The CMO & CEO: Partners for a new marketing

Tariq Shaukat, the CMO and EVP of Caesars, discusses what it takes to be successful and how important the CEO is in helping make that happen.

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(Note: Click play to watch a selected video from the series. You can also watch the complete chaptered interview on our YouTube channel).

Highlights from the interview:

Essentials of the CEO-CMO relationship

A strong CEO-CMO relationship starts with trust and a shared understanding of what you want to accomplish. You need a common view of the role of marketing and of the role you want the CMO to play in driving growth, brand health, and any objectives you might set out.

You have to have a level of trust and familiarity so that the CMO knows what the CEO would want for the company, and the CEO knows what the CMO would do in a given situation. This is critical because so much of the CEO's job is marketing the company by defining it to consumers, investors, and the business community.

The empowering role of the CEO

Gary Loveman, our CEO, has really empowered me and enabled me to do my job better. It all starts with him communicating what he expects from me, not just to me but to the enterprise as a whole, including my peers on the leadership team. It was very clearly defined for me that my job was to drive above-market revenue growth for the company, and to do that in a profitable way. That defines the mandate he has given me, and he has given me a lot of latitude in partnering with our operations and development teams and others to be creative about how we find growth.

There are a couple of specific moments I can think of when our CEO really helped change the trajectory of marketing and set the tone for the role he wanted marketing to play. One of these was when he asked me if he could start attending our marketing counsel sessions. These are quarterly meetings in which I bring all the senior marketers of the company to one of our properties and we spend two days talking about what we're doing, how it has worked, and what we want to do moving forward. Gary has made it a point to be not just present but to really problem-solve with the marketers.

Another example: A couple of months ago, he and some of our senior operators realized it was strange that we have a capital committee that consisted of all the senior operators of the company but didn't include marketing. So they asked me to join the committee, which makes all the investment decisions around the company’s new bars, restaurants, buildings, casinos, and hotel rooms. The rationale that was that a lot of these decisions are about the brand and the customer experience so we need to have marketing be a part of those conversations.

When I became CMO, our CEO and board centralized both the budgets and the decision rights for marketing. For the first time in the history of our company, they brought it all together so that the CMO controls the majority of the marketing budget and has accountability for a large amount of the revenue. 

Keeping creative alive in a data-centric world

For the past 15 years or so, data and analytics have really been the core of marketing and operations.  The real challenge for us as a company and for me as a marketer is to have the dual-brain-type of approach. The company, left to its own devices, would be driven entirely by the numbers. There's a lot that’s positive about that. But what we're finding is that you have to merge that with the creative, or the more qualitative, emotional aspects of marketing. 

When I joined Caesars, marketing had largely elevated the folks who are really good at the data side. There were very few of the more creative, more traditionally trained people around the table. Part of what we've had to do is rebalance that world, not by bringing the data side down, but by elevating and bringing to the table some of the folks with more of an agency background, more of a creative background, and more traditional brand management experience. 

Turning data into action

Across the company, we have about 1,000 hosts. These are individuals whose job is to take care of customers based on the data we have about the customers and based on their personal interactions with them. We empower our hosts with the data, within the constraints of the budget, and say, "Go out and make this customer happy." 

A host sitting somewhere might get a ping on their Blackberry, or on their iPhone. That ping is generated by the customer swiping their card or in some other way letting us know that they're there. The database tells us who this customer is, what they’ve been interested in, whether they had a good experience the last time they were here, based on our research. That ping will also highlight a discretionary budget they can use with that customer. So that host will then go up and introduce themselves if they don't know the customer and actually then start to engage in a dialogue. They try and provide everyone with a great experience guided by the data.

Customer expectations and the personal touch

Our business is very personal. People come to our properties, they interact with people, and they expect good service. They also increasingly expect—and in some ways we’ve trained them to expect—service informed by who they are and what they've done in the past.

They expect us to remember that they’re vegan and don't want to go to the steakhouse, or that they love steak and all they want to do is go to the steakhouse. You can only respond to that in a scalable way through the use of technology. Increasingly, technology is giving the customer the personal experience without necessarily being greeted and bothered, or interrupted, by somebody. At the same time, we see from the data that when we do greet a customer, they spend more time with us. We can measure the power of the personal connection.

Essentials to a CMO’s success 

Being a successful CMO requires, first and foremost, a willingness to be a good partner with the rest of the organization. It’s critical for the CMO to have a role that is not a staff role but is actually a peer of others on the leadership team, so that we can jointly set the agenda and move forward to drive growth. 

A successful CMO in this day and age also has to be adaptable and willing to change. The number of things that I learn every week or every month that I had no idea about before is staggering. When we learn something, we try and act on it quickly. That's critical. It's critical not just to staying ahead of the competition, which we all want to do. It's critical because, in many cases, the consumers are even farther ahead of where we are. 

The last point I'd make is that a successful CMO has to really be a business leader first and then a marketing leader. That’s a change that has been happening in the marketing community over the last several years. 

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