributor to the reduction of our carbon footprint in the world. You go, “Wow.” The digital impact of that, that’s not going to go away. That core is going to be part of what we’re doing moving forward.

Bob Bejan:

And then I think what happens is that tent-pole goes up in the digital world, all inclusive, much more global in its nature. And then companies, and entities, and organizations can execute simultaneously in local and regional live executions that are done either adjacent, or as part of an integrated experience with the digital core. And in some ways you can make it easier to see how it could work that way, especially as you watched the world dial up, dial down, it’s open, it’s not. Things are changing all the time.

Bob Bejan:

And that means, for those of us who used to do big live events, you commit to those things years in advance. It’s hard to justify that from a business point of view now with so much uncertainty, and all of the points I mentioned in the positive of what the digital event world can do. We’re super bullish, and we think that there’s a huge amount of creativity that can be done in that relationship between digital delivery, and then live local and regional execution. And the next three to five years could easily be filled with innovation and creative exploration in that relationship.

Philip Guiliano:

And it also sounds, Bob, like you’re going to even drive more customer intimacy by changing your strategy, as opposed to bringing them together into these big forums, making it much more pointed and focused in an intimate.

Bob Bejan:

No, you’re totally right. And the thing is, it’s one of the kind. The underlying though, like, “Ooh, I didn’t think about that really,” is we all tell ourselves, “Oh, live events are coming back. Everybody loves them. Nothing can replace them. They’re so important.” All true. All true. But not every human being is so into any of those things. And part of the inclusivity that we’re seeing, like the numbers are staggering. We did 6,000 people for bill last year in the live instantiation of the show. This year, we did 197,000 people.

Bob Bejan:

And so you go, “It’s so different.” And it really puts you in this position of going, “Hey, look, this is the way you move forward. This is the way it works.”

Margaret Norton:

Philip, if I could jump in, I have another data point that might be interesting, because we think people traditionally behave in certain ways and behavior will carry on forever. But in February of last year we had about 1500 telehealth visits. Somebody referenced telehealth here. For the last year, we’ve recently surpassed the 2,000,000 mark for telehealth visits for patients. 2,000,000 patients came to us in ways that they had never really thought would work for them, and suddenly they’re working. And so we don’t see that.

Margaret Norton:

We may see some degradation in the numbers of those, but we don’t see that we will fundamentally step away from that. We just have to really be able and ready for our patients to think about how we’re going to care for them in ways that they became really used to, really fast, and kudos to them for that.

Chiqui Cartagena:

Because the pandemic has forced people to adopt some behavior that before they were a little more resistant to. The telemedicine is the perfect example, but DoorDash and online grocery, thank God it was all set up. Because now you’re taking advantage of it. But-

Margaret Norton:

So true.

Philip Guiliano:

No, that’s great. Need is a hell of a driver of change. As we move into 2021, I want to touch on a few things here with Paul and Chris. Paul, you were under quite a lot of pressure in 2020 as advertising dollars shifted. Your business models and extensions of your business were expanding, you made some various strategic moves. You made some acquisitions, you worked on positioning, and messaging, and you know what the company stand for and what the future is.

Philip Guiliano:

Can you talk about how you were able to … For lack of a better phraseology to it, take advantage of 2020 to set yourself up for 2021, even though your industry was one that was actually under pressure.

Paul Suchman:

Sure. And a lot of what I’ll share has been already echoed by the panelists. A lot of these same kinds of strategies. First and foremost, we remained unwaveringly focused on our listeners, and our listeners in the broadcast space, our listeners in the digital space, our listeners in the podcasting space.

Philip Guiliano:

… listeners?

Paul Suchman

Yeah. I’m talking end users, consumers, audience. At the end of the day, we’re an advertising-driven model, but what advertisers come to us for is that audience, is that audience we bring in day after day, after day, to our content, to our experience. And we stay focused on that. Creating content and experiences to really engage with them, and bond with them more than ever. The audio consumption through last year, it just went through the roof. People were actually consuming more audio in more places.

