“Great marketers tend to be great convenors”

Says Becky Moffat, CMO at HSBC.

But what is a convenor?

Its not a word that I had in my vocabulary at all until I took on the role of deputy and then convenor of the IPA Effectiveness Awards judges.  During this period, from 2018 to 2022, when I read more words in IPA awards submissions than there are in War and Peace and Lord of the Rings combined (with less fights, and fewer hobbits), I found myself talking about and thinking about convening more than in the rest of my career.

Becky was talking about the fact that the role of a modern marketer in the new communications economy is complex, has multiple responsibilities, and requires influence beyond direct reporting lines.

Direct reports might not be responsible for the ingredients necessary for success. We know of course that there is a much better chance of a product launch success in fmcg if it can combine a gondola end in a supermarket with an advertising campaign.  Yet although the ad campaign may be the direct responsibility of the head of marketing, the negotiation of gondola ends trading may not.  If the marketing director has the remit of delivering queries to the website, the user experience, which will enhance or diminish conversion to sales, might be out of that remit.  Even within the marketing framework, if the pr team don’t align with the brand team, who don’t liaise well with the performance team, then chaos will limit successful growth.

So, of course, Becky is correct, you need to get people working together in the best possible way, whether they work directly for you or not, whether they share your short term kpis or not.  Otherwise the business will falter in terms of overall growth potential.  Getting a team of disparate people to work well together is the skill of the convenor.  I asked my convening peers at the IPA to explain how you best do this.

Here’s Harjot Singh, Global CSO McCann (Convenor 2022), picking up on the emotional intelligence necessary: “To me it is a leadership skill in general and about doing 5 things really well in particular: Planning, communicating, facilitating, building relationships and problem solving.

You know you’re a good convenor if you can do these 5 things in a way that places you in a position of strength to create an environment conducive to collaboration, where all parties involved are comfortable sharing knowledge, expressing ideas with enthusiasm and working cohesively towards a common goal.”

Neil Godbar, exec strategy director WundermanThompson, convenor 2018, has a practical take on the skills needed for the role: “Making sure you finish on time won me the biggest good will. Structuring the sessions: I told everyone we would start at the top, then the bottom, and use the rest of the time in the grey. That helped people navigate the day and feel productive. Be thorough in your preparation: make sure you know the papers AND the judges’ responses. That meant starting with the consensus, but picking up the outlier comments that could change the POV. I felt the need to balance giving everyone their voice, whilst ultimately steering the ship. When in trouble, ask for a show of hands.”

And here’s Jo Arden, cso Ogilvy, who is convening in 2024, on the power of active listening: “. I think the big thing for me is about making sure everyone has their say. Which is why I think that strategy people are pretty good at convening – we are used to hearing the quiet ones. I think we are also good at hearing what is going unsaid – the tone, the enthusiasm, the caveats that people attached to their POV are where the debate cracks open – I think we recognise those moments and dive in.   The last thing I would say is that whilst consensus is good – there is also real power in going with an outlier view when that view has more rigour.”

I would add one more thing.  Find the best people, get them in a room, and then disregard what their job titles are.  If you limit people to their specialisms then you don’t get the best out of them.  Get the experts and the right experience, then, like the pirates do, get everyone focussed on one goal, irrespective of their day jobs. Let them challenge each other, regardless of areas of expertise, by resolving these challenges in a safe and constructive manner, you get to the best outcomes.

Convening is crucial, it is a skill and an important role.  Taking it seriously can be a step change to business success.  

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