Home > Marketing > The Interim CMO as Change Agent; Off Script #19: Sophie Shiatis

The Interim CMO as Change Agent; Off Script #19: Sophie Shiatis

The Interim CMO as Change Agent; Off Script 19 Sophie Shiatis-header

The word “interim” might conjure the idea of provisional, or temporary, or stopgap, but there’s one more way to think about it according to the Merriam-Webster definition: intervening. It’s especially relevant at critical moments in time – an interim to get organized.

That is perhaps the essence of an interim CMO.  It’s a critical point in the evolution of a company, when marketing requires a strategic leader and change agent.  It could be a growth stage, or could be the need to re-organize.  That’s my takeaway based on the interview below with Sophie Shiatis.

I first met Sophie years ago when she led the marketing team for PRWeb which was then owned by Vocus (which in turn was acquired by Cision).  As I recall, she had a special talent for e-commerce, which is a science onto itself and was a pivotal part of the PRWeb revenue model at that time.

Though it’s been many years, we recently reconnected and I learned about her latest role with Shiny Blue Marketing, LLC and her services as an interim CMO. I thought the topic would make for an excellent Off Script interview and  Sophie is my guest for this latest edition for the series.

The Interim CMO as an Agent of Change Off Script Sophie Shiatis

1) You’ve worked on both B2C and B2B sides; how is marketing different in each category?

B2C marketing is more relatable as in most cases you can see yourself being the consumer of that product. It is also faster paced, by this I mean that with B2C marketing you are more likely to get insights to your programs faster.

Take for instance a company that is selling educational material to consumers for their own personal advancement. As a marketing person, one of your responsibilities is to identify your target market and create a message that resonates. You create a campaign and you start promoting the product. The most beautiful thing about B2C marketing is that within a day of your campaign launching you have a sense of whether the offer is working and whether consumers will buy your product. And this is where I see B2C marketing being different from B2B marketing.

With B2B marketing things get more complex, you have buyers and influencers, and in most cases, the buying cycle can last from a month to a year. Which doesn’t help the marketer optimize their programs quickly.

For example, if you are selling the same type of product, education content to businesses, you have the training, HR, procurement and a couple of executives evaluating your product to decide if it’s worth their investment. The process of educating the influencers, equipping them with the right arguments to their bosses and then taking it up the chain not only takes time, but countless sales hours trying to convince them to buy your product.

2) You offer a consulting service as an “interim CMO.”  What is an interim CMO and what do they do?

An interim CMO is a someone with a lot of experience that can jump in quickly and make things happen. It’s a strategic thinker who can have an immediate impact, who can manage a team, prioritize what to focus and assist with the search in finding a replacement.

In my experience, one of the key benefits of any “interim executive” is that they have the ability to react and comment on everything without being concerned about the company politics, which provides companies more truthful and uncensored discussions.

For example, I had an assignment last year where I was asked to develop a “best in class ecommerce team”. To the surprise of the CEO my name was not included in the recommendation. Which is exactly my point, you don’t create recommendations to benefit you, but rather to benefit the company you are working for at that moment.

The recommendation I provided included options for a good, better, best approach as I knew that picking the best approach would have required a business shift.  The way I see it is that I have nothing to lose, so in every organization I have been at, I am honest, I provide a different perspective and I challenge the executives to think and act different than they are used to.


See these related interviews:
The Benefits of Being a Good PR Agency Client; Off Script #18: Rich Young
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3) Can you provide an example of a strategy work?

Some of the strategy projects I have worked on include rolling out new business models, for example developing a different go to market strategy for going direct to consumers for a company that has historically focused on channel partners.

Another example was developing a strategy for introducing an online subscription model for a company that traditionally sold physical products one product at a time. Another example included building out a demand generation engine for a company that relied on driving sales from its partners. The piece that was missing in this situation, was that I first needed to define the target audience, stepping away from the typical answer of “we serve all” and developing messaging that would engage the defined audience, built trust and help drive demand.

4) When should a company consider an interim CMO as opposed to investing in permanent chief marketing role?

In most situations, the interim CMO is considered when there is a void in the organization, either the person left on their own or they were asked to leave. In some instances, that voice is created as a result of company growth, that is the company has grown to the point that a director level person won’t help them accomplish their strategy.

There are also situations where the company simply can’t afford a permanent CMO and they are looking to establish their strategy in a more affordable way by bringing in an interim CMO. I always tell my clients that you get what you pay for.   For example, last year I had talked to a CEO of a company who wanted to hire a CMO, but they could not afford it, so they ended up hiring a director level marketer. Four months later I got a call asking me to come and fix what was done and get the company back on track.

So, all in all, I would say a company is ready for an interim CMO when they are ready to listen, invest and take their company to a different level. If they are looking to maintain the status quo that is probably not the right time to look for a change agent.

interim CMO

5) What has changed the most about marketing over the course of your career?

Some people will tell you the channels have changed, we went from direct mail approaches to digital approaches, to social and SEO. But to me the biggest change has been in the technology and data areas. Technology and cloud services have given marketers the ability to do so much more on their own, with tools that don’t take a year to deploy and certainly don’t require IT involvement.

And then there is data, which we had 20 years ago, but we couldn’t make much sense out of unless we had talented analysts on our teams. Today, marketers have data visualization tools, predictive analytics tools and platforms that focus solely on optimizing things for you. So even if you don’t know how to interpret some of the data, the software will do that for you and optimize the best approach.

6) What hasn’t changed about marketing?

The principles of marketing have not changed, even though some people forget to include them in their planning. This is going back to the basics, the 4 P’s (product, price, promotion, place). Developing products that solve an unmet customer need, that are priced to provide value and are promoted in the right place, at the right time, is something that I believe will never change about marketing.


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7) Fill in the blank:

  • One company you with marketing you admire is: Salesfoce, they have disrupted the market, created a new category and took over what appeared first to be the CRM space to now the sales, service and marketing automation software area.  
  • You’re favorite marketing campaign of all time is: The Geico campaigns are brilliant in my opinion, they are entertaining yet educational. I love how they incorporate information to teach you something. Personally, every time I listen to one of their ads I am curious to see what new information they are sharing and how creatively they are delivering it. 
  • If you weren’t doing what you do now you’d be a: psychologist, I love listening to people and solving problems.

 * * *

Find more from Sophie on LinkedIn.

If you enjoyed this post you might also like: 
Modern PR Different not Harder; Off Script #12: Tressa Robbins of Burrelles

Photo credit: Flickr, Arlington County, as seen from the air (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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