Paul Suchman:

Traditional day parts actually went away. We optimized music formats. We enhanced our sports offering, our talk offering, our news, with new programming, new voices, new content types. And our podcasting business in particular produced some of the most influential and awarded work in the marketplace in 2020. And I think I talked about our news when our new stations delivered already. And at the same time, we stayed totally focused on our clients, and we have to.

Paul Suchman:

We have a lot of different clients. We have large enterprise clients and we have very local clients who may be local to a market or a cluster of markets. And with our larger clients, we help them with new messaging, and creative strategies, and targeting strategies to reach their audiences, our platforms, in really relevant, meaningful, sensitive ways, given all of the headwinds that they were facing.

Paul Suchman:

And with our local clients who had other challenges like staying in business, we helped them with flexible plans, and flexible strategies, and everything they needed as they were keeping their own businesses afloat, because we’re right there in the communities that our local clients are in. At the same time, we looked at our business. We took that moment to look at our business, and we did optimize our messaging, and we optimized the integration of our platform that we were talking about.

Paul Suchman:

But we made some great acquisitions as you noted in the sports betting space, which created a new revenue stream for the company, and also enhanced our overall sports entertainment offering. We locked in a lot of multi-year partnerships with our several clients, and we added key leadership positions in a time when other companies weren’t, to help accelerate growth.

Paul Suchman:

At the end of the day, our leadership team, despite the headwinds that we were facing and with the pressure we were under, continued to invest in our growth and position us for a strong 2021. We did some research too, that I think is worth just quickly mentioning. Because that goes what everybody else did about the immersions factor of audio, and how people actually get immersed with it.

Paul Suchman:

What we found was that audio more than almost any other medium has an immersion factor and an engagement factor that’s earned, because it comes from sources, voices, programming that people know, the word we’ve been using trust, to rely upon. What we did it with our listeners, what we did with our customers, what we did organizationally, and the story we have to tell about content customers in 2021, has really positioned us to accelerate growth as we come out of this.

Philip Guiliano:

That’s great. That’s great. And growth being the last word you used, I want to ask one more question here to Chris Hummel. Growth, it’s basically been your career. At least for the time that I’ve known you, it’s what you’ve been hired to drive and do, and now with your work at the Revenue Institute.

Philip Guiliano:

Can you talk about any advice that you would give to people, going into 2021, uncertain times, how to strategically plan because growth shocker is still on the table for pretty much every company out there, if not survival. What advice would you give people going into 2021, around how to strategically plan for growth in uncertain times?

Chris Hummel:

It’s a great question and all teed it up as a softball, but the research we’ve been doing at the Revenue Enablement Institute suggests that we’re a year in roughly to this pandemic, and as hard as it is, survival was obviously the first thing that everybody was focused on from a business and a personal standpoint. Let’s say from a business standpoint.

Chris Hummel:

But most organizations have figured out, “Am I going to survive or am I not going to survive? I don’t need to live in this new environment.” And so, growth is returning as the number one core purpose. And to obtain that, what’s happening is some interesting things. First of all, people are recognizing that growth is a team sport. Growth is not only marketing growth, is not only sales, it’s not service, it’s pulling it all together.

Chris Hummel:

And a lot of organizations have some challenges in aligning all their C-suite, all their leadership around a core purpose. They can normally do it, but when they actually look at the operations. And so a lot of companies are trying to foster a new HR strategy around this emerging CXO. This is a new generation of leaders that then goes to the second piece. The first part is talent, and mission, and whatnot.

Chris Hummel:

The second is really around understanding the changes in the buyer behavior, and being able to capture those signals and sort of figure out how far do they push. Does it require tinkering? Does it require communications? Is it a brand challenge? Is it something else structural? Are there new opportunities that have come up? But really understanding the buyers, and then mapping your offerings on top of those, or to those, is critical.

Chris Hummel:

And what it leads to, which I think is the most interesting thing coming out of our research, is this idea of a 21st century commercial model where a lot of that tinkering is just not enough anymore. A lot of that operational change, “Hey, let’s do some more campaigns. Let’s shift our spend a little more.” It’s not enough and there’s more appetite now I think, for business model shift. I don’t want to use transformation per se, because it’s not always a transformation.

