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Chief Marketing Officer, Cision
Chris Lynch oversees Cision’s global marketing teams. Serving as Chief Marketing Officer, he is responsible for Cision’s global marketing strategy, spanning communications, product, web and digital marketing. Previously, he ran product marketing and go-to-market strategy for Oracle’s Marketing Cloud business and also held leadership positions at companies like Badgeville and TIBCO. Based in San Francisco, Lynch attended Northeastern University, where he received his bachelor’s degree in journalism. Follow him on Twitter @cglynch.
Please provide some information about your background and how it has prepared you for your current role at Cision.
I've worked in marketing now for almost 10 years. During the last five years, I have focused a lot on marketing portfolios. Before Cision, I worked for Oracle Marketing Cloud, where I was responsible for global product marketing. It was an environment where we were grew aggressively through M&A. As you grow through M&A, there are, of course, many integration and go-to-market activities that need to happen. But you also have to weave a cohesive story together for the market pretty quickly. The Oracle Marketing Cloud portfolio had a number of strategic assets that buyers could use, but knowing where to start could be hard. My marketing specialty was helping buyers understand the combined value proposition. That experience prepared me for the CMO role at Cision, where we have also grown a portfolio through M&A. This time, we’re focused on telling the story of earned media and how people in marketing communications can transform their businesses by making more investments in earned.
With regards to my personal path to becoming a CMO, my path was through product marketing. I love product marketing due to the level of exposure it gives you across both the back and front office functions.
What measures and metrics do you believe are critical in order for marketers to get a clear picture of their brand performance?
A lot of it starts with demand generation, specifically how you can tie different campaigns to leads generated and, most importantly, revenue that is closed from those leads. We look at the funnel very comprehensively and track all customer behaviors and attributes that we believe have the highest probability of delivering closed business.
As you can imagine, I look at the cost of acquisition, the amount of revenue generated per dollar spent, and how each channel across paid, owned and earned is driving business for us. I also look at customer retention and lifetime value. We want to find ways to engage customers throughout their lifecycle and ensure they’re getting the best experience they possibly can with our products and services.
Even in the digital world, brand awareness is always the hardest piece to quantify. I do care about share of voice in the sense that I want people talking about Cision and not talking about our competitors, but it’s hard to show how that matters to the business. But even in the less quantifiable area of brand, I do everything I can to carve out budget for it because if our brand doesn’t look compelling, then all of the investments I make in owned and paid don’t matter.
Given that Cision has recently acquired PR Newswire, among others, how have you been working to reposition the company and create a cohesive brand presence?
It starts with having a messaging framework. When marketing for a portfolio or suite of products, I structure that framework by putting different products and services into discrete categories. I like having three categories or layers to that framework. Having three always makes it easy for people—especially salespeople—to remember. It also forces constraint and an avoidance of feature lust. So I take all of the products in the portfolio and place them into each category. When I got to Cision, I realized quickly that all of our products help people in marketing communications to do three things: identify influencers, craft campaigns and attribute value for those campaigns.
After I had that framework, things became easier. You take a product like PR Newswire, and you ask, “Which of my three buckets does it belong in?” While PR Newswire does have some capabilities that help communicators identify influencers (like PR Newswire for Journalists) as well as some reporting that helps you attribute value, I ultimately believed that the majority of the product is used for distribution of campaigns, so I put it in the “craft campaigns” category.
You have to be disciplined about keeping the core substance of a product present in these frameworks. People in your company, especially those that came from a legacy product that you acquired, rightly have a passion for their products and what they can do during these messaging exercises. But things must hit the cutting room floor at the top level, or you’ll never get to a point of messaging simplicity.
So now we can simply say: Cision empowers communicators to identify relevant influencers, craft and distribute meaningful campaigns, and attribute value for those efforts.
That works easier for me than taking people through a multi-year M&A timeline.
What are some of the challenges that you've had to overcome when it comes to unifying people, processes and technologies in the midst of your acquisitions?
It all starts with the people and figuring out how you’re going to rationalize all of the different corporate cultures they’re bringing in. Collectively, you need to take the things that made the legacy organizations great and bring them together in a new image. When done well, this can create a new mission that drives results for customers. When done poorly, it can become a franken-culture.
One thing I’ll say is that I think only so much of it can be bottom-up. At a certain point, leadership needs to decide and put a stake in the ground for what the mission should be. In an M&A environment, it won’t happen without some top-down involvement because otherwise, employees will always default back to the good ol’ days of their legacy brands. So leadership needs to listen to employees, hear what they felt made those legacy organizations special, and then decide what to keep and what to retire. The latter is a harder conversation, but I think you want to get on with it faster so it doesn’t become a productivity issue.
