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Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Marketing career choice: Agency or client-side?

I was recently asked a question about the value of getting started in your marketing career on either the agency or client-side. It would be easy enough to brush aside with a “how long is a piece of string” (or in this case, “How varied is a career”) because everyone's journey is different. But it made me really ponder which way is best for someone starting their marketing career.

There are really only two final destinations: Either becoming a brand Chief Marketing Officer, or becoming a CEO of an agency/agency network. On the flowing river to CMO or agency CEO you can of course exit in big corporations in specialist roles (Head of Digital; Research/Insights; move into Sales, etc.) or embrace the operational aspects of the craft (becoming a Creative Director, Head of Media, etc.) as a goal.

Regardless of the answer, or goal, I strongly feel that marketers need to embrace Daniel Pink’s work on motivation (Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose) to first get a sense of themselves and what they want to achieve in a satisfying marketing career.


The level of autonomy is closely related to the level of trust you have within your organization and what the stakes are for your role. Autonomy is the need for people to become self-directed in their work. The problem here is that often client-side marketers can’t get out of the way of agencies creating their best work, and agencies are too deadline and brief driven to be truly self-directed.

In terms of career potential, at the beginning of your career there’s no real winner for autonomy. You’re going to be working hard over long hours when you’re starting out. It really comes down to the brand you work for and how they look at their marketing efforts. I’d personally say that at mid-level and senior-levels, there’s more autonomy on the client-side.


For client-side marketers, mastery is ultimately about selling the company’s products while building it’s (positive) brand. It’s about truly understanding the “business of marketing” – setting a clear vision of how and why you’re engaging customers, getting the best from your agency and other partners and using marketing tools to sell lots and lots of products. Mastery of marketing is a mastery of business. It is about being the voice of the customer internally and relentlessly focusing on building advocacy with great products (at the right price), great services and genuine engagement. An emphasis on sales is usually seen here.

For agency-side marketers, all of the above applies but it is filtered through a client brief. Mastery comes from living and breathing creative and media solution that get your client’s products into the hands of its customers. Agency-side marketers are usually closer to operational marketing (advertising and media channels) than client-side marketers and this tends to create excellent opportunities to specialise.

Mastery of the marketing craft can be equally attained via going either the client-side or agency-side.


Purpose is a little clearer. For me, brands have a much clearer purpose and understand their role in the world better. Many agencies have undeniably lost their way in recent years and are only now getting back to their core purpose of supporting their clients in creating amazing work that sells products. The important thing here is not what the purpose of the company is, but what your purpose is. If your personal purpose aligns with your job, great. And it’s even better if your job purpose aligns to the brand/products that you’re marketing. Purpose is an intensely personal thing and often people need time to figure out their purpose, or where they want to work based on this.

So aside from having autonomy, mastery and a clear purpose in either a client or agency-side role, what are the key things to keep in mind? Here's what I've learned so far (in no particular order) that might help you decide if either agency or client-side is right for you:

