Friday, I was wondering whether Mary Minnick of The Coca-Cola Company is a "sacrificial change agent," a woman who was destined to break the rules, antagonize her colleagues, and push the corporation too far.
Adam Richardson wrote to say that we should perhaps also see Carly Fiorina of HP in this way. Interesting.
When I got thinking about it, I realized I missed two other candidates.
Kerri Martin spent 20 months at Volkswagen as the director of brand innovation. Martin has piloted Mini’s reentry into the US and Marketing Vox says she was "known as a risk taker." She dumped Arnold Boston, the firm responsible for the spectacularly successful "Drivers Wanted" campaign in favor of Crispin Porter & Bogusky. Crispin raised a ruckus with TV spots like the "V-Dub in da haus" (pictured).
Whether Martin can be called a sacrificial change agent is complicated by her relationship with Crispin, the agency she brought to VW without the usual review. (As we have noted before, CMOs have such brief tenures [~20 months] that they are sometimes obliged to bring agencies with them from their prior lives.) It’s hard to tell. Who was the change agent: Martin or Crispin?
It was Crispin for instance who suggested the change of name from Golf to Rabbit. Solman of BrandWeek continues,
Crispen has created many controversial campaigns for Volkswagen in its first year on the business; ads featuring frenetic drivers embracing their "Fast"; imploring GTI riders to "un-pimp" their rides; relaunching the Rabbit with over-reproductive innuendo; offering guitar giveaways for turning cars into mobile amplifiers; and producing shock spots for rubberneckers with on-screener Jetta accident ("Safe Happens").
The other candidate for "sacrificial change agent" status is Julie Roehm, the woman who joined Walmart to serve as its advertising/communications chief. Roehm lasted just 10 months.
In retrospect, this was not a match made in heaven. BusinessWeek calls WalMart "one of America’s most colorless companies." And this is what Roehm says about herself,
I think part of my persona is that I am an envelope pusher. The idea of change in general can be uncomfortable for many people, and my persona as an agent of change can prompt that feeling.
Roehm says Walmart "would rather have had a painkiller [than take] the vitamin of change." (from Berner, as below.)
Riley says Walmart should have known better.
Give me a break. You didn’t know that Julie Roehm is a lightning rod? A change agent? You didn’t know that she had a track record for pushing the envelope in advertising, especially leveraging sex and sexual innuendo?
By this reading, it looks like Walmart was merely naive. The likeliest scenario is perhaps that when Roehm saw how deeply Walmart was going to resist change, and decided to go out with a bang. Her status as a sacrificial player was, in other words, thrust upon her. "Go big or go home" turned into "go big and go home."
Here too the relationship with an agency, in this case Draft FCB, complicates things. Who was the change agent: Roehm or Howard Draft? Was Roehm being run by the agency? Was she being pushed by the agency? Was Walmart firing Roehm to get to Draft FCB?
This much is clear. If someone IS a change agent in a deeply conservation organization, they will need external support. And agency, with the deep creative and strategic pockets, are designed to supply this support. The solitary change agent badly needs a partner in change, and as Tom Peters once said, innovation requires a "freak on the inside and a freak on the outside." The agency serves as the freak on the outside.
There are 5 points (or possibilities) to note here:
1. The notion that some CMOs serve as sacrificial agents is perhaps encouraged by the fact that we have several more candidates to treat as evidence. Whether Mary Minnick, Carly Fiorina, Kerri Martin and Julie Roehm all so qualify may be disputed, but the evidence is suggestive, no?
2. All of these candidates are female, a fact to reckon with in all kinds of ways.
3. One of these is to ask whether female CMOs are more eager to serve as a sacrificial change agent. And if this is the case, what is it about the makeup, the training, or the generational character of these executives that they are more willing to "take the hit"?
4. Another is to ask whether they being set up? Do these women enter the corporation in good faith only to discover that the corporation has no intention of committing to change? Given the choice of being true to their mandate or the corporation, they choose, (more willingly than men?), to be true to the mandate and suffer the consequences. A systematic study of the sacrificial change agent would look at who profits from an outgoing change agent. If it’s always a man, we might have grounds for suspicion. Men are then the beneficiaries of female self sacrifice.
5. The last take-away here has to do with the agency. If there is a new pattern here it a realignment of the agency-corporation relationship. In the old days, the agency would serve as a brain trust, a conceptual innovator, of an organization that could otherwise indulge itself in a "rules and regs" approach to business. In a perfect world, we might have expected this relationship to intensify. Now that the corporation looks increasingly like an Indonesia resort with a tsunami of change at its doorstep, we might have expected it to hope for a deeper relationship to the agency, to rely on it ever more completely.
But that’s not what has happened. The agency world has been displaced and diminished by the new media, new consumers, new marketing. Plus, its future watching abilities are not much changed from what they were 15 years ago. It’s clear many agencies have not stepped up to the innovation challenge. But even if this were not the case, the agency would still be estranged by the new realities of the life of the CMO. To get anything done in their 20 months at the corporation they have to "agency up" (as in "lawyer up"), and this has the effect of putting the agency-corporation relationship at risk.
Ah, the planets of corporation are realigning. What to do with marketing, that inconvenient interface with the world out there, remains a pressing question. And the question is especially pressing for the CMO.
Anonmymous. 2007. VW Marketing Exec Kerri Martin Calls It Quits. Marketing Vox. January 12, 2007. here.
Barbaro, Michael and Stuart Elliott. 2006. Wal-Mart Fires Marketing Star and Agency. New York Times. December 8, 2006. here.
Berner, Robert. 2007. My Year At Wal-Mart: how marketing whiz Julie Roegm suffered a spectacular fall in 10 short months. BusinessWeek. February 12, 2007. here.
(source for the Walmart as "colorless")
McCracken, Grant. 2007. Soul of the Corporation, Scourge of the Corporation. This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics. March 2, 2007. here.
Postrel, Virginia. 1997. The Peters Principles. Reason. October. here. [This interview between Postrel and Tom Peters is the only source I could find for the Peters’ "freak" quote. My wife heard him use the phrase at at Design Management Institute Meeting in (or around) 2ooo. It’s a great interview. ]
Riley, David. 2006. An open letter to Walmart, Julie Roehm and Draft/FCB. Brand New Day: Thoughts on marketing and advertising. BusinessWeek. December 14, 2006. here.
Solman, Gregory. 2007. Kerri Martin’s Abrupt Exit Raises Shops’ Hopes. Adweek. January 15, 2007, p. 7.