Diversity of thought and skill set: getting marketers at the board table

Freelance marketer Hannah Doney’s career could have been very different – she started her career focused on law.

While working at a large law firm in the United Kingdom she became friends with the marketing manager who said they needed some resource and offered her a spot in the team.

“I moved into his team in a business development and marketing role, and because I understood the lawyers and their personalities, it made it much easier to market them. I’ve gone on to become a legal services marketer and professional services marketer.”

Doney doesn’t do things by halves and recently won an emerging director award from the Institute of Directors Canterbury Branch. On top of that, she’s also on the national board of Girl Guiding New Zealand, a convenor for the Banks Peninsula A&P Association, and is an advisory board member for an Australian beverage start-up.

However, when Doney moved to New Zealand from the United Kingdom in 2007 she found there weren’t any marketers working in law firms, so went to work for Kathmandu as the company moved from private equity to public offering.

She managed the Global Summit Club so got experience in loyalty marketing which, she says, interestingly aligns very closely with professional services marketing because it’s all about the customer.

Doney became involved in governance in 2010 as president of New Zealand Women’s Lacrosse, using her marketing skills to put together fundraising and sponsorship proposals.

“From that point I began a journey of professional development with leadership training, governance courses and finally a Master’s in Business Administration by distance through the Australian Institute of Business.”

Getting marketers to the table

While Doney says there are chief executives who have been marketers, there is a lack of marketers at the board table.

“I don’t think there is the importance placed on those who are customer-focused. There’s a natural assumption that the board is customer-focused but there are few ensuring that the strategy actually fits with what they’re trying to do.”

 And as a marketer I bring that customer-centric strategic thought, Doney says. 

“I actively represent the customer, shareholder, and stakeholders. I consider marketers as the ultimate stewards of customer…when an organisation delivers well-executed customer-centric strategy, customers engage more.”

This thought is echoed by Stephen England-Hall, chief executive for Tourism New Zealand. England-Hall spoke to NZ Marketing magazine for its latest issue about how marketing was all about people.

“I like to think of marketing being the lead and technology being the enabler with people at the centre, and a people-centric organisation has to have good marketing capabilities,” said England-Hall.

“There needs to be more thinking about how marketing can reclaim a greater position of influence in the C-Suite.”

Diversity of skill set and thought

Doney says she also thinks marketers don’t generally usually put themselves forward for board positions as there’s a perception they won’t get the the role.

“When marketers do get on boards it tends to be an anomaly. I think they bring a diversity of thought and skill set… I think that the skill to be able to analyse a situation quickly, see the marketing opportunity, and understand the environment and be customer-centric is really important.”

Marketers are tactical and often approach situations in a different manner to others, says Doney.

“This is a strength that often manifests itself in questions, discussion and challenging others to ensure clarity.”

Her tips for marketers looking to be on a board is to have a particular area of expertise, have some financial literacy and to have a broader knowledge than just marketing.

And for boards wanting to increase their diversity, not to just look at job titles when they are recruiting.

“They need to look at the experience and the skill set. Equally, people applying for boards shouldn’t limit themselves by job title and really go after what they want,” she says.

When asked about her recent win, Doney says she’s not normally one to tell people she’s being nominated for, or won, anything, but this time was different.

“I was actually really proud of myself for winning as I’ve worked really hard to get to a position where I can be recognised as a serious contender for governance.”

“I said on my application that I wouldn’t know whether I’d be any good at governance until I sit on a commercial board and be tested, I have to experience it to know if I can add any value. That’s the underlying fact about governance if you don’t add any value then you shouldn’t be on the board,” says Doney.

She receives $1500 towards the Institute of Directors’ director development courses, a year’s complimentary membership of the Institute of Directors, a board internship for a year and mentoring from an experienced director.

Her director internship will be with Ashburton’s locally owned co-operative electricity company EA Networks.

“This is the first time EA Networks have offered an internship, so it’s very exciting,” says Institute of Director’s committee member Jane Cartwright who chaired the selection panel.  Institute of Directors chartered member Philip McKendry is chair of the EA Networks board, and Doney will be mentored by Institute of Director’s chartered fellow Rex Williams.

Doney says she is looking forward to seeing commercial directors in action, and taking part.

“I’d like to think that I leave every board meeting I come from – whether it’s Girls Guiding New Zealand or the Banks Peninsula A&P show – I’ve made some input, asked some questions, made people think about something they wouldn’t have otherwise thought about and I’ve added some value to the discussion.”

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