January 8, 2014

CMO Insights: Marketing Leadership

by Renegade

Phil_ClementAsk any brand manager of a global company, and they’ll tell you that no two geographic regions are alike. Now, imagine coordinating marketing efforts across not a few, but 120 countries! This is Phil Clement’s reality as the Global CMO of insurance and risk advisor Aon. The company has a presence in nearly half the world’s territories, but has managed to uphold a consistent brand image thanks to a sponsorship of Manchester United, thoughtful content creation and some key employee surveys. After winning the prestigious President’s Circle Award at this year’s CMO Club Awards, Phil graciously agreed to elaborate on these efforts and more. This is part 1 of our extensive (and fabulously instructive) interview.

Drew: Can you provide a quick overview of AON in terms of your role in the insurance industry? 

We’re predominantly in the B2B space. If you’re a hospital and you want to build a new hospital in New York, you would hire us to advise you on maximizing the health and benefit plans of your employees. We help people access what they need to address risk and help their people.

Drew: As a risk advisory, what role does marketing play for Aon?

Generally speaking, people are quite articulate and well-versed in the risk they might face. Our marketing needs to make sure that, when they are concerned about those issues, we come to mind and folks want to engage us in solving their problems.

Drew: Besides Aon’s sponsorship of Manchester United, tell me about some of your other marketing initiatives. 

One of my favorites is our best employer survey. What we do in about 100 countries is identify who are the best employers. It’s a two-part process. The first is to identify what the local economy believes are the best qualities of an employer and then rank the companies against that criteria. The process of doing the survey, doing the ranking, emailing the report and having a media partner distribute it is very affordable. It’s difficult for us to move the needle if we do one good idea in one geography. When you’re sifting through $11 billion in revenue in 120 countries, one percent improvement in one country can get lost. Getting something like the best employers program to work globally has been wonderful for us.

Similarly, rather than producing 100 reports on benchmarking and data, which we may have done in the past, we pick a few that cut through the noise. One would be our risk map, where we publish a map that is color-coded based on equivocal risk. What’s the likelihood of a change in regime? If you’re doing business around the world, this map becomes an important tool, and it also suggests that we’re experts in understanding risk. Those are two of my favorite ideas.

Drew: Both of those would go in the bucket of content marketing. If we zero in on the risk map, have you looked at it from a global SEO point of view? Are you doing other things around risk and trying to own that word?

The nice thing about the word “risk” or “HR” is that we’re already number one in most of those spaces. What I started working on eight years ago was defining our spaces and making sure we had the presence to be number one. Our SEO strategy is consistent; we want to make sure people can find us.

Also, the best employers and the risk map live up to an acronym that I created called CUTT. When it comes to content, we want it to be Compelling, Useful, Timely and Transactional, meaning it captures people’s attention, it’s something that people feel they can use and reference, and it directly correlates to our business. A lot of marketers are good at hitting one of the four. It’s a constant challenge to get teams to think about hitting all four.

Drew: What does it take to hit all four?

Just consistency, and asking yourself, as a team, is this compelling? Is this useful? Is this something that they can put in their box to be read during Christmas vacation and it’s July, or is this something that they need to react to? That last piece requires a deep understanding of what your services are and why you market them, so you can give clients an in-road to want to work with you.

Drew: Do you have a team in place that is focused on content development, and has that team grown?

No. What we have is a responsibility that is injected into all roles. We have an HR model centered on five principles, and those are the same principles we use in our leadership model. Employees are evaluated by these, and they’re part of our brand as well. One of them is the value of business results; whether you’re facing clients or not facing clients, you have to understand what drives their business results.

Drew: If you don’t have employees only focused on content, do you not see Aon as a publisher of content, in a sense? It sounds like you have two big tent poles and content between.

That’s fair. I’m certainly not looking to solve the world’s problems in publishing. If you were a risk manager for a restaurant chain, our newsletters on food contamination and food safety—what’s being done preventively and what’s being filed as problems and claims—might be your most valuable reading. That’s all we aspire to.

As a CMO with 120 countries and 32 industries, how do you stay on top of what might be of interest to the risk manager at the restaurant in Rome?

First and foremost, you realize that you can’t. We just try to educate and share ways to solve problems, ways to look for the information, and try to create as much enjoyment of the challenge as possible. A lot of stuff, like the Manchester United sponsorship, came out of the center. We distribute assets that people can use, but there is always local jazz, where people improvise or do neat, creative things.

That being said, we have metrics, reports and a weekly dashboard that help me understand if something is going right or wrong. The thing that drives performance over a long period of time tends to be somewhere in the middle. We spend a lot of time working together. My favorite thing is to roll up my sleeves and work in geography on a project with a team. I prefer that to studying a report because we learn more from the perspective of what’s going on in other places.

Drew: You’ve been the CMO at Aon for eight years and must have been part of / witnessed some major changes, right?  

We were around $19 a share when I joined, and we’re well over $80 now. We’ve been one of the highest performing stocks in the financials services through some pretty rough times. We sold about a third of the company and bought a new third. We went from number 2 to number 1 in every space. I’ve got a group of colleagues on the executive management team that I really believe in and my CEO brings out the best in everyone.