CMO’s Share How Marketers Can Deal With Digital Transformation: Ari Agency Leadership Series

It was a packed crowd at our Ari Agency Leadership Series event where we invited some of Canada’s top marketing executives to discuss “The New Marketing Department in a Digital World.”

These C-suite marketers lead successful marketing teams yet are faced with incredible challenges. We asked them in a provocative and honest panel discussion how they balance talent, technology and digital platforms within the new marketing landscape.

A core theme we heard from the panel, as well as the audience, is that the explosion of digital channels has marketers scrambling to keep pace in their hiring practices. But our experts caution not to lose sight of core principles,

Marketing used to be such a straightforward proposition: Carefully calibrated campaigns based on consumer insights, delivered through a handful of traditional channels that guaranteed mass exposure. Rinse. Repeat.

That model has been completely up-ended by digital. The explosion of consumer touch-points has forced marketers to not only diversify, but adopt an always-on approach that reflects both the accessibility and ubiquity of digital channels – an approach that can be highly rewarding when done correctly, and hugely detrimental if there’s a single misstep.

Among the key challenges for companies in the digital age is building and managing a marketing department capable of addressing contemporary marketing needs while simultaneously adhering to marketing fundamentals.

This was the theme of the latest instalment of the ongoing Ari Agency Leadership Series: The New Marketing Department in a Digital World, which took place May 12 at The Spoke Club in Toronto. The event, moderated by Andrea Sampson, speaking coach and partner at Talk Boutique, attracted a sell-out crowd of approximately 50 senior marketing and agency leaders.

Video Highlights:

The event’s panelists – Antoinette Benoit, senior vice-president of marketing for McDonald’s Canada; Derek Kent, chief marketing officer for the Canadian Olympic Committee; and Michelle Read-Kulig, former senior director of digital marketing for Loblaws who now runs her own digital education and consulting business – talked about the importance of storytelling (and entertainment) in modern marketing; as well as the benefits of “failing fast;” and fostering greater collaboration between marketing and other divisions such as IT.

Know Your Business. Know Your Customer: Avoid Whack-a-Mole Marketing

Michelle Read-Kulig

Michelle Read-Kulig

One of the biggest challenges for marketers, said Read-Kulig, is that the notion of “digital” encompasses so many different business aspects – from apps to websites and social media channels. “The notion of organizing around these data-informed moments is something I’ve been on a mission to do for some time,” she said.

Among the by-products of digital’s continued rise is a rush by companies to hire “digital natives” capable of helping them navigate the fast-moving currents of digital marketing. However, Read-Kulig cautioned that they must be wary of hiring people who don’t fully appreciate basic marketing principles.

“Just because they can use [digital] tools doesn’t mean they know how to use the tools,” said Read-Kulig. “It all has to come back to ‘What are our objectives and how are we going to get there?’ I think we sometimes lose sight of these basic marketing principles, and that’s the important part.”

She said that marketers are increasingly playing “whack-a-mole” in trying to keep pace with the latest marketing trends.

Embrace the New Pace and Complexity of Marketing Departments

Antoinette Benoit

Antoinette Benoit

McDonald’s Benoit also noted the importance of often-overlooked “soft skills” like empathy and collaboration. “When we recruit people of course we pay a lot of attention to the understanding of digital, but most of all how they understand the culture in which they live [and] what is important to consumers. It’s still a mix of different skills: Not everybody needs to know exactly how Snapchat works to be able to use it, as long as somebody else knows.”

The pace of change created by digital is so great that even digitally adept companies like McDonald’s are being forced to constantly evaluate and adjust their marketing approach.

“McDonald’s has always been a super-fast place, but now it’s super, super, super-fast,” said Benoit. “When you have 300 franchisees, 90,000 employees and 30 million customers, super-fast is super-challenging.”

Your Best Marketing Campaigns are Based on Authentic Storytelling Opportunities

Derek Kent

Derek Kent

Consumers are also increasingly looking to brands to be more human and authentic when engaging with their fans. The COC’s Kent said that his organization made a conscious effort several years ago to eliminate what he described as more of a “corporate storytelling culture,” replacing it with a “fans first” storytelling approach.

Internally, the COC Marketing team has endeavoured to evolve from a more top-down manner of marketing dictated by senior leaders in favour of a bottom-up approach that empowers all staff – the COC’s marketing department has an average age of close to 27 – to make key decisions.

“We found that it led to better ideas, as well as better engagement from our staff when they were really part of the ideation process,” said Kent.

After listening to the fantastic insights from our CMO panel, the attendees went away with valuable tools and ideas plus a few new industry contacts. By coming together at events like these, we believe marketers can truly help to drive their company’s innovation, growth, and brand in our new digital world.



About Ari Agency

Ari Agency, founded by Canadian media industry leader Ari Aronson, is a boutique executive recruitment and consulting firm. We’ve been building strong matches between candidates and employers in the advertising, digital marketing, media, and technology arenas since 2006. Our decade of success in this industry is due, in part, to where we’ve come from. Our team of executive recruiters, researchers, and support staff have over 20 years of practical industry experience, working for award-winning ad agencies, multinational marketing organizations, top media companies, and international brands. With countless successful careers built to date, we’re confident that we help make good people decisions! Learn more at