Even with a long history and visible presence at Cannes, launching CLX, a new experiential-led area that showcased the best in immersive marketing, MediaLink curiously remains one of the more mysterious organizations at Lions. 

“I am fixing that, let me tell you,” laughs ‘MediaLink’s CMO Dana Anderson as we sit down at the Cannes Hotel. “Most people think of us a company that introduces people to other people, but ‘we’re more of an intersection between Madison Avenue and technology. The way we help marketers falls into six lanes of disciplines: data and tech, brand transformations, media, diligence, entertainment and agency optimization.”

Anderson’s specialization is MediaLink’s brand transformation department, where she uses her wealth of marketing knowledge to help CMOs deliver large, multidisciplinary brand-led projects. She is an industry visionary with a glittering track record when it comes to delivering high-profile transformational projects. She previously ran marketing at Mondelez International, and also served as CEO at both DDB and FCB Global.

She talks about organizational changes that marketers can make to become more effective.

MediaLink’s primary objective is to help marketing departments become more effective; with that in mind, what do you see as the main challenges facing CMOs?

The reason MediaLink calls ourselves a transformation group and not a marketing group is because we always say, ”last year is the least amount of change you’re ever going to experience.” Marketers are in a tricky position right now. They have so much to look after and things are moving fast so that they also have to learn new skills continually. 

The common perception out there is that the average CMO is only ever really at a place for three years. Well, if that’s the case, then we’re finding that the first year is critical. Many structures need putting in place. Not only do you have to change the strategy, but you also have to figure out procedural changes, like how to make an electronic SOW system or how you bill your clients. They also need to get out there and put points on the board.

How do CMO’s need to adapt to meet these challenges?

I think more people in marketing need to see their roles as more of a long play. CMOs should have a three-year contract, at least. Some work, especially content work, can’t possibly pay out even within a twelve-month framework. You’re running two journeys at the same time. One is the immediate sales journey, the other is the long-term funnel. It helps when you have time to accomplish both. 

Conventional wisdom tends to see the CMOs role as more of a firefighter, dropping in to solve a problem and rotating out.

That’s true, but I also think it’s causing a bit of a problem as CMOs move around so much. I can see the point of it. Giving people two years here and two years there is an excellent way of rounding people out, but there are benefits of having people who can bring longevity to the role.

For example, when I was on the agency side of things, I worked on Miracle Whip for eight years. During that time the leadership changed every two years, so we ended up being the knowledge keepers of the brand. Even that isn’t true anymore; agencies are way too volatile, and they move around too much as well. I think this lack of continuity means that the retention of insights and knowledge is becoming a big problem. 

Haven’t insights and analytics departments moved into this role?

Perhaps, but I’m seeing organizations starting to have conversations that begin with the question, ”Are we measuring the right thing?” If you’re living by a metric that isn’t truthful, then you’re just playing a game. 

”How can I get insights actually out of the door?” is one of the most common requests we get at MediaLink. It involves a lot more than just collecting data. You need to look at everything from how the company is structured, where it sits in an organization and where the information goes. You also have to ask what kind of people you need and how to define an insight as an organization. 

If you redefine an insight, not as a data outcome but as a fact that can lead to a business outcome, suddenly everything is different. It’s also crucial for marketers to use hypothesis in their work so that they can come to useful conclusions and not just notch everything up as a quirk of the consumer.

How do marketers go about figuring out what a useful metric looks like, opposed to a bad one?

I used to have a dashboard of twenty-six indicators on one piece of paper. I mean, talk about mouse type! You’d need a magnifying glass to read it. To this day, I couldn’t tell you what was measured though. I think people just wanted to look at everything laid out on a page and see if there was anything on there that told them if things were going up or down. 

Like many people, I think we were attempting to use analytics to tell us which metric, out of all of this data we were collecting, was telling us the truth. Another problem is that these established metrics are for large data companies, and they’re not designed to show tactical-level events. They are not right for everyone. I like to call them numerical fig leaves; they cover up more than they show.

In the end, the answer to what makes a useful metric very much depends on the particular industry that you operate in. It takes a lot of backward work to figure out a good indicator of success and growth.

In your experience, what are the major stumbling blocks that marketers need to overcome?

Creativity is a sticking point. Not in the sense of coming up with creative campaigns, but how to teach people in a different way. I think companies have realized that you can’t be fast and agile if you aren’t willing to take the appropriate risks. You have to accept [some] risk and failure. 

It’s especially true in process-orientated businesses like banking and pharma where the way of working is intrinsically cautious. Bringing in a more collaborative approach is a great way to bring those processes back in, but it can be a slow process. It’s a case of biting off a little bit, realizing that you haven’t died yet and going back for another little chunk.