  • The best marketers have both agency and client side experience. 
  • Brand/client-side jobs are more valued and pay better in the long-run. Client-side marketing roles tend to allow you to develop more over time and have a direct path to the Boardroom in most organizations.
  • If you've spent more than 5 years’ agency-side, it's very hard to move to the client-side. It’s certainly not impossible though but the skills you need to succeed as a client-side marketer are less to do with operational marketing and more to do with securing budgets, managing non-marketing stakeholders and holding peer-level conversations with sales teams.
  • Agencies are generally more fun and you'll learn more about the "craft" of marketing (especially digital) being hands-on at an agency. But you'll miss out on the business side - you will be further away from budgets, setting sales targets and the "why" of what you're doing.
  • It's usually better to start out your career in marketing client-side. But you need to love the company and its products. Several industries, such as Luxury or FMCG are tough to crack into later in your career. For example, FMCG companies generally ask you to start from the bottom, so it's very difficult to get into if you've started from the agency world (unless you’re a specialist).
  • If you start client-side for a couple of years and work really closely with your agency in that time. Then flip over to the agency-side if you're not moving fast enough up the corporate ladder (or vice-versa). If you can then do one or more years’ agency-side, then you have a choice to make - choose agency or brand/client.
  • Go where the personal and professional development is. I’ve found that agencies tend to put a greater focus on developing marketing skills (they need to, to compete in the changing world of marketing).  
  • For your first few jobs, honestly, it doesn't matter if you go client or agency. In the first 5 or so years you can make a switch without much hassle. It's when you're 8 - 10 years into marketing that you become "stuck" in one side or the other. The most important thing is to do something truly memorable - a big campaign, a new tech platform, bringing in huge sales for your client or company (this last one is particularly important).
  • If you eventually want to be a Chief Marketing Officer, you probably need skills you don’t know about.
  • Regardless of being an agency or client-side marketer, you need to work on your personal brand. For example, by mentoring others, or sharing your insights via social media and speaking engagements. That puts you in a position where employers will chase you... and not the other way around.

There’s no right or wrong answer but the best marketers are well rounded people who’ve experienced both worlds first hand. If you’re starting out your career or going through a career change, my advice is to love the brand you want to work for. Passion also trumps experience. If you’re passionate about a brand, agency or even a hiring manager, take the leap. Everyone has a different and unique journey. 

Saturday, 19 September 2015

The problem with agencies & tech vendors: They don’t understand the business of marketing

It’s the greatest challenge facing the marketing world today. It can be summarized in three points:
  1. Agencies don’t understand brands, and continually complain about cost cutting, bad briefs and bad clients.
  2. Brands struggle to find and work with quality agencies, and are overwhelmed by tech companies trying to sell “solutions” that don’t actually solve their real problems.
  3. Tech vendors focus only on trying to sell their product without really understanding how marketing teams operate or what agencies need to do to succeed with clients.

The problem is that the business of marketing is not understood.

Identifying why this is a problem.

To understand this and why it’s important, we need to get into the mind-set of brands and marketers. This is the right place to start because marketers are the customer – the ones that hold the key to budgets for both agencies and tech vendors. Marketers run pitches, RFPs and campaigns.  But before going there, let’s look at the other players: agencies and tech companies.

Agencies should understand that their role, and their entire existence, should be dedicated to help marketers do their job well. This basic point seems to have been lost somewhere along the way. Perhaps it’s been the disruption of technology and digital that’s caused agencies to try to branch out into trying to develop products (too often a distraction), or it could be the rapidly draining talent pool that no longer finds advertising or media particularly fulfilling. There are many reasons, but regardless, agencies have lost sight of their core purpose and to a lesser extent, their business model.

Technology companies (selling solutions such as marketing automation, CRM, analytics, social listening, etc.) are much newer to the marketing game. Many leaders in these companies come from fundamentally different backgrounds – they are not marketers but are instead product or tech people who are fascinated by the tech and don’t really have the time or inclination to understand how marketing really works.

Inside the mind of a marketer.

Keep in mind the context of agencies losing sight of their core focus, and tech companies never being truly grounded in marketing, we can get into the head to understand the motivation of marketers. 

