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Bravery Must Be at the Heart of the Modern Marketing Leader

By Gemma Greaves | 8.13.18

Our industry is beginning to push boundaries, tackle taboos, and have uncomfortable conversations. We’re thinking about the humanity in everything we do. This new narrative is part of a sea change: Marketing leaders aren’t just trying to grow their brands, they’re working to make the world a better place.


For me, it started in January 2017 when I became chief executive of The Marketing Society, a global network of senior marketers. I needed to be brave and I decided I would use the opportunity to encourage others to be brave, too. The first step was about bringing my whole self to work.


Since then I’ve been seeing everything we do through a brave lens. And encouraging our members to do the same. We’re talking on a global stage about issues such as ageism, bad leaders, disability, failure, neurodiversity, race, and sexual harassment. This is the stuff that really matters. There’s a whole host of invisible issues that we need to make visible. It’s been humbling and exciting to watch our brave agenda ripple through the industry.


As a leader, making a difference starts with being brave enough to be your whole self at work and encouraging a culture where other people can be themselves. The Marketing Society is creating safe spaces to enable marketing leaders to have uncomfortable conversations on the topics that allow this positive change to happen. Additionally, we’ve teamed up with nonprofit Time to Change to educate chief marketers on how to remove stigmas around mental health in the workplace.


Marketing is about changing perception

This past May, at the Festival of Media in Rome, I was inspired by Caroline Casey, Ph.D., a remarkable woman who is changing the way business leaders and brands think about disability. After spending the early part of her career at Accenture disguising the fact she was registered blind, she decided that it was time to not only bring her whole true self to work, but also to overhaul stereotypes. As she said: “Labels are for jam jars.”


In India, Karthi Marshan, marketing head of Kotak Mahindra Bank and one of our board members, told us how his brand’s campaign, “If money grew on trees,” flipped his country’s conventions on their head. The ad tells the story of a father saving money for his daughter’s education and his son’s wedding, rather than the other way around.


And many of you will already be familiar with the way Mars has rewritten the rule book on how to embrace diversity in communications with humanity, brilliance, and a huge dose of humor. “If we’re not brave, we’ll become obsolete,” said Mitch Oliver, global corporate brand and purpose director at the consumer packaged goods company and one of our board members.


The new marketing quest

Marketers are on a mission. We don’t just have an opportunity to make the world a better place, we also have a responsibility to do so. Many marketing leaders are already changing the way we hire, the way we lead our teams, the way we build our brands. This isn’t just about changing the way our brands communicate to society, it’s also about rebuilding our organizations from within.


We all need to change our recruitment policies, overcome unconscious bias, embrace people’s differences. It might not be easy, but it’s the right thing to
do. And we know that diverse teams, talents, and skills produce better
commercial results.


Because the more you make the invisible visible, the more you can have a bigger impact. And we, as marketers, are uniquely placed to make this change. We are the voice of the customer, growth drivers, skilled influencers of other stakeholders.


These changes start with bravery and the power of caring about what you do. Making the invisible visible also requires the important conversations we’re
having today; discussions where we’re sharing our biggest issues, talking about what really matters, and examining ways to overcome challenges and make the changes that matter most.


Find the other people, like you, who care and discuss what you can do to facilitate change. Together we can make a difference. It’s time to start doing, as well as talking.


Adapted from “Bravery at the heart of new marketing leaders’ 

mission,” featured on Raconteur. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author

As chief executive of The Marketing Society, Gemma Greaves has led its Brave agenda on a global scale. She is an advocate of bringing your whole self to work and is on a mission to tackle taboos and create comfort-able spaces to have the uncomfortable conversations that matter. Gemma launched the Marketing Society’s initiative Marketing4Good, which has helped over 150 charities, and transformed it to Marketing4Change as a result of the Marketing Society’s work to remove the stigma of discussing mental health issues in the workplace by creating safe spaces.

Gemma founded Cabal, a hand-picked club of people who do good together. In 2016 she became the first female president of the Solus Club in its 90-year history. Find Gemma online at @gemmahgreaves