Campbell’s CMO Is Taking Over Its Digital Marketing. Why Other Brands May Not Follow Suit

Specialized leadership still important, players say

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Campbell Soup Company has decided it no longer needs a worldwide leader specifically for all things interactive.

That revelation came to light Wednesday when Umang Shah, director of global digital marketing and innovation, announced he left the food brand a few weeks ago to start a consultancy for smaller companies and become acting chief marketing officer at his girlfriend Kalina Gendel's family business, The Gendel Girls, an intimate apparel brand.

"We will have a digital team that will report to the CMO," said Campbell's spokesperson Megan Haney via email, referring to marketing chief Greg Shewchuk. "Digital marketing is a core competency of all our marketers. Umang's role was a global position that will be not be filled. What we're doing is recruiting a team of digital experts with specialist skills to be part of our U.S. marketing team."

In 2014, Shah replaced Campbell's first global head of digital, Adam Kmiec, who left for Walgreens after a couple of years with the soup giant.

Now in comes Shewchuk, who was hired in February from Mead Johnson Nutrition. While the CMO wasn't available for comment, his description on LinkedIn for his time at his last employer may explain why he could take over digital all by himself: "Under my leadership, I made digital core to the entire business at MJN as we transform our current business model to be digitally driven and shift our marketing programs from mass to personalized. This transformation includes establishing key global practices around mobile, search, email, content, ecommerce, data & analytics, social and consumer experience."

Since technology, though, will be but one small part of running Campbell's global marketing, it begs the question: Has digital become such an integral part of everything in marketing that brands no long need a lead specialist? Are we at the point where the CMO can or should also take the digital marketing reins?

Shah, who said he left Campbell's to work with "more nimble brands," doesn't think so. 

"I'm not criticizing Campbell's," Shah said. "Very few global organizations are to the point where all of their marketers are digitally [up to speed]. I think you need a digital leader."

Other marketers we asked agreed with Shah, and they don't expect centralizing digital authority to be a trend among international brands. Companies should not confuse the increased number of people in an organization who are digitally savvy with seasoned online leadership, said Christopher Lehmann, managing director of Landor, a brand consulting firm in San Francisco.

"Just because everyone knows what SEO means doesn't mean they know how to use data to its greatest effect," Lehmann said. "Because they're on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat doesn't mean they know what content and frequency will best express and build their brand."

Monik Sanghvi, chief strategy officer at Organic, offered the following take: "While there may eventually come a time when the role of a digital director is no longer needed, I would be surprised if a majority of brands and companies have reached this point in their digital evolution. Thus, I do not believe the need for a digital director is dying."

Meanwhile, L'Oréal began a program two months ago to educate its many in-house marketers about digital practices such as data management, social media, mobile and programmatic. "It's going to be ongoing, always on," Marie Gulin-Merle, chief marketing officer at L'Oréal USA, said at the time. "The landscape is changing super fast."

Gulin-Merle also oversees digital in the U.S., and her strategy—ramping up on digital expertise in house—sounds similar enough to Campbell's approach that it makes one wonder not only about the future of the digital director role, but also that of digital marketer. After all, shouldn't all marketers be well versed in emerging tech in the near future?

"'It's all just marketing—we've been saying that since the beginning of time," Shah said. But right now, he added, "That's not the reality."

To his point, Subway unveiled a department just last month that entails hiring 150 digital specialists. Dick's Sporting Goods announced this spring that it's taking its ecommerce practices in house. Both brands have dedicated department heads for digital marketing, with Mary Holahan leading efforts for Dick's Sporting Goods while Carman Wenkoff helms that post at Subway.

At any rate, it will be interesting to see whether other big brands follow Campbell's lead when it comes to digital leadership.  

"Ultimately, businesses like Campbell's may reach a point where they believe they no longer need a single individual to lead this effort," Sanghvi remarked. However, he said, "I believe there will continue to be a significant need for digital visionaries, strategists and operational leaders to help businesses maximize their digital advantage." 

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.