Chris Hummel:

But whether you see restaurants that have turned to now become a beer delivery, because they’ve got the infrastructure. One of the things that are completely changing with the business is that they’re in, because they’ve found that their assets apply to a different kind of buying behavior. I think my recommendation to the marketeers out there in this is, you have a lot of the skills to help pull all this together, to align the business around a common purpose, and a goal to help understand a comprehensive view of the buyer’s behavior.

Chris Hummel:

And then even to introduce how those new shifts in the business model can generate revenue and drive growth. Because it’s not a short-term thing. This is about now, and this is about the arc going forward several years.

Philip Guiliano:

It’s a great shift into our first question from the audience actually, Chris. I’m actually going to direct it to you, and allow you to continue on that thought stream because it’s … What does innovation mean or look like to you and your company in 2021?

Chris Hummel:

I think it’s obviously … There’s three parts to it. There’s one part which is for me, innovation is always data-driven, and we have so much data. It’s really not so much about capturing the data. It’s about identifying in that data the things that will make a difference. I talked a little bit about signals and understanding the signals, but finding things that are data-driven is one around innovation.

Chris Hummel:

The second is don’t be afraid to move. Meaning, do. Everybody talks about ready, aim, fire. Well, sometimes it’s ready, fire aim. And tinker a little bit. It cannot jeopardize the whole business. But getting out there live and testing new products, new approaches, whether it be new goods you’re offering, or new strategies or whatever, the best way to figure out whether they’re going to work is to test them, and get them out. You can do it to pilots. You can do it in a different number of ways.

Chris Hummel:

And then the other piece is, I think any innovation and it’s a little bit of what Bob was talking about at Microsoft and things they’re doing, is we’ve all I think gone through in this process of innovation, digital, whatever, this view of events. “Well, I’m not going to do physical events. Now I’m going to do remote events. I’m not going to do meetings. I’m not going to do remote meetings.” And we try to replicate basically the physical experience, just using technology.

Chris Hummel:

And instead of just substituting, I think we need to recognize where technology and innovation actually has more challenges and things that it can do better. Events like this were still evolving in how to make them use the vehicle and the medium to be even more powerful, whether it’s in augmented information during the event, or having multiple people to be available at a very short notice, like this August panel and these kind of things. How to use the technology in its native form, not just to replicate what we thought we used to do.

Bob Bejan:

That’s right. And that’s the number one thing we’ve been saying. That’s our biggest learning is that you can’t translate these things. You have to reinvent them in the medium you’re in. And the truth is, the more you try and replicate and do what you did in the live world in a very real way, the more you make people winsome and miss the thing they didn’t have. And so it is strange you put yourself behind the eight ball before you begin. And this notion of emerging new media, not making events, really making interactive television, there was something to it.

Philip Guiliano:

I’d be remiss not to direct this question to you. Paul Matsen, you’ve got an innovation center. What does innovation look like for you in 2021? Where’s the priority?

Paul Matsen:

No, I’d say historically in healthcare, a bunch of the innovation was clinical, medical devices in particular, but also innovation in terms of people looking at pharmaceutical solutions, those types of things. But it shifting for us. We’ve just announced this week, the development of being new health innovation corridor in Cleveland, with the state of Ohio and four other partner institutions. And that’s going to be focused on global and emerging pathogens and human health.

Paul Matsen:

That’s a completely new focus area for the organization. It’s going to be the single largest research investment this year, the Cleveland Clinic. That’s certainly one area for us. It was something that was a division where the pandemic started, but obviously it’s very timely. But for us, innovation extends to other areas, technology of course.

Paul Matsen:

Margaret talked about the explosion of virtual medicine, remote monitoring, which allows us to extend our care into other markets. For example, we monitor under a logical epilepsy patients in the UAE from our own Cleveland, Ohio. And the third form is I would say organizational innovation, things we’ve done in recent years. One was creating the first office of patient experience, to take a unified approach to looking after the patient.