This year, as we went through our re-brand, we used it as an opportunity to set some guidelines about our mission, vision and values with our approximately 3,000 employees. We circulated a 30-page-plus brand guide. While exhaustive, we felt it was important to be crystal-clear on the go-forward plan and emphasize that we are one company now. That is hard to quantify in a spreadsheet, but I believe customers are now getting a consistent experience from the combined brand.
On the processes and technologies side, it’s all about prioritization and helping employees understand the rationale behind system and process changes. When it comes to our overall marketing stack, we prioritize system changes that help our customers get access to products and services they rely on from Cision every day. We've been looking holistically at marketing orchestration of customer journeys and how that ties in with our CRM and customer database. We’re also simplifying our web and digital experience. Due to the number of acquisitions that we've made, we had dozens of websites, so we need to consolidate those to make a better experience for our customers.
With all of these factors, one of the things that's important to get past is the feeling of, "This is always the way it's been done," or "We tried that three years ago, and it didn't work." If you let that be your guiding principal, then change is very hard. Inertia sets in. When I look back over this year, I'm particularly proud of my team. We did a lot of things that seemed very hard or insurmountable. There was a belief system that it could be done, and everyone pulled together to make it happen.
How has Cision been working to integrate and match the current market direction and focus on integration, as well as the emphasis on customer experience?
You need to make sure that the focus on integration and market direction are completely aligned with customer experience. If they’re mutually exclusive, you’re making changes for yourselves rather than your customers, so the first guiding principle you need is “do no harm” to the things about the products you bring in that customers loved and made them great. We have been integrating all of our acquired brands into the Cision Comms Cloud. While it is an elegant, new user experience, we’ve had to work with customers on the timeline with which they’d move off of our legacy products. We made tremendous progress on this, and it’s an example of a win/win. It’s great to get our customers into a world-class user experience, but it’s better for us on the product investment side because we can start diverting all of our innovation calories in the same direction.
Marketing plays a role in several areas here. The first is on making the customer experience simple. We help customers understand the value of our new direction and how it will create more transformative results for them. The second rests in data, analytics and reporting. We collect a treasure trove of data about our prospects and customers. While we, of course, use this for the purposes of campaigns, we also can use it to get better insight into what matters to customers and how we can get better as a brand to serve them.
What are some of the big goals and challenges that you're looking to address for the remainder of this year and beyond?
For this year, number one is doing everything I can to make sure the company meets or exceeds its revenue goals between now and the end of the year while also doing everything I can to lay the foundation for great customer experiences in 2018. Those plans have already been made, and the team is executing against them.
I think in 2018, you’ll see us have a big focus on a brand-new web experience. The website is the front door for any kind of B2B marketing organization and is one of the first ways that people are going to interact with our brand, so we’re placing a lot of focus on that and recently started working with Adobe and their Experience Manager product.
Second, we're going to make a bigger push into account-based marketing. If you think about how most marketing systems are architected today, they're usually tailored toward a contact. But the reality is that most buying decisions are really made by committee in a B2B context. What the manager or director-level person wants is going to be quite different from what a VP or chief communications officer wants, so we need to tailor our customers experiences for that. For example, we might want to make sure that content going to the director or manager is more end user-focused around how to use our tools and solutions whereas a chief communications officer will probably want to see more content about the importance of attribution and ROI for their communications investments.
Third, we’ll continue to focus on really strong product marketing. As a portfolio-based company, and as we integrate things into one product, we have a whole sales team that needs to have meaningful conversations with customers and help those customers understand what value we can provide to them. While we can do a lot on the programmatic campaign side to get some of that information out, our sales force is going to bridge a lot of those conversations. As a result, the sales team needs to be viewed as an extension of the marketing team, and we need to arm them with the content and tools that they need to be successful in those meetings.
Finally, we are going to focus more on our existing user base and make sure they're getting full value from our technology and services. That includes running campaigns with a lot of tips and helpful ideas for how they can use our software in ways that they may not have thought of before. We're also going to focus on launching a customer community, which will allow customers to share best practices, interact directly with our product management team, and gain access to information that will help them understand where things are going from a product vision perspective. I think that CMOs and marketers can get into a mode where they're so top-of-funnel and acquisition-focused that they take their eye off of just how important it is to keep your customers happy. In a business like ours, making our customers happy and revealing the full value of our products and services is time well spent for my team.