CMO 2.0 Conversation with Ted Smyth, EVP, Corporate Affairs at The McGraw-Hill Companies

Written by on March 18, 2011 – 2:23 pm -

smyth-100If you want to meet a truly insightful CMO 2.0, meet Ted Smyth, the Executive Vice President, Corporate Affairs at the McGraw-Hill Companies. Ted has a really interesting background that started with a 15 year long  career as a senior Irish diplomat. He then switched over to the world of business by joining Heinz, where he spent 20 years before joining McGraw-Hill 2 years ago. One of the main lessons learned from this diverse background is that companies have to embrace performance with purpose – you don’t want to achieve profit goals at the exclusion of what’s good for society. Young people especially, will not want to leave their persona’s at the company’s front door, they will want to continue to do good for society while being at work. Another obvious benefit of mixing do-good with company performance  is that as a company you will increase the passion of your employees in the context of their work – which is clearly a win-win proposition.

We quickly delved into the topic of innovation, a hot topic at McGraw-Hill, where many of the industries in which they operate are undergoing tectonic shifts, and many of their businesses are going through the classic innovator’s dilemma. Innovation and customer focus are two major initiatives at McGraw-Hill. They strive to delight customers and prospects, and seek out people who are brilliant, courageous, curious, competitive and driven to do so – both inside and outside the organization. Innovation at McGraw-Hill is both a grass roots as well as a top down initiative, and celebrating wins, benchmarking themselves against other innovators, and developing an understanding of societal needs is all part of their culture of innovation. Ted is a firm believer that innovation needs to be structured and attached to people’s work routine. It needs to be disciplined to succeed and you always have to be on the lookout to not just innovate according to your capabilities, realizing that sometimes you need to upgrade your capabilities to develop what customers want.

Next we talked about education and learning, an important part of McGraw-Hill’s business, and a perfect example of what Ted meant when he talked about achieving business success while also doing good for society. Learning and education are clearly becoming digital activities that can help fix the current system, which is failing our kids – with kids who are slower than average falling behind and those who are faster than average getting bored. Digital courseware helps alleviate these problems. In digital environments, teachers and educators are freed up to become coaches with the ability to provide one-on-one help for the kids. While digital learning can remove some of the social barriers that sometimes inhibit learning (e.g., humiliation for not getting it), digital learning needs to be a very social/collaborative activity in order to succeed.

We then talked about the changes in how people consume content and where they get their buying recommendations from, and how that impacts marketing. The way McGraw-Hill thinks about marketing and advertising has obviously changed, with much more activity shifting towards  thought leadership and relevance in social media. Just like other Hyper-Social Organizations, McGraw-Hill realizes that you can only ensure consistency across all the different touch points that you have with your customers by living your mission and values. They have a very clear mission - need for knowledge, need for capital, need for transparency -, and a set of values that are easy to live by – objectivity, integrity, candor, diversity (especially of thought), and independence.  These simple concepts unite all employees across all divisions and help drive consistent decision-making across different markets with different customers.

Ted finished the conversation with two words of wisdom for marketers – we need to introduce more humor and emotions in communications and better articulate great societal causes. In closing he quoted some lines from an Irish poem by Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney from the Canon of Expectation that got recited at a St. Patrick’s Day event he attended the day before our interview: “I yearn for hammerblows on clinkered planks, the uncompromised report of driven thole-pins, to know there is one among us who never swerved from all his instincts told him was right action,who stood his ground in the indicative, whose boat will lift when the cloudburst happens.” That is where we as individuals, communities and companies need to be, we need to stand our ground in the indicative, and our boat will lift when the cloudburst happen. We need firmness of purpose and be able to express it emotionally, poetically and humorously – that is where communications needs to be in order to be effective in this cluttered world.

What a great way to close a conversation with a truly great human being. Thank you Ted!