There are 12 facts you need to understand about marketers:
  • Marketers don’t really care about ads. They do advertising all the time, but no marketer will ever have KPIs / Objectives based on doing advertising.
  • Marketers KPIs (and remuneration and motivation) are based on increasing company revenue and market share, cutting costs, lifting brand and making customers happy (among other things).
  • Creativity is a nice to have. Its super cool to sit in meetings and see a great idea come together but results always trump the idea.
  • Digital scares most marketers. This fear has left an opening that tech vendors are exploiting – selling “shiny widgets” that are supposed to solve problems, but instead create bigger issues in operationalizing the platforms and having to make significant organizational change.
  • Marketers are terrible at change management. Agencies and tech vendors also don’t address this or help with this at all. It’s the major reason that there’s “no budget” available for campaigns or tech, or that you get a “no” to that proposal.
  • Less than 10% of a marketer’s time is spent thinking about agencies, creative, ads, media selection or campaigns. For tech vendors, it’s much less than 5%. It’s not that these things are not important, it’s just that’s not what a marketer does.
  • A marketer’s job is dominated by building internal relationships, getting buy-in from stakeholders, endless meetings (on sales, numbers, data, etc.) and doing lots of (internal) presentations.
  • Marketer’s main tools are spreadsheets and PowerPoint, not storyboards and tech platforms.
  • Marketing budgets are fluid, and often tied to pre-planned activities. Budgets change every quarter, based on revenue/profit results. For every new idea presented, something has to be cut.
  • Marketers want to understand the change in the media landscape, how customers are buying their products and what the future looks like. But they are time-poor and don’t know who to trust to help them.
  • Marketing is not easy. Agencies and tech vendors do not make it easier.
  • Overall, there’s very little effort to understand each other (on all sides). For example, when is the last time (if ever), a business or marketing plan was shared by the brand to the agency or partner? Do agencies and tech partners ask to see it?

So what is the business of marketing?

The business of marketing is strategically easy to grasp – it’s mapping out where the company/product is today, then looking at their the short-term goals (quarterly, annual) and the long term goals (2 years+) to see what the brand value, sales, market share, profit and customer satisfaction is going to look like. A marketer has four roles in this:
  1. Helping set these objectives (internally with senior management, sales, product and support teams).
  2. Building an activity plan to get there.
  3. Reporting on the progress towards the goals (daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually).
  4. Putting in place the right marketing capability (people, process, platforms and partners) to support the brand’s growth.

The business of marketing is what the brand’s marketing team does on a day-to-day basis to achieve the 4 points above.

Where is the disconnect?

The problem is that most of the time agencies, tech companies and partners simply don’t understand the four basics of the business of marketing. Agencies tend to focus very stubbornly on point 2 (the activity plan), but occasionally play in the other 3 areas (increasingly so in point 4). Tech vendors only focus on the capability piece, and neglect almost all of the other areas. The reasons for the disconnect is simple. For Agencies they are:
  • Still stuck in the mind-set of asking for briefs, happy to be working on campaigns that are tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.
  • Reactive and burnt out by sharing ideas that never get implemented. This is because client marketers don’t know how to receive innovation or new ideas, often because they are not presented correctly or in a way that’s easy to implement.
  • Trying to solve business problems with advertising.

For tech companies, the traps they fall into are: 
  • Trying to sell their product as the answer to many problems, without understanding the context or objectives of the marketer. One prolific industry that does this is social intelligence / social listening – it’s important, but what problem does it exactly solve? Will it help our team make another $100m in sales? And if so, how…
  • Focusing far too much on product features over (customized, specific) benefits.
  • Neglecting completely the change management element of all new tech programs. This is critical because it’s not just implementing the tech, but it’s more important to train staff, get rid of the old tech and previous processes that this solution is replacing, get a new process in place, update everyone’s KPIs, etc.
  • Generally having underdeveloped communication and empathy skills (replaced by strong sales skills).

How do we fix these problems and work together?

There’s no easy fixes to these problems as many of them are cultural and are now deeply ingrained in marketing behaviours. Following the suggestion below will help.

For marketers:
  • Objectives: Share as much information as possible – your marketing plan, budgets (if you value transparency and are under NDA), sales targets and your personal objectives / KPIs.
  • Include your agency and partners in on the long term vision.
  • Be clear about what’s it going to take to get your promotion or pay rise. A basic rule of thumb is that you’ll probably get a promotion for bringing in $100m in new revenue, probably not for winning a Gold at Cannes.
  • State up-front what you can say “yes” to, and where you need to influence others.
  • Tell your partners about the approval process that you need to go through to get a new idea implemented.
  • Invite your agencies to ask for volunteers to work on your business. Passion trumps experience, and you need the most motivated people working on your business.
  • Consider having “open days” where agencies and partners can meet your stakeholders and understand how the business runs (e.g. go to a factory where the products are made, visit a retail store or bank branch, sit down with customers).

