Tips from 4 Chief Marketers on Leading Through a Crisis and Beyond

From managing expectations to planning for post-pandemic

Headshot of Heide Palermo

Over the past few weeks, the marketing community has rallied around the importance of empathy, optimism and humanity. We’ve discussed how important it is to not lose sight of these, despite the blocking and tackling we’re all facing at this moment.

So, on the CMO Moves podcast and during recent community discussions, we asked four marketing leaders—Brad Hiranaga, CBO, North America of General Mills; Carla Hassan, global CBO of Citi; Mónica Gil, CMO of Telemundo; and Raja Rajamannar, CMCO of Mastercard—their tips for fellow brand leaders.

From how to talk to your CFO to scenario planning for the future, these leaders offered steadfast advice on leading through this crisis, while looking ahead to what’s next.

Focus on humanized growth

“Companies acting with deep empathy and evolving the way they prioritize their consumers—by putting them first and truly creating added-value solutions—are the ones that will not only lead through this crisis but will be best positioned for growth beyond it. This humanized-growth approach is how marketers should be taking action. So now, the critical question that we should ask on every single brief is, ‘What human problem are we solving?'” —Brad Hiranaga, CBO, North America, General Mills

Be a trusted source for employees

“What we’ve realized is that now more than ever, internal communications have become vital and quite frankly, a lifeline for so many of our employees. And employers, in many ways, have now become the most trusted source along with doctors for your employees, whereas before that may have not been the case. So we’ve seen a real shift in the level of trust that our employees have felt from management and from leadership as a result of Covid-19.” —Mónica Gil, CMO, Telemundo

Co-market to save dollars

“If you’re cutting down your marketing dollars, particularly in the context of performance marketing, what will happen? That’s where I see opportunities for companies to come together and do co-marketing. And co-marketing works brilliantly because collectively, what multiple companies can deliver as a value proposition to any audience is far higher than what an individual company can do by itself. You can move consumers into purchasing from this consortium, so to speak, of these businesses which come together to serve. You can actually save marketing dollars. You can also be more compelling to the consumers in that sense.” —Raja Rajamannar, CMCO, Mastercard

Seek input beyond your own echo chamber

“Especially now, have yourself a ‘brain trust.’ Who are the people that you can trust, that can say to you, ‘that might be a good thing to do, but it’s not the right thing for you to do.’ Find people who you can bounce ideas off of so you’re not sitting in your own echo chamber. They may be people you know or people from a totally different industry, but give yourself like four to six people who can take you out of your teams and your current world right now as you’re evaluating ideas.”
Carla Hassan, Global CBO, Citi

Be proactive with leadership

“You should also be completely in tune with your CEO and CFO and not be tone-deaf. If you go and talk to them about the brand values, the brand attributes at this point in time, you’ll be thrown out of the room. They are fighting the fire. Revenues are dropping like crazy, so they want to tighten the belt. If you can help generate revenues in the short order, by all means, have clear plans that are demonstrable and credible. … Proactively say: Here is what I’m planning to do, and here is why it is critical that during a crisis moment, you don’t go dark.”
Raja Rajamannar

Be empathetic

“It’s really critical to practice listening at this moment because, especially if you don’t have the luxury of doing a video call, all you have is somebody’s voice. It’s important to hear their tonality—you can pause a little bit and ask how they’re doing. They might not want to share, but if they do, your conversation may take a very different track. And I often see that when we’re sitting in meetings, we’re listening, but listening with the intent to respond. We need to just literally listen and take in what people are saying.”
Carla Hassan

Be open to new ways of working

“One of the things that is going to definitely change is how we do meetings and things that we never thought we could do working from home. When would you ever think producing a show and having everybody working from home would have been possible? And I think one of the key things that is going to change is we will probably start thinking about how you tier people coming back. Maybe you bring 50% of the employees back at one time, or maybe you alternate dates and rotate. That is something that we are seriously considering.”
Mónica Gil

Plan for future needs

“There are so many opportunities that are now laid out in front of us, and people are more open to thinking and doing things differently than I’ve ever seen in my career. That’s a gift that I think we’ve been given to help push forward things that we know we should be doing. … And clearly, there’s a balancing act between reacting to what’s happening today and being proactive with those opportunities in front of us. The proactivity for us has been something that we’ve tried to focus on as a leadership team to start to think differently about what behaviors this is going to change for us as a company and how we can start to scenario plan against it.”
Brad Hiranaga

@heidefaith Heide is the senior director of brand community at Adweek and Editor of the Inside the Brand series, including the CMO Moves and Gen ZEOs podcasts, Innovators, Challengers, and Women Trailblazers. She also leads Adweek's Innovators Council.