Paul Matsen:

Recently, we created an integrated office of caregiver experience, mirror images of each other because our caregivers play such an important role in care. And then lastly for us, we continue to be innovation and taking our medical model elsewhere in the world. We deliver first academic medical center from the ground up in the Middle East, in Abu Dhabi. And we’re in the process of completing a new hospital opened and started 2020 in London.

Paul Matsen:

Many different prompts for innovation. I think the key is not limited thinking about innovation, but pursued in multiple ways across the organization.

Philip Guiliano:

Definitely. There’s a budget question that came in as well, which is an interesting one. Because I know quite a lot of clients that didn’t actually face the budget pressures from a marketing perspective that they expected to face in 2020. Many of them actually got an all systems go, and actually even more investment in some cases.

Philip Guiliano:

The question is, the pandemic gave CFOs license to devastate B2B budgets in 2020. How will the panel navigate getting a return to more normal levels of marketing investment in 2021 and beyond? Maybe Bob Bejan, Paul Suchman you got something you want to add there.

Bob Bejan:

What I would you say, it’s very interesting. We’re just about to start our next fiscal year planning cycle. And the first thing I would say is what’s the definition of normal? Because if you look a little world that I get to manage and be a part of, we were able to shrink what we were doing in the live events world, but budget-associated with all the work we’re doing.

Bob Bejan:

And in fact, we’re doing more work this year than we did last year, because this stuff is working well for us. But we short the budget like 55%. And so now you go, “Well, if we’re going to keep making this digital core 10% more, it looks like a huge investment in the digital capability world of what we’re doing.” And so it’s just a very different and a very interesting discussion to be having.

Bob Bejan:

Because eight months ago I would have been saying, “Oh yeah. How do you get back to that 55%?” But now it doesn’t seem like the right thing to do at all

Philip Guiliano:

Anyone else have anything to add to that?

Paul Suchman:

I would agree. I would agree with everything Bob here said, and in defense of our CFO, it was not a slash and burn. It was continue to invest, but really focus on the things that are going to deliver the most value. And it actually made us as a marketing team stronger, more precise. It really allowed us to look at everything we were doing, and prioritize, and do less things really, really well, but we weren’t starved for budget. We had less budget, but we made it work harder.

Philip Guiliano:

I think that the question of value in your statement there, because I know in our conversations, and in our work, you know that value isn’t just revenue. It’s strategic position of where it is you’re going, and the value of all of that. I think having a broader picture of value is another piece that comes out of what we’re just saying here, unless I’m wrong.

Philip Guiliano:

I think that right there is probably where we’re going to need to just stop the discussion element of this. I know Chiqui’s got to do things that she wants to say. But, I want to say thank you, first of all, to all of our panelists for being here and sharing your thoughts with the audience, and obviously for everyone that’s attending. I hope you got something out of this.

Philip Guiliano:

There are a few other questions. We’ll get back to those send them out to the group here, and see if anyone has any thoughts they want to share, and see if we can get back to you with that. Thank you everybody. I hope you have a wonderful week. Chiqui, back to you.

Chiqui Cartagena:

Well, thank you so much. I do just want to remind people that this is one of the many things that we do at The Conference Board. We have conferences, we have councils, of course, and I’m just putting up here one that we’re doing in early March that might interest people, building a more civil and just society. This is going to be a two-day conference with C-suite speakers. Brad Swath really trying to address some very necessary conversations around the organizational impact and social change issues which obviously erupted.

Chiqui Cartagena:

The pandemic brought to light a lot of inequities. And our CEO started interviewing other CEOs. And as a result, now we’re going to build out this wonderful conference. And of course, if anybody watching wants to also sponsor a webcast like this one, we’re always open to ideas in the marketing and communications center. And so, I just want to let people know if you’re interested, you can certainly reach out to our team and consider that.

Chiqui Cartagena:

With that, we’re at the top of the hour. I want to wish everybody a wonderful, wonderful day. Thank you all my incredible panelists. Philip, what a great job moderating. And I learned so much. I took like a full page of notes. Thank you again.

Philip Guiliano:

Thank you everybody.