For agencies:
  • Objectives: Please ask your client for the long term objectives and sales targets. Insist on it. You need to understand the context and why you’re doing what you’re doing.
  • Make the briefing process as easy as possible, but understand that you need to create other occasions for you to talk to marketing clients. If you truly understand their motivations, create opportunities for them to talk about them, and if can work to support them, you’ll win.
  • Understand that no matter how amazing your idea, it means nothing if the client can’t go through a change management process internally to get it approved. Put a greater focus on how they can implement the idea, as well as how much money it might make for the brand. Ideally, an idea would be broken into 4 elements: First, the actual Creative/Media idea; But also time and capability you need to put in and what the client needs to put in to make it happen; Business results (sales, margin, market share, brand); And support material for the approvals that are needed (e.g. a PowerPoint presentation customized to other internal stakeholders that makes saying yes very easy to your client).
  • Build a stakeholder map of your client. Who are they, how they prefer to be communicated with (face-to-face, WhatsApp, call, etc.), what are their motivations. Then map out that persons stakeholders and who they need to influence. It’s a very handy cheat-sheet to understand how to sell-in new ideas and programs.
  • Learn more about the client’s marketing capability requirements. Develop a plan that gives you context on their technology or plans to buy technology, level of their people’s marketing skills and skill gaps, how they leverage data, etc. This will put you in the driver’s seat in discussions with tech and media partners in the future and will open up new revenue streams.
  • Most importantly, build trust. If you’re a brief-taker, then your agency is a commodity and the decisions about you will be price driven. If you can build trust with individual marketers you become a partner and will see tangible value.

For tech vendors:
  • Objectives: Please ask your client for the long term objectives and sales targets. Just keep in mind it’s a tougher sell to ask either your marketing or agency client than it is for an agency to ask for from their client.
  • Take the time to understand your clients and what their technology plans are. Rarely is something so unique that a brand won’t have it. Brands have a lot of technology and platforms and it’s often the case that you’re trying to dislodge and incumbent partner. You’ll only do that based on being concrete about achieving the marketer’s objectives/KPIs, not by saying your product is better.
  • Understand the day-in-the-life of a marketer. Really understand what they go through in the business of marketing.
  • The change management process is critical. Like agencies, focus on how they can implement the idea, as well as how much money it might make for the brand or agency.
  • Play nice with agencies and media companies. Build a partnership built on trust and mutual benefit. Marketers trust them more than they trust you. There are often long-standing relationships between marketers and their agencies, with trust being built over many years. Most marketing tech companies are less than 10 years old and marketers don’t know whether you will fail, or whether you’ll be bought by another competitor that we don’t want to work with, or even whether the product will be relevant in 12 months’ time.
  • Sell less and talk more. The majority of the time an approach by a tech vendor feels like it’s a numbers game, with generic intro emails or a thinly veiled attempt to socialize disguised as a sales call or a Connection via LinkedIn that leads to an immediate (and inappropriate) sales pitch. Be genuine, use the brand’s real data and case studies from the same industry to become more relevant in the discussion. 

It’s critical to really understand how marketers think and what they do in their day-to-day jobs. If agencies and tech vendors can understand their motivations and objectives, we all win.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

I was awarded "Asia's Most Influential CMO 2015"

Today was an auspicious day. At the 6th CMO Asia Awards and the World Brand Congress in Singapore, I was awarded "Asia's Most Influential CMO 2015". Congratulations to all the other worthy winners and thank you to the judges, and the World Brand Congress team! I am humbled and honoured to receive this prestigious award.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

I'm joining Standard Chartered as Global Head of Digital Marketing

I'm incredibly excited to announce that I'm joining Standard Chartered, based in Singapore, as the new Global Head of Digital Marketing. I'm sad to be leaving my Vice President/regional CMO role at Philips, but it's an exciting new journey I'm starting out on. In fact, I've even graduated to having my own media release!

