Fortune favours the brave in marketing brands

I usually like to get to know someone a little better before they share the brutal details of an intimate body piercing they've just had, but this was a marketer on a mission and her story was absorbing...

…A few years ago she lost her job, split from her husband and was diagnosed with cervical cancer, all in the space of three months: a major bucket-load of crap.

It took a couple of years to get back on track, but now she has a job she loves as chief marketing officer for a market-leading brand in the US, she’s significantly happier with her new partner than her old, her hair grew back thicker than it was before chemo, and now she wears diamonds between her legs. This is relevant. 

The reason I know all of this about a woman I met only last week is because her experience has fundamentally changed the way she works and she wants to tell people about it. For her, it took a crisis to define the principle that she now anchors her life to: bravery. 

Oh good God, I thought, as she said the word… bravery has become another meaningless and unaccountable platitude adopted by our industry as a talisman against confusion and uncertainty. 

Bravery used to mean going in to battle to defend your homeland; now it’s choosing one creative execution over another when the AB test results are inconclusive. So I asked her what she actually meant by bravery.

She had a long list, but here are a few examples. When she arrived in her new job, she replaced the rather fanciful description of her brand that was used in all the internal corporate materials with a series of brutally honest comments from loyal consumers. (These included: "It makes my dog’s farts smell better.") She wants her company to see the brand as its customers see it.

She has shared information about her salary and bonus with her team in a move to foster more transparency and accountability from the top down (she’s still waiting for her bosses to follow suit). She has set up a paid internship programme with a local college for students with disabilities and has so far offered two of them permanent roles at the company. 

She has created core working hours when her team should try to be in the office (10am-4pm), but outside these hours they can work flexibly ("I want them to do the job, not put in the hours," she says simply). 

She has made unconscious-bias training mandatory for all her staff. When job vacancies arise, she has instructed her HR department to remove name, gender and any demographic information from CVs, and every job candidate is interviewed by both a male and female interviewer. 

She demands that at least one out of every three directors pitching for her TV commercials is female. She has told her agencies that a diverse workforce is as much a requirement for retaining her business as the quality of their ideas and she now audits this annually. 

And, heck, she’s had her labia pierced, because after months of horribly invasive treatments, now there’s something pretty going on down there, and she’s embracing bravery wherever she can.

In case you think any of this is a distraction from the very serious job of marketing brands, shifting product and driving profits, her brand has increased its market share by at least 8% a year for the past three years in a mature market, and profits have kept pace. 

She’s clear that the changes she’s made to the way she and her team works have driven this success. 

She calls it bravery, but I’d call it the future of work. 

Claire Beale is the global editor-in-chief of Campaign. 

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