Escape Zoom: Does your ad sales team speak CFO lingo? Insight from industry leaders

In times of mass economic uncertainty, it’s vital to understand how to speak to those who hold the purse strings. For ad sales teams, being able to speak the language of a CFO is often the difference between success and failure. 

Earlier this month, before the new wave of Covid restrictions put a gloomier filter on business outlooks, Propeller Group hosted an Escape Zoom session discussing this very issue. The session was opened with remarks from our guest speaker, City AM’s Analyst of the Year Ian Whittaker, who shared his perspective on the factors and fears which influence a CFO’s decision making process – read a summary of Ian’s thoughts here

But what of the rest of our ensemble of industry leaders? Picking up on Ian Whittaker’s open remarks, Propeller Group Chairman Martin Loat was keen to ascertain our guests thoughts on how different sectors of advertising would recover, if they felt advertising could be shifted from the P&L column into CapEx – and get a sense of their own perspectives and experiences with selling to a CFO. 

Guests in our latest Escape Zoom included:

Jeremy Hine, UK CEO,  MullenLowe Group 

Zack Sullivan, Chief Revenue Officer, Future Publishing

Chris Maples, Agency Lead, Auto-Trader 

Caroline Fenner, Group Advertising Director, Dennis 

Kathryn Jacob, CEO, Pearl & Dean

David Buttle, Commercial Global Marketing Director, Financial Times

Nigel Clarkson, Global Chief Revenue Officer, Hivestack

Joanna Lawrence, Managing Director, Strategy & Client Development, The Telegraph

Zack Sullivan, Chief Revenue Officer, Future Publishing

I would agree with Ian and S4 Capital’s ‘K’ shaped projection – where some sectors bounce back quickly whilst others face difficulties for a longer period of time – however the narrative from some media groups  has been a little bit defensive. Now we’re out of the Q2 nadir we should move back onto the front foot.

Brands are now seeing the opportunity to communicate and grow their market share. [At Future,] we’ve tried to build our sales story around adjusting to the new structures – and redefining your [is that client or Future itself?] business to fit these new structures. 

Take for example the changing economics around commuting. We’ve won lots of business with cycling clients who are looking to take advantage of changing consumer habits as people travel more locally. This frames the conversation in a macro perspective that speaks to CFOs and shows more long-term thinking. 

Jeremy Hine, UK CEO,  MullenLowe Group 

CMOs are more commercially astute than ever before. Every department must know how to fight for their share of the company wallet – and so must be able to substantiate what they are doing clearly. 

Everyone starts with an annual plan and objectives, however this year, that plan has been ripped up entirely. In our current environment, a CFO must allocate a trimmed budget and advise you to spend it wisely. Procurement naturally plays a key role in this relationship – it is a bridge that keeps the CMO focussed and ensures that the CFO gets a clear return on investment. 

Caroline Fenner, Group Advertising Director, Dennis 

Marketing’s relationship with a CFO is often dictated by who owns your business. It all comes back to the financial implications of what you spend – if we spend £1 on advertising we need £2 back.

It is often said that “50% of marketing budget is wasted – you just don’t know what half it is” – we can talk at length about digital advertising and its metrics – but magazine advertising is very different and can’t be quantified in the same way. The perception of magazine advertising is bad – but in terms of ROI, according to research from Magnetic, it ranks highly.

In Magnetic’s Pay Attention: Magazines’ Role in the Media Mix, the research reveals that magazine ads command high levels of consumer attention – and are incredibly cost-efficient. But there is a disconnect in the levels of ad spend due to advertisers perceptions of the medium.

Ad sales teams and CMOs need to be able to properly challenge these perceptions. Often this requires more than just an understanding of your marketing and business objectives – but an understanding of the different personality types and pressures a CFO typically deals with. 

Kathryn Jacob, CEO, Pearl & Dean

This issue reflects a traditional quandary for marketing in how it positions itself at a board level. Marketing directors are still often viewed as an unessential when it comes to the makeup of a board. 

We need to reframe the discussion around the “intelligence capital” marketing brings to a business – a picture of your audience, how to engage them and build long-term relationships  – then the importance of this function to the business is viewed in a new light. 

Ultimately, the difference between a brand making or losing money is salience and how much a consumer prefers your brand at the point of purchase. The only way to drive preference is through marketing and advertising – and a good CFO should understand this

David Buttle, Commercial Global Marketing Director, Financial Times

We surveyed our readership to understand how they perceive marketing investment. The results showed there is a clear shift happening from long-term brand building campaigns to short-term, direct response, in-year revenue activations. 

The key finding from this research was the disparity in robustness of the metrics. For in-year activations, you can pretty robustly track the revenue you get from each pound of marketing investment. Conversely, the financial return derived from brand-building doesn’t have this clear link. Not being able to clearly view the metrics of long-term brand building is increasing the reliance on short term direct-response.  

Nigel Clarkson, Global Chief Revenue Officer, Hivestack

A CFO can no longer just be a very good accountant – increasingly a CFO will have a much wider view on business strategy. Now, we see 8/10 CEOs come via the CFO route. As the touchpoint between a brand and consumer a CMO is a hugely important part of the business – and it’s incumbent on us to make sure the CFO understands this. 

A good CFO will talk to you about growth – and a poor CFO will talk to you about cost. I’ve worked across multinationals and small startups, and whatever size of the business, the relationship between a CFO and the commercial lead should be one of closest links, challenging each other to find solutions which drive the business forward. 

Joanna Lawrence, Managing Director, Strategy & Client Development, The Telegraph

The broad themes that Ian identified earlier do resonate with our experience – however we see noticeable differences between different categories of advertisers. Some have much more flexible, short term models whilst others are structured more rigidly. Effectiveness measurement methodologies can also be quite varied across categories.

We strive to get our ad sales teams to truly understand the objectives of the client marketing team and how we can therefore relate our proposition to their broader objectives. A challenge for media owners in general is that we are often very far removed from the client’s sales data – and this is ultimately what they will be measured against so we need to understand what the most indicative media measures are as a proxy for sales or Consideration. We’re also trying to develop longer-term advertising partnerships so we can establish more customised learnings over time – rather than just responding brief to brief.

With no clear end to COVID or the surrounding economic uncertainty in sight, ad sales and marketing teams will have to work harder than ever before to secure spend and investment from CFOs. Sales teams will need to hold a clear understanding of the pressures they face, the perceptions they hold and the parlance that resonates.