Fixing a Broken Marketing Model – Thomas Nightingale, Vice President of Communications and CMO, Con-way

The 2008 CMO Leadership Forum in Chicago included an interview of Thomas Nightingale, VP of Communications and CMO at Con-way Inc. His interviewer was Bradford McLane of Russell Reynolds Associates. They discussed coming into Con-way at a difficult moment in the company’s history and the way marketing was seen from within the organization.

Bradford’s first point is that marketing is not the center of the universe for everyone, contrary to what some may think and what he himself believed for many years. Both speakers, Bradford and Thomas, describe having come from vastly different backgrounds. Because Con-way had a lot of people who had come up from inside the company, Thomas says that there was not a real impetus to change. They had been guessing right or guessing wrong, but did not have research to back up their decisions. “There wasn’t a real appreciation that something was broken,” he explains.

Bradford discusses the differences between a holding company and the operating company model, noting that there is a whole other set of challenges related to that. In this type of situation, converting from a holding company to an operating model, Bradford mentions the decentralization which can create what he calls “thief-doms”, or little power groups with marketers everywhere, but you don’t know who or where they are. The question, he says, is who wins the customer.

He returns to the idea later in response to a comment from the audience, when he says, “There are tendrils of marketing everywhere.” At one point Bradford asks Thomas who were the impediments to his success, without naming names, and what were the obstacles or passive aggressive behavior he had to deal with, if any. To this Thomas again mentions the “came-up-through-the-ranks, been-there-done-that operators” who viewed him as a threat. He also says that it was a company which didn’t see marketing as strategic, and therefore didn’t invest in it. As a result, he says, one of the first things he looks for in a CMO role is if it has the right sponsorship, or “the CEOs ear” as he puts it.

He describes three primary pain points at Con-way that he had to face going into the position, with his “ninety day plan.” They were growing the company through an acquisition, growth through new product development and market research, and finally playing to the needs of the operators. Following this, Bradford takes the conversation back to market research, asking the audience how many had in-house or “adjacent” functions. One audience member remarks that it’s very difficult not having this function in the company.

To close, Bradford mentions how impressed he has been with LinkedIn as a social network, or a “working tool.” His final comment is to encourage everyone in the audience to develop their profiles, noting that it’s a great way for people to talk to others within their organization, in addition to others outside of it.