Heineken USA CMO Jonnie Cahill Provides Career Advice for Aspiring CMOs

Posted on by Kaylee Hultgren

While discussing Dos Equis’ college football tailgate campaign with Heineken USA CMO Jonnie Cahill recently, we took a moment to record his thoughts on career-building for aspiring chief marketers and what makes a successful CMO in today’s highly-competitive business environment. Following is his best advice for marketers seeking to advance their careers.

Heineken USA CMO Jonnie Cahill:

1. You’ve got to do brilliant work for the consumer. The trap that many mid-level marketers fall into is, what’s the work that my boss wants, or my CEO wants? Or my CFO wants? They’re important stakeholders, but your ultimate stakeholder is the consumer. And the work wins. So if you do fabulous things that are insightful and thoughtful and engaging, that will accelerate your career because that will accelerate business growth. Manage the work—rather than the other C-suite leaders—is very important.

2. A high degree of curiosity and authenticity. You have to be intellectually curious about, why are people doing what they’re doing? Not what are they doing, but why—and to decode that and accept that it’s a discipline that is half art, half science. You will have setbacks and not everything will be perfect all the time.

3. What I’ve learned is that I control my effort. I control my willingness to try harder. I don’t control outcomes. As a CMO, it’s almost like being a hitter in baseball. Nobody bats a thousand, so you’re going have misses. It’s about how you learn from those, and how you react to them and stay resilient, because not everything everybody does is perfect. And not every ad break is full of perfect execution. It’s an imprecise discipline sometimes. So, be yourself, manage the work, delight the consumer first—then your colleagues—and accept that every now and again the gods of marketing are going to give you a little setback. You can work in disciplines that are very precise and you get a daily scorecard. We don’t get that.

4. The other thing I would say is… joy. As CMOs, we have the best jobs in the world. Ok, there are Tuesdays, and there are budget meetings and there are things to do, but we also have to be thankful and grateful, and joyful about having the privilege to work on a brand that was there before you and will be there after you. Really, your only job is to leave it better than when you got it. Because you’re just passing through, as a CMO. It’s older than you. Maybe not with a startup, but Heineken’s 150 years old. I get to have a moment and a mini-chapter there, but in the big picture, my chapter’s not important. It’s about Heineken or it’s about Dos Equis. So, it’s just being thankful and joyful that you get to work on these brands, and respecting that they are way bigger than we are.

Editor’s note: For more advice from the C-suite, see below for additional strategies featured in our Marketers on Fire series.

SheaMoisture CMO Taydra Mitchell Jackson:

If you’re younger in your career in marketing, understand all the aspects [of it.] Marketing is such a broad term. People get really excited about the flash, about seeing the glamor. But there’s a lot around analytics and data, making really insightful decisions and being able to understand numbers and what drives a business—those building blocks.

Don’t be afraid to pivot. Don’t be afraid to take opportunities which may appear to be off the beaten path, because every experience that you have when you get to this level and to this seat serves you. The path is not linear. Don’t be fearful of not walking a straight path, but take those opportunities which may—at the time—be giving you a set of different experiences. Embrace those, because it all works together to create a base of knowledge and expertise that serves you when you’re leading people and teams.

Mitchell Jackson shares additional career advice here.

Eric Jagher, CMO and SVP of UScellular:

Obviously the digital landscape has become more and more important over the years. A lot of marketers are figuring out how to address this notion of a cookie-less future. We’re certainly talking about it internally. My advice is to not lose focus on the quantitative aspects of marketing and how important financial analysis is to becoming a really strong marketer. It’s an important skillset, and the people I see who are most successful around me have that skillset set as well.

In marketing it’s easy to want to challenge the other person in your category. One thing we’ve learned in this process is that sometimes the right thing to do is challenge something bigger than the category. There are other great examples. Dove didn’t go challenge Irish Spring, or other soaps. They challenged this notion of toxic beauty. Chipotle doesn’t go against Taco Bell. They go challenge GMOs and freshness, and make that their stance. We’ve learned a lot through some of those examples: that sometimes the best thing to challenge is something bigger.

Read Jagher’s full Marketers on Fire profile here.

Anywhere Real Estate CMO Esther-Mireya Tejeda:

The single biggest currency for any CMO is understanding the user—whether you’re B2B and your user is other businesses, or you’re B2C and your user is the consumer. Having that deep, granular understanding of who your people are, how different they are, and what they want is the foundation for any great marketing. Period. Understand your customer with a level of precision that exceeds anything that you have done in the past. Because the closer you can get to your customer, the more successful you can be at just about every aspect of a comprehensive marketing strategy and operation.

Watch a replay of Tejeda’s LinkedIn Live discussion on the evolution of the CMO role here.


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