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Bobi Carley 

Aligning the planets for better communication

Aligning the planets for better communication

Bobi Carley questions the communication between marketing and finance and asks whether anything has changed as result of taking talk online

“We don’t talk anymore …”

Fortunately, I don’t have any street cred to lose by starting this piece with lyrics from a Cliff Richard song. (I guess I could try and pretend that I was referring to Charlie Puth?)

Young or old(er), we all know that communication is the bedrock of our business. That’s a lesson that we’ve had to re-learn over the last year, as our lives changed.

In our industry, which is built on relationships, we’ve had to re- learn forgotten skills – hopefully, ones which will set us in good stead for the future.

We learnt to listen, to pause, and to make time for people.

As our lives became dominated by Zoom and Teams, we experienced communication without non-verbal cues and without spontaneity or being able to interject. It’s been fundamentally harder; but by and large, we’ve managed to adapt.

But how has it effected the quality of internal conversations and external partnerships?

Whether they are in the flesh or virtual, building internal relationships is critical. Nowhere is this more crucial than between marketeers and the holders of their precious budgets – the finance team.

As experts in communication, why is it that for some marketeers, when they talk to their finance team, it’s like Mars talking to Venus?

It’s a challenge I regularly hear about – frustrations with Finance not understanding, saying ‘no’, or the concern that they are only thinking about the short-term.

Who is at fault, if anybody?

What I can say is that, when the relationship works, it’s fantastic – and it makes your life abundantly easier.

In my years at Disney, my finance lead was like my right arm. She was my ally, backbone, strategist, and was pretty tough. It would amaze me how she could craft stories out of numbers; how she understood our industry; how she knew the right questions to ask.

But what really made the difference was that she had my back.

Sometimes it might take a long while to get to an agreed position, and that journey wasn’t easy. But she would challenge – with knowledge.

Our revenue line fed into multiple areas of Disney’s business – studios, licensing, stores, channels, online, theatrical. That meant that if we didn’t hit targets, we affected multiple P&Ls. We were either Disney Heroes or Disney Villains. Whether you ended up as a Moana or a Maleficent, the process was certainly easier to deal with when you had your finance partner by your side.

Thankfully, times have moved on in the hundred years since one of marketing’s most famous quotes was coined. John Wanamaker, whose department store eventually became Macy’s, said: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

Today, in fact, the problem has turned on its head. Now, if something is not measurable to outcomes, it is questioned whether it’s worth spending on.

This has brought us to the present ‘finance vs. marketing’ challenge, driven by the effects of performance marketing and the crack that was the click.

In a McKinsey survey, 45% of CFOs said the reason marketing proposals had been declined or not fully funded was that they didn’t demonstrate a clear line to value.

We know there is a lot of smart modelling, but branding campaigns with so-called ‘traditional media’ have a less direct understanding of performance. Marketeers just know they work.

When you have left brain talking to right brain, just knowing it works obviously doesn’t cut the mustard. This is where the art of language comes in (along with, of course, a generous amount of MMM modelling). Marketeers need to understand the business objectives, and how Finance is responsible for managing risks.

Both parties don’t need to talk in identical language. But they need to listen and understand. They both have to tell stories; just in a different way.

So has the past year helped, hindered or made no difference to this relationship?

There’s no doubt that I prefer to be sat together with a coffee, having a hug and chipping in when you are so excited you can’t wait for someone to finish their sentence. And of course, over the past year there have been no off-the-cuff conversations at a colleague’s desk. But the multitude of high-quality conversations over Zoom has been unquestionable.

Relationships have been built in a different way as we’ve seen into people’s homes. Their choices of paint colour. The dogs and kids. Our comms lead’s tortoise, Cheerio. The beds. The washing on clotheshorses. All these little windows into our colleagues’ lives.

We’ve seen normality, real people. We’ve seen faces up close, including when there’s been no hiding a bad morning (and, thankfully, we’ve been allowed to have bad mornings). People don’t judge when we look bad or sad. There is a new understanding – and, I like to think, more kindness.

Hopefully, this means that Mars and Venus have found a connection they never had over a spreadsheet – one which will endure when the planets finally align and something approaching normality asserts itself.

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