Here's the official media release:

Standard Chartered appoints new Global Head of Digital Marketing

Damien Cummings from Philips hired to drive the Bank’s digital marketing strategy
Singapore, 19 May 2015 – Standard Chartered Bank today announced the appointment of Damien Cummings as Global Head of Digital Marketing. He will join the Bank in June 2015 and be based in Singapore, reporting directly to Sanjeeb Chaudhuri, Group Head of Brand and Chief Marketing Officer.
Damien is currently Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Philips ASEAN and Pacific. He has over 20 years of experience in digital and marketing transformation. He is currently responsible for brand, communications and digital marketing across Philips Consumer Lifestyle, Philips Lighting and Philips Healthcare.  Prior to joining Philips, he was the Regional Marketing Director, Digital and Social Media at Samsung Asia. Damien has also worked at major global corporations in Australia and Singapore including Dell, Ogilvy, Citibank, Coca-Cola, NRMA and McKinsey & Company.
Sanjeeb Chaudhuri said: “I am delighted to welcome Damien to Standard Chartered. As a strategic hire for the marketing team, Damien will drive innovation and transformation in all aspects of digital and mobile marketing. I am confident that the appointment of an executive of this calibre will further strengthen the Bank’s brand and marketing leadership capabilities in the digital era.”
Damien will be responsible for providing digital and mobile marketing thought leadership as well as strategy formulation and execution. He will work with business partners to achieve our business aspirations across the Bank.
Damien is a much sought after speaker and blogger on marketing transformation and digital strategies and actively participates as a thought leader on international industry bodies including the Mobile Marketing Association, CMO Council and World Federation of Advertisers.

- Ends -
For further information please contact:
May Meere
Head of External Communications
Group Functions
Standard Chartered Bank
Note to Editors
Standard Chartered
We are a leading international banking group, with more than 90,000 employees and a 150-year history in some of the world’s most dynamic markets. We bank the people and companies driving investment, trade and the creation of wealth across Asia, Africa and the Middle East, where we earn around 90 per cent of our income and profits. Our heritage and values are expressed in our brand promise, Here for good.
Standard Chartered PLC is listed on the London and Hong Kong Stock Exchanges as well as the Bombay and National Stock Exchanges in India.
For more information please visit Explore our insights and comment on our blog, BeyondBorders. Follow Standard Chartered on TwitterLinkedIn and Facebook

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Content Updates & Scheduling on Social Networks

I'm often asked how I maintain my social media updates throughout the day (while still doing a full-time job!). Well, I cheat. I pre-read a lot of sales and marketing content and schedule it to be published at a later time/date. I usually do around 6 -8 updates per day on Twitter and LinkedIn, and 4 on Saturday and Sunday. It only takes an hour or so per week (plus reading) but gives you a robust social media presence. Here are the 4 key steps:

1. Find the right content.

The most important step is finding the right content to share. It takes a lot of time to read through it all but it gives you the dual benefit of getting you up-to-speed on what's happening in the industry but also identifying what content to share. As a kick start, here are 50 blogs that are worth reading:
I also regularly read,,,, and Twitter is also incredibly useful in finding relevant and useful content.

2. Aggregate content in one place.

The best content comes from those you follow or respect. To help identify this, I’ve subscribed to Newsle ( and Nuzzel (, which are free tools for news about my friends/network.  I also use Feedly ( to aggregate news/blogs together in once place.

