In the past, CMOs were often overlooked as candidates for the CEO role, with the thinking being that executives with more traditional business experience and backgrounds in finance, operations or logistics were better suited to run an organization.
But today, many CMOs are more than qualified to fill the chief executive role, with deep experience in digital business data analytics and thinking creatively to connect with customers and achieve goals. No one knows this better than Andy England, CEO of National CineMedia, the leader in cinema advertising and innovative movie experiences, and former CMO of MillerCoors, LLC.
Chief Executive spoke with England about the value that a CMO brings to the CEO role, how a CMO’s expertise with digital advertising/marketing and unique perspective makes him/her the ideal CEO in an ever-changing digital world and how his role is similar—and different—from his time as a CMO.
England’s past CMO experience informs his current role as National CineMedia CEO
I was a CMO for a long time—nearly 10 years between Coors and MillerCoors. But for the last five years I think of that role, I was also responsible for strategy and planning. So I think the first thing I point out is that I probably use my strategy and planning experience more than my CMO experience in terms of deriving the strategy of National CineMedia, and working with the board, working with the people to do that both in terms of the board and board leadership team, and reaching out to customers and understanding how they view our business and driving that through planning. So that’s been as important a role if not more so than my marketing experience.
Now, with that said, I think seeing things from an advertiser’s perspective, which of course I was before is certainly very helpful in terms of I spend a lot of time thinking about our media plans, how best to reach out to all the target audiences with the messages that we had in mind. And, essentially, that’s what we in the business are doing for our customers. We’re looking to help them reach their target audience. So I think having been on the other side of that fence, having cinema in context is certainly helpful.
It’s also interesting that the last business I worked for, MillerCoors, was at the time, a joint venture. For the 7 years I was CMO of MillerCoors, it was a joint venture of Molson Coors out of Denver, and SABMiller being out of London. And that’s important because these businesses [at National CineMedia] were originally a joint venture of AMC, Regal, and Cinemark and in 2007 it did an IPO. But this behaves in many ways, and its board is made up very much like a joint venture. And so having had experience of working in a joint venture I think was very helpful.
“I believe in working collaboratively to create and execute strategies.”
I think my experience on the leadership team was certainly very helpful. My experience in working with both public companies, and having presented to investors from both public companies I think was certainly very important. Any marketer should be focused on the growth agenda. And obviously, that’s what the board wants from me in this role. But I think there are many other aspects of being part of a leadership team, particularly when it comes to the joint venture, that would directly applicable to what I’m doing here.
Technology and data are driving the modern advertising business
It’s certainly very clear to me as I walked into this role that, yes, we’re a media business, and so the fundamental things we care about are inventory—what inventory do we have, how well utilized is it, what CPM are we deriving from it?
But we also needed to start thinking about other things, like how well supported with data are we? Do we know exactly who’s in our auditoriums at the time? And how can we build digital ad inventory that compliments this experience? So that’s been a big part of the focus of the company, building out a digital organization that is very focused on the product development. So we purchased the business last summer called the Fantasy Movie League, which is a movie-related game. About a month or six weeks ago, we launched movie arcade which augmented reality games that get played in the auditorium, and they’re app-based, so it requires you to download an app on your mobile phone, and you get to play these augmented reality games on the big screen using your mobile phone.
And so, we have all sorts of products that we’re developing both complimentary digital ad inventory and enable us to get much more data on who’s in the auditoriums actually watching our stuff. So obviously, a lot of those ideas certainly from my point of view were informed by my experience as a marketer in terms of what it is that people are looking for, what data that people need, what digital ad inventory are they looking to buy, that kind of thing. So it’s certainly helpful from that point of view.
The evolution of England’s leadership style
I think we all learn from leaders we worked for, and I can certainly point to leaders I’ve worked for where I thought, “Yeah, I’m not sure I do it that way,” and I’ve learned from people I’ve worked for where I’ve thought, “That’s really effective.” You know, that really works. And I think my leadership style has evolved from those various different experiences. And I would say that I very much believe in transparency, that’s why we spend a lot of time working on our strategy in my first six-month in terms of what the company should be focused on doing. I worked with the board and leadership team. And then when we finished the strategy, we shared it with the whole company. I said, “This is what we’re trying to get done and here’s what we need to achieve in order to deliver our vision.” And so I shared that with the entire company. In fact, people in the company tend to refer to it as “the mouse pad,” because one of the ways in which we distributed it is we literally put out a computer mouse pad and gave everyone that mouse pad.
So I believe in working collaboratively to create and execute strategies. And I believe in transparency around what those are. I want to make sure the board understands and I want to make sure the company understands what we’re trying to get done. And when we meet as a company in our quarterly all hands meetings, we refer back to, “Here’s what we’re trying to get done,” and “Here’s the progress we’ve made against it.” Not just in terms of revenue and profit, but in terms of actual tangible change towards those goals. So, that’s how I like to lead. And I’ve really evolved that strategy from what I’ve seen work and what I believe is the most effective way to run a company in this millennium.