Running the global show: Jonathan Mildenhall, CMO of Airbnb

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Airbnb's marketing chief muses on working with agencies and marketing worldwide

Jonathan Mildenhall oversees global marketing at Airbnb, one of the most talked-about tech start-up success stories in recent years. Mildenhall used to be the senior vice presient of marketing communications at Coca-Cola in Atlanta. He is currently based in San Francisco.

How do you structure your company to capture the best ideas?
I have more than 40 different disciplines within my organization. This wide range of disciplines includes brand strategy, paid growth, photography, performance marketing, film production, graphic design, consumer insights and analytics, brand media, social, product marketing, environmental design, SEO and more. It is the broadest multidiscipline team I have ever had the pleasure of leading.

My challenge is to create processes that enable all of these very talented individuals to work together to be strategic, creative and operationally effective so that they can create the best work of their careers.

How do you get the balance right between running work that is consistent around the world but also resonates with local consumers?
We aspire to build Airbnb into the next brand to define a generation, as Coca-Cola did in the '80s, Nike did in the '90s and Apple did in the 2000s. These iconic brands shape global culture because they know how to drive massive global scale while building deep local relevance.

Given that we are a global hospitality company (more than 190 countries) that manifests itself in the homes (1.4 million) of our hosts, it is essential that we are truly global and deeply local. We strike the right balance because of the universal appeal of our core brand essence: "Belong anywhere." Then we add relevant local nuance to that brand essence so that local travelers and hosts believe that Airbnb truly understands them.

How do you know whether your ideas are working in local markets?
My regional marketing directors are fully integrated into the central operation, so they co-author all of our marketing briefs, attend our global briefing sessions, collaborate with the agencies (locally and globally) and provide input into the production process.

Our teams are small but empowered and they are not restricted by too many internal stakeholder review forums. We do, however, believe collaborating with our community is an essential step in the process and will often have groups of hosts or guests participate in creative development.

How do you incentivize your agency partners to work together?
Last month, our four main agencies — TBWA\Chiat\Day Los Angeles (creative), Starcom Mediavest Group (media), Civic Entertainment Group (experiential) and DKC (PR) — were in town to receive the 2016 marketing brief. All the leaders of the agency teams were there, as was I, because you cannot delegate the mandate for collaboration.

As a chief marketing officer, you have to practice what you preach. Your behavior as a leader is closely watched. If you disengage, then so will your agencies. If you play politics, then so will your agencies. But, if you lean in, play well, demonstrate a passion for the best creative work around — then so will your agencies. It is human behavior that leads to excellence in marketing output and, at Airbnb, excellence is not an option — it is a mandate.


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