Collaboration Can't Be Mandated with a Stick: Q+A with Emily Bates, Head of Marketing Excellence at Commonwealth Bank
Industry Leaders

Collaboration Can’t Be Mandated with a Stick: Q+A with Emily Bates, Head of Marketing Excellence at Commonwealth Bank

by Esti Frischling

6 minute read

NewsCred recently expanded into the Australian market, opening our first office and launching a new partnership with Storyation. We’re excited to connect with marketing innovators in the APAC region, and reached out to Emily Bates, Head of Marketing Excellence, Wealth Management at Commonwealth Bank of Australia, to discuss everything from measuring efficiency to building a world-class creative brief. Bates’ role is to drive a results-focused culture and unite the marketing team, a tall order that requires creativity, vision, and risk management.


Your title is really impressive: Head of Marketing Excellence. What does “marketing excellence” mean to you?

Bates: It means helping our marketers be the best they can be — through building their skills, giving them the tools they need to do their jobs, and by uniting them under a shared vision of becoming a world-class marketing team. It was really important to me to have a vision that’s both tangible and measurable; nothing fluffy.

We made the vision tangible by defining “world-class” with five pillars and setting a target for each of the pillars. That’s how everyone understands where we’re going as a team, what we’re trying to achieve, and the incremental steps that will get us moving forward on that path. Before this, our marketers had their own objectives based on the business unit they were supporting, but there wasn’t any shared purpose uniting us all.

Of course, world-class marketing is not something you actually ever reach; it’s a constant journey. It means we’re constantly learning, questioning, and experimenting in everything that we do.

You’re responsible for ensuring the marketing teams all work together to drive results. How do you ensure every team is delivering a consistent customer experience and message across all marketing activities?

The key is getting the team to truly collaborate. If they’re not talking to each other, they’re not going to identify ways to work with their colleagues. There’s almost always a way to take the individual components of what someone is doing and create something even better by working together.

There are two ways I’ve done this effectively: first, it’s just getting people to “chat before they act,” which has become part of the vernacular here. People are often so busy trying to get through their work, it creates a “heads down” mentality and silos. We needed to remind marketers of the benefits of upfront collaboration versus plowing straight in to get the work done. The second successful strategy has been creating a marketing council to review all creative briefs and significant pieces of work before they move to the agency briefing stage. This provides an opportunity for us to pause and ensure our teams have collaborated on the brief — and if they haven’t, we push back.

I’m a firm believer in the power of the creative brief; if you want world-class content, you’ve got to have a world-class brief.

How have you operationalized this collaboration? In-person meetings? Email?

We’ve found it best to do in-person. We do have some technologies we use for briefings to get through to various teams, but nothing replaces talking to people because conversations can take you in a direction that you didn’t expect. We encourage people to do actual chatting before they start work, and we move into written communication for the brief stage.

What’s the secret to building accountability and governance across large teams?

I think it’s a focus on results and ensuring we have a culture of accountability and ownership. We build that at Commonwealth by both empowering our people and taking a disciplined approach to risk management. We’ve identified all the risks we feel we could be exposed to as a team and have implemented controls for each one; and every quarter we test whether the controls we’ve put in place are mitigating each possible risk.

What advice would you give to a marketing leader looking to build this type of cross-team collaboration?

Collaboration can’t be mandated with a stick. It happens when people know there’s something in it for them. My advice would be to focus on the benefits of collaboration for the individual, not just for the business. And help your teams understand how to actually collaborate. Nobody really ever says, “I don’t want to collaborate.” They just need help with the how.

There’s been a lot of research recently from Accenture and others about how successful CMOs need to focus more on collaboration and integration than ever before. What’s your reaction to these findings?

I think it’s a statement of the obvious. Marketers have always had to be the glue that brings teams together within an organization. Quite often you see this thing where people keep trying to add to the role and title of a CMO — you know, the “Chief Customer Marketing Officer” or “Chief Growth Officer” — and it’s frustrating because when was marketing not about the customer? When we constantly change the name of the CMO and carving out these meaty bits around collaboration or growth or customer experience, we diminish the importance of marketing and turn marketing into the “colouring in” department. If marketers are doing their jobs properly, of course they are collaborating, of course they are focusing on the customer and the customer’s experience. That is what good marketers do.

You have a lot of experience with Six Sigma; how do you approach operational efficiency within the marketing organization?

Six Sigma is a great discipline, but it’s about building repeatable processes and efficiency — and most of the magic in marketing comes from doing things that haven’t been done before. When we tried to track everything, it actually went against our philosophy of empowering people.

But marketers are constantly under pressure to deliver more with less. So a productivity and efficiency measurement lens allows you to identify the more administrative areas of the work that can be streamlined; this opens up capacity to do more strategic marketing work. Let’s find opportunities to do things more efficiently and then use that new capacity to be more strategic, to do more creative thinking, to do all the things marketers love to do.

And finally, what is the biggest challenge facing marketers in the financial services industry?

Customer expectations are rising across all industries; that’s not news. But I think marketers have the opportunity to lead the way on cultural changes. Marketing has always been about the customer and collaboration and bringing the different parts of the business together. If we leverage all these strengths, we are in the position to drive cultural change, truly make these organizations even more focused on the customers’ best interests, and ultimately drive satisfied customers and business success. It’s not easy, but it’s an exciting opportunity.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed.

Esti Frischling is NewsCred’s Regional Manager, APAC.