Other topics we touched on:

  • The importance of the fundamentals of conflict resolution in business
  • The role of training in fostering innovation
  • The balance between understanding unmet needs and prospects vs existing customers needs
  • The importance of serendipity in innovation
  • The lessons that can be learned from game designers in education
  • The need to bring down silos in stimulating innovation and learning, both in education and businesses, and the importance of social networking in doing so
  • Generational differences in learning
  • The importance of content curation in the publishing industry
  • The dynamics of the current knowledge economy

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CMO 2.0 Conversation with Eran Barak, SVP of Marketing and Community Strategy at Thomson Reuters

Written by on March 16, 2011 – 6:18 pm -

eran-barakMy CMO 2.0 Conversation with Eran Barak, the SVP of Marketing and Community Strategy at Thomson Reuters was a good way to restart the series.

Eran has been involved with social technologies for a very long time, dating back to the precursor of ICQ (sold to AOL) when he was in college. He joined Thomson Reuters in 2004, just about the time when blogs and podcasts were becoming very popular – turning everyone into a content creator, and potentially a competitor. He quickly realized that social media was a great way to interpret content – and not just a way to syndicate/filter user generated content. Using the “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” game show analogy, Eran described how social media allows financial analysts to now have three lifelines instead of one – call on experts, call on people they trust, or rely on the crowd to analyze situations.

It’s very clear that for Thomson Reuters, Social Media is all about the social and not about media – an interesting perspective coming from a company with deep media roots. They use social media to connect their customers with one another, and not to try to raise awareness about their company in the markets they operate in.

At Thomson Reuters they take the social seriously,  applying lessons learned from the wold of epidemiology and sociology to their sales and marketing processes. Specifically they leverage the friendship paradox to penetrate accounts and to make their marketing messages go viral. The friendship paradox says that if you recommend a friend, that person will be more connected (i.e., have more friends) than yourself. So by having their sales people ask prospects to recommend others within their organization that they should talk to, they get closer to the center of decision making than by navigating through the traditional hierarchies. Thinking about the social in business outside of social media is a trend that we increasingly see happen within successful organizations. Humans have always been social, but for some reason we leave our social being at the front door of our companies. Bringing that back in business the way Thompon Reuters does it with their sales force is a powerful business driver.

The two “must have” criteria for the social to succeed in financial related businesses, according to Eran, are trust (knowing that the person you are talking to is indeed who she claims to be) and security of the interaction between people (knowing that what I am talking about and sharing will only go to who I want it to go to).

We also talked about risks associated with social media and how it is better to deal with them by educating people and make them risk intelligent rather than developing policies and rule books to try to control every possible risk contingency.

Every industry is faced with accelerating change, but the ones in which Thomson Reuters operate are seeing their core foundations shift. The innovator’s dilemma is not just a periodic occurrence, it’s a constant. Eran talked about how you innovate in an environment like that – by hiring really smart people, allow them to do crazy things, and by developing a sound acquisition strategy. At Thomson Reuters, they also leverage social media to crowdsource business and product ideas with customers.

We wrapped up the conversation by talking about the fundamental changes that are happening in marketing. What is important to Thomson Reuters’ marketing is making sure that they develop content that travels among their customers and prospects. Eran truly believes that the messages that you put out in the marketplace need to be short and simple – so people can remember them and repeat them in conversations. You need to be able to distill your value proposition to one or two sentences. If you want to turn your customers into word of mouth engines, the story needs to be so unique and compelling that people want to tell their friends. If they don’t retell your story, your marketing dollar stops with the few people that are listening to you. Spending on traditional, old school advertising and marketing programs is something Eran really cannot wrap his head around in this day and age. Marketing needs to embrace simplicity and differentiate on the basis of emotion.

Eran, who truly deserves the CMO 2.0 title,  ended the conversation with some final and very valuable words of wisdom for fellow marketers – when thinking of social media, don’t start with social media (e.g., we need a Twitter feed or a Facebook page). Think through what your strategy is and then see if you can leverage social media as part of that, and ask yourself whether you can develop a message that is compelling to the point that people will want to retell it to all their friends.

In a lot of ways not all that different from what we say in our book The Hyper-Social Organization: find you tribes and what makes them tick, and engage them where they hang out.

Other things we discussed include:

  • Social media in heavily regulated markets
  • The importance of having social media policies that are encouraging rather than discouraging
  • How you keep a good balance between providing high quality professional content and being a curator for user-generated content and how to use social filtering to deal with the increasing “infobesity”

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