CMO Talks: Marketing Leadership and People with Rebecca Messina, Former CMO, Beam Suntory and Uber

Find out what qualities the greatest marketers possess, the most important things you can do to build a great agency relationship, and other marketing advice on the capability of marketing and working with people in this talk between Beam Suntory’s Global CMO, Rebecca Messina, and Agency Spotter’s CEO, Brian Regienczuk. While Rebecca has now gone on to become Uber’s first CMO, her passion and insights from this talk are timeless.

Marketing advice and insight from Rebecca Messina, Global CMO of Beam Suntory

Intro: During her 22 year tenure at Coca Cola company she held marketing leadership roles across Europe and South America. From Atlanta, she lead Coca Cola’s global marketing capability and until this week was the Senior Vice President of Marketing Innovation for venturing and emerging brands. Today I’m happy to welcome Rebecca Messina, Beam-Suntory’s new global CMO.

Brian: Spanish diplomacy, foreign affairs…when you were a student at Miami University, did you ever imagine yourself becoming a CMO or even going into marketing?

Rebecca: When I got an internship at Coke in 1994, it became obvious to me that because of the nature of marketing, and how it’s composed, and how its about human understanding, and human behavior, and just things that I was drawn to, and this incredibly global nature, things fell into place.

But, no I think if you’d have asked me in High School “did I see myself in business? Or running a piece of a global organization? Probably no.

Brian: Do you have any advice for those starting out their careers, maybe thinking about marketing for the first time?

Rebecca: I’d say first, of anyone starting any career, just be hungry. Do every job and do many jobs.

If you really particularly want to look at marketing, I think the greatest marketers have depth and breadth. So they know something no one else knows how to do but yet they can play really well with others, they can collaborate cross functionally. Because certainly by our standards at Coke, and I certainly hope I bring that to Beam, it’s really cross functional and when marketing is at its best, it brings the whole organization together.

Brian: Was there any pivotal moment that helped your career take shape?

Rebecca: Pivotal people that helped shaped my career for sure. People that I met that I thought were some of the greatest leaders and therefore I wanted to emulate them. There was not any one pivotal moment, but there were pivotal people.

Brian: What have you learned by working around the globe?

Rebecca: It’s funny you should ask because when I was interviewing with Beam, they were like “What makes us think you’ll leave Coke and what makes us think you’ll thrive outside of Coke?”. Which is a very fair question.

If you walk into the French office of the Coca Cola Company and you think it’s anything like the Chilean office, that would be quite naive.

And so, what I’ve learned is really to show up humbly, remember that you are the minority, whatever that means.

I’m now the minority at Beam. I don’t have the tenure. I don’t have the equity. I don’t have the experience. I just embrace the newness. It really works, and I’ve seen it work culture after culture after culture.

Look for the similarities not the differences. And, in someways, it just falls into place.

Brian: Could you share some of the important things to keep in mind when your brand is marketing to different cultures and different types of people?

Rebecca: Any global brand, at it’s core, is inherently local.

And so, first of all finding what that means. What is uniquely Chilean? What is uniquely Japanese? But, recognizing that every culture wants to grab onto something bigger.

And, it’s this fine line of what does that look like without feeling not ours anymore. And, that little balance, that dance as I call it, is certainly a dance you’ve got to do a lot of at Beam, but certainly a dance we do a lot of at Coke.

But, it requires just this recognition, that whilst some things are transferable, some things aren’t. And, we just have to know what those are, and it might even be category dependent. Some categories are more sensitive in certain places than others.

Brian: You’re about to take the roll of global CMO at the worlds third largest premium spirits company, what about that gets you most excited?

Rebecca: The people.

So, first and foremost, about 280 people comprised of a total cross functional group of Marketing Communications, Brand, Product Quality, Innovation, R&D, family members. I’ve got a 7th generation Beam and 3rd generation Samuel’s, which is the Makers Mark family, so I’m honored to have these folks to take this journey with.

Love the cross functional nature of it. Love the global nature of it. And, frankly, love that these are categories and brands whose time has come.

They are deeply rich in stories and our job it to take these stories, cultivate them, curate them and really frankly engage consumers who love these brands, in helping us tell these stories.

Brian: So 22 years at Coca Cola, would you tell us about a campaign or an initiative, or perhaps some of the people that you’re most proud of?

Rebecca: I was part of the creation of Coca Cola way of marketing. Which took the company’s history of 130 years and enabled us to put together a framework for folks, today, tomorrow and in the future.

They can really look at how marketing is done there, what does it mean? And it became not only our philosophy, it became our common language, it became our framework and our tools and our methods.

It still lives on today. It enables us to not have conversations around what framework, but more conversations around content, knowing that we’ve already thought about the methods that are going to fuel the work that we do. So very positive for global marketing.

Brian: You and your teams have worked with a lot of agencies and design firms over the years, is there a certain quality that has impressed you the most, while working with those partners?

Rebecca: I love the agencies that play well with others. I love putting agencies together.

I think that’s one of the most powerful things we can do. I know that’s not always easy. Who’s on first? Who’s on second? Can be tricky. When that dance is well danced, I think it’s beautiful.

I love agencies who truly understand they fill a void. Yet are able to rise up out of that specialty and connect other dots for us. I think that’s a very, very powerful capability from an agency.

Brian: What has been the most difficult part of agency partnerships?

Rebecca: Change. In some ways we’ve changed faster than agencies and in some ways agencies have changed faster than us. So we’re not quite going at the same pace. And I think it even varies by discipline.

We’ve got 50 years on brand management but we don’t have 50 years of knowledge on something that is going on in marketing now. So, as a result, we’re all figuring it out together. And so, who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s moving fast, who’s moving slow.

I think figuring that out is really difficult, but ultimately at the end of the day I think it’s about the fit with your organization. How can agencies elevate the work we do?

Brian: Do you have any other advice for marketers or subject matter experts who are tasked with finding and managing agencies and design firms?

Rebecca: Be great partners. Write great briefs.

I think the art of a great brief, whatever that looks like, the charter, the scope of work, write it well. Write it thoughtfully. Be clear on what you want.

I think money gets burned, hours gets burned, feelings get hurt, egos get hurt, when we aren’t clear from the beginning in what we want.

When we start off well, the rest falls into place. So, I think the art of writing a great brief and outlining the scope of work is the most important.

Brian: Well, you’ve been one of the more memorable marketers that I’ve worked with over my career. Do you have any advice for people coming up, whether they’re women leaders or people that are growing their career and have ambitions to become CMO or a Vice President in a marketing organization, do you have any tips for them?

Rebecca: I never really thought about the position, I just thought about doing whatever work I was in, doing the best possible work that I could do.

I always believe in taking bets on people.

People took bets on me so I believe, and almost feel indebted, that I owe it to others to take those bets. And I’ve never been let down yet so I certainly encourage people to take bets.

Any job is as big or small as you make it. Make it big.

Find the ways to add value to your organization. Even if it’s not in your job description. Toss the job description aside. If you believe there is value to be created by doing something I’ve never seen an organization say “No, don’t do that”.

So, look for ways to create value, take good care of people and the rest takes care of itself.

I think in this ever evolving world of marketing, it is still the greatest discipline in the world if you love the connection of art and science. If you love working with people.

Brian: Thank you so much for being here today.

Rebecca: Thank You.

Brian Regienczuk
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