3. Schedule your content.

I really love and use a tool called Buffer ( There’s a free version that allows you to schedule up to 10 updates at a time. There's a paid version (which I use) that allows for unlimited updates. Buffer is simple to use, and has a Chrome extension, meaning if you download it for the Chrome browser, when you’re reading a website or article you simply click on the Buffer icon in the top left corner to schedule it into Buffer. Other tools you might consider are Hootsuite ( and here are 6 more:

4. Publish them to your social networks.

I’ve connected my Twitter and LinkedIn accounts to Buffer, but you can also connect your Facebook account if you like. If you’re advanced, you can scheduled different content for different social networks (for different audiences).

I hope this helps - and happy content publishing!

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

My new adventure – I’m joining Philips!

I’ve been blessed with a great career at some of the most amazing brands in the world. In 2012, I joined the biggest brand in Asia and the world’s largest technology company, Samsung. It was a great ride. I had the great pleasure of working with some of the best and brightest minds in marketing on some of the best products ever created. My role matched my passions – leading marketing transformation in Asia, doing great work in digital, changing the game in social business, introducing e-commerce to the region (for Samsung) and building a great brand. Unfortunately, at the end of 2013, I was retrenched by the (at the time) new regional leadership at Samsung as part of a management restructure. The move was widely reported in the media including Campaign Asia, Mumbrella and Marketing Magazine.

It’s tough going through such a sudden change, both professionally and personally. For the last couple of months I’ve taken time out to reassess and focus on what’s important in life – friends, family, being healthy, giving back to the community and sharing my knowledge. It also gave me a unique opportunity to focus on finding a new role at a company that was more closely aligned to my values – a company that focuses on helping people and improving people’s lives.  I was fortunate to be approached by Philips. I’ve always been a huge fan of the Philips brand, which I believe is one of the most innovative and caring companies in the world. It’s a brand that is helping the world, as you can see from their company profile:

“Royal Philips of the Netherlands is a diversified technology company, focused on improving people’s lives through meaningful innovation in the areas of HealthcareConsumer Lifestyle and Lighting. The company is a leader in cardiac care, acute care and home healthcare, energy efficient lighting solutions and new lighting applications, as well as male shaving and grooming and oral healthcare.”

I’ve accepted the role of Regional Vice President & Chief Marketing Officer for Philips ASEAN & Pacific. I'll be part of the regional management team, reporting to the well respected CEO of Philips ASEAN & Pacific, Harjit Gill. It’s a big role, focused on three key areas – building the Philips brand in the region (it’s already number 40 in Interbrand’s top 100 global brands), implementing best-in-class communications and social media practices, and making Philips a digital marketing leader. I’m very excited as I strongly believe three key things:

  • Brands are not built by a 30-second TVC or by advertising. Brands are built by engaging customers and driving advocacy. I’ve had a lot of experience in brand storytelling and engaging influencers and advocates – a discipline that I’m surprised that more brands aren’t embracing.
  • Social media has fundamentally changed how brands engage customers, shareholders, media and other stakeholders. Brave brands, like Philips, are embracing this tectonic shift in communications and are investing into social media. This is an area I will dedicate myself and my team to becoming a best practice leader in.
  • Digital marketing is the future. I’ve worked in digital my entire career and I’m very honoured to be one of the few digital marketers to breakthrough into a senior level marketing/CMO role. While I appreciate and support specialists, I personally don’t understand the need to have separate digital teams as part of the wider marketing organisation – I want Philips to become the best digital marketing organisation in the world. I plan to bring my extensive experience in this area to my new role.

I start my new, very exciting role in February 2014. If you're interested in working with Philips and joining me on this adventure, please check out the Philips Career website here:

I’m only one person but I believe in the power of networking and value the ideas of others. If you have any thoughts on Philips, specifically on what I can do to help grow the brand, improve communications or drive digital transformation across the region, I’d love to hear from you. Please let me know what you think in the comments section below or feel free to email me directly (