The Era of the “Grounded”​ CMO

Paul Kontonis, Chief Marketing Officer, WHOSAY, a Viacom company

Chief Marketing Officers were everywhere at Cannes Lions. Representing large to small companies and consumer-facing to business-to-business brands, panels inside and outside of the Palais featured some of the smartest minds in marketing. There were even several programs geared specifically to the marketing set, including the CMO Club, Brand Innovators and the ANA CMO Council, which led to what Marylee Sachs headlined as “CMOs Over-Indexing at Cannes.”

Surrounded by so many of my marketing peers, I was struck by our hustle. Cannes Lions is a non-stop social spree where we run from one stop to the next to speak on panels, deliver keynotes, host dinners, attend parties and wind down with late-night drinks at the Carlton. We want to talk about our brands, build connections with our partners and develop real relationships with our consumers — but why are we so hyped to do it through an on-the-ground grind?  Because, in many ways, modern CMOs are the human embodiment of a brand.

We have to be able to deliver a brand’s story personally, whether on panels or on our social feeds, to ensure that our brands survive and perform.  This isn’t an entirely new part of the gig; as I was taught by one of my earliest mentors, a marketing leader needs to be able to communicate the message successfully on a person-to-person basis.

In fact, there’s plenty about the role of a CMO that has stayed the same. A CMO is still the trustee of a brand’s legacy. We still steward marketing plans, brand identity and marketplace positioning, and we still like to compare strategies and dissect tactical executions. The difference is that in today’s fragmented media landscape, we also have to be as multi-channel and cross-platform as our brands.

I was also struck by the noticeable increase in the overall creativity and the underlying strategy of the marketing and advertising executions at Cannes, which proves that CMOs are finding new and more effective ways to bring their brand stories to life. We should all be paying attention to Fernando Machado, who as Chief Marketing Officer helped lead Burger King to collect the top prize at Cannes and demonstrates how effective strategy and amazing creativity walk hand-in-hand.

Ultimately, great marketing work establishes authentic and insightful connections. After all, our clients and consumers are real people and our brand story needs to mean something to them. But in our current state of rapidly evolving consumer behavior, technology and media, the best CMOs build a culture of innovation and creativity to find the best ways to connect to humans even as we chase innovation. This strategy applies to all industries and not just those that sell products to consumers.

Today the distinctions between B2C, B2B and DTC brand marketing and advertising are almost trivial. The role of the CMO is to have our feet on the ground to build our brand legacies and tell our stories as business-to-human CMOs.


About the Author: Paul Kontonis is Chief Marketing Officer at WHOSAY, a Viacom company. WHOSAY is the brand-trusted influence marketing firm, and Kontonis is responsible for overseeing all of the the company’s B2B marketing, communications, social media and editorial strategy. Kontonis is a 25-year digital media veteran with an industry leading expertise in the B2B marketing, branding, content marketing, and the cross-platform video distribution and monetization of original digital content.
Formerly, Kontonis served as Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Digiday Media, managing across the media brands of Digiday, Glossy, Custom and Tradestreaming (now Tearsheet).  Prior to Digiday, Kontonis served as Senior Vice President, Strategy at Collective Digital Studio (now Studio71), a multi-platform digital entertainment company and multi-channel network (MCN). Before Collective Digital Studio, Kontonis was Vice President, Group Director, Brand Content at Digitas. At Digitas, where he helped establish the Digital Content NewFronts.
Kontonis has served as the President of the Global Online Video Association, an industry trade group representing media networks and video platforms and Chairman of the International Academy of Web Television. Kontonis holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Psychology from New York University.
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