Source and credit: TMS

A rich conversation

about The Marketing Leaders Programme

Six years ago I was lucky enough to take part in the Marketing Leadership Programme. It’s stuck with me ever since, so the chance to reconnect at the recent 20th anniversary event was welcome.  

The Programme provides a fantastic foundation for what it takes to be a leader in our industry. In my year, we covered many angles, from what businesses expect of marketing leaders to the importance of staying in touch with trends and customer insight, along with techniques to help build networks and high-performing teams.

The breakfast event was a useful reminder of some of the key principles, with a knowledgeable and experienced panel diving into topics around leadership, sustainability and the future of technology.

Picking five key takeaways from such a rich conversation wasn’t easy, but since that’s the brief…

  1. Sophie Devonshire set the scene, reminding us that “we live in one of the most daunting times in history.” As marketers, we must keep one foot in the foundations and the other in the future. Now more than ever we must speak the language of the board and understand what value they need us to create. But we also need to see what’s coming and be prepared to adapt to it.
  2. Mark Curtis gave more context via Accenture’s “Life Trends” research.  He painted two versions of the future based around the potential use and development of new technologies such as AI.  One option is pretty grim, where a reliance on technology pushes us towards mediocrity, reducing creativity to the lowest common denominator. But he also painted a more positive alternative, where marketers playing a critical role. If CMOs build ever closer relationships with CTOs as Gen AI evolves, “the technology will become part of the fabric of brands,” said Mark. There’s a huge opportunity to shape its use and to use the insights to shape customer experiences for the better.
  3. Karen Wilkinson talked about the role marketing can play in steering the value that businesses can create from AI.  In her eyes, our role is to take the arguments about AI from a customer perspective to the board.  For a visual brand for example, it could be about using AI to inspire people in a task that many find daunting, such as designing their home.
  4. The most unusual advice of the day came from Keith Weed about the use of AI: “Be a lurker”! Just as no one would only ever listen to radio and try to produce a TV ad, we all need to start to “hang around it, to make ourselves smart first and get to the future first”. He warned that we are unlikely to have the luxury of time though, with rapid developments in new tech. 
  5. Finally, Karen Wilkinson reminded us that, however overwhelming the topic of AI feels for the future of our industry, we can’t let it overshadow our role in sustainability.  In her words, “We need to rethink consumption, that’s what got us into this mess”.

My overarching reflection was that marketing leaders need to constantly debate the role and purpose of our discipline. But we are doing so in a world of ever-increasing change and uncertainty. So it’s on us to work out what it means to be a leader and to equip ourselves with the best possible skills, knowledge and networks. 


Written By Piers Newson-Smith, Director of Brand Strategy and Planning at EY UK

Published on 26 February 2024

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