Marriott’s CMO on how being a PR expert has propelled her marketing career

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She spent the next five years learning the ropes of marketing before taking some time off to hone her entrepreneurial skills by managing her own marketing consultancy.

She then went to Yahoo Media Group to head up marketing. This lead to her next role at Disney where for the first time she was able to bring together everything she had learned throughout her career.

One of the best lessons I learned was being part of a team that was evaluating behavioural segmentation.

Karin Timpone, Marriott International

Finally, in 2013, she arrived at Marriott International as global marketing officer.

“I thought it was the perfect opportunity to bring all of [my past experience] together,” she explains. This was particularly useful for the development of the hotel group’s loyalty programme Marriott Bonvoy. Under Timpone’s leadership, membership has tripled to 130 million.

Inside the launch of Marriott’s new loyalty programme

Having worked for brands across beverages, entertainment, media and hospitality, Timpone’s CV screams variety. This, she says, has given her the vital knowledge of understanding what questions to ask and when.

“When I [joined Marriott, its loyalty offer had] around 45 million members, but I asked questions from my digital background like, ‘How are you acquiring customers?’ I asked questions from my media background like, ‘How are you telling a story and engaging that customer?’ And I asked questions around the brand ethos, which came from my brand background.”

Having transformed Marriott’s marketing capabilities over the past six years, Timpone is now due to leave the hotel business at the end of the year.

Getting a grounding in communications 

PR manager, various agencies 

“I worked at a variety of PR agencies in London and New York, across a range of different lifestyle brands in fashion and beauty.

“It was a great starting ground to work across various dynamic companies. That experience of going through lots of change with different brands, launches and meeting different kinds of support, it gave me an appreciation of the importance of having really clear communications.”

From niche to global

Various roles, including director of public relations and global corporate communications, Seagram (1993-1998)

“Seagram invited me in to do two roles: one was a corporate communications role where I was able to work on some really fascinating projects.

From a marketing perspective, I learned a lot from my role leading marketing and communications for Absolut Vodka. This was during a very, strong trajectory for the vodka category. Absolut was going from a niche brand to a much more global brand. I worked on some campaigns which taught me a lot about marketing and how to develop a brand ethos.

“Absolut was known for its creativity and its edge. It had a clear sense of fan-based community. It was a significant experience for me to work with people around the world on behalf of a very creative brand that transcended borders and countries.

“I was working across a variety of brands at the same time so my experience in agencies really helped. While I was working on Absolut, I was working on multiple brands, like champagne Mumm. Absolut really helped show other brands in the portfolio how to be close to the customer. It was about taking a leading brand and using that to inform the rest of the portfolio.”

Exploring a broader remit

Various roles, including senior vice-president of marketing, communications and research in TV distribution, Universal Studios (1998-2003)

“At Absolut, media was just as much a part of the brand story so I was offered an opportunity to grow my career [at Universal]. The role was a broader remit of marketing and communications, and I was tasked with distributing Universal’s library to every form of media. 

“It was an interesting jumping off point. The role was of global nature, but it was very much about storytelling.

“It gave me a real learning of how the media business works, inside out. That to me that was fundamental; how marketing and communications can get to a customer through a media business that’s really expert in different areas. It was a strong and important part of my career.”

Honing entrepreneurial skills

Principal and consultant, Good Ground Media and Marketing (2003-2005) 

“I worked for myself for a period of time after I left Universal. I worked with a variety of different companies, one of which was United airlines, where I helped launch a brand. It was really interesting to test my entrepreneurial chops inside of larger companies that was looking for change.”

Combining storytelling with data and technology

Head of marketing and head of customer innovation, Yahoo (2005-2008)

“In the midst of taking that entrepreneurial direction, Yahoo asked me to be head of marketing for all of its content. At the time, that was the largest user base online. I thought, now that I know brand and storytelling as a building block… that would really help me [inject] more storytelling into a company that was expert in data and technology. It was an interesting journey to work with data every day.

“One of the best lessons I learned was being part of a team that was evaluating behavioural segmentation. Even though I was good at the brand part and the narrative part, everybody around the organisation was really expert in looking at the right level on engagement on a piece of content.

“I was part of a team that did a behavioural segmentation… to work out what the most engaging and profitable stuff was. I still have that know-how in my head. What is the most profitable stuff that people click on? That is something everyone needs to know.”

Combining different skills

Senior vice-president of digital media, Disney (2008-2013)

“Video seemed to be a heavy engagement opportunity for a fan base, and I wanted to be involved in a company that was very set on delivering deep engagement through video.

“Disney had just started a unit that was distributing some of its television content through mobile and online, it was really ground-breaking at the time.

“One of things we accomplished was the first-ever live streaming broadcast network on a mobile device, which is very difficult to do.

“My role was product strategy in the digital media division as well as marketing, so I got deeper into the product creation digitally.”

Similar strategy, different dynamics

Outgoing global marketing officer, Marriott International (2013-present)

“The lessons [I’ve taken to Marriott] are really about how customer, technology, tools and storytelling are all changing, and using that to build a very strong platform for us to have direct conversations with travellers all around the world and drive them to our brand.

“[Compared to the other brands I’ve worked at,] there are more similarities than differences from a marketing perspective, because it’s about understanding the strategies of acquiring, engaging, retaining and converting a customer, so it’s similar in that respect.

“In the media world, you want a fan base around your app, network or franchise, but there are more planned releases in terms of entertainment, and content releases drive a bit of what that engagement looks like. In the case of a travel company, we’re open every day of the year so we are trying to drive awareness and hotel stays every single day.

“So marketing strategy might be similar but the dynamics of the delivery are different.”

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