In conversation with Santa Marku - Episode 9 - Inspiring the Next CMO series

Updated: Feb 9

Join Lou in a conversation with Santa Marku, a highly respected, senior global marketing leader with valued insight into strategic and digital transformation, marketing technology, product brand, and digital marketing.


Santa talks with us about:

  • her favourite word 'serendipity'

  • her love of family and how her parents have inspired her

  • her career with the likes of Thomson and British Standards Institution

  • the importance of two way clear communication

  • progressing and nurturing talent in teams

  • understanding the needs of your stakeholders and managing expectations - focus on the people

  • marketing technology (MarTech)

  • the best advice she has been given

  • her favourite reads and podcasts

Podcast channel: Website, Google Podcast, Apple, Podbean, Spotify


Links from the session:


Transcription:


Lou: Welcome everybody to our "Behind the Fluff, "Inspiring the Next CMO" podcast series. You can find lots of great resources on our website to help raise your game at www.internationalbunch.com/beinspired. Now, today, I would like to welcome Santa Marku. Santa is a highly respected, senior global marketing leader with valued insight into strategic and digital transformation, marketing technology, product brand, and digital marketing. Santa was also my line manager some 14 years ago at British Standards Institution and was pivotal in my development from a marketeer, as an executive to a manager. So, hello, Santa.


Santa: Hi there, Lou. It's lovely to see you. Really appreciate you inviting me to have this chat.


Lou: I am delighted.


Santa: It's been a long time. But I've seen you develop and what you've done over the last few years. I'm really, actually, really proud in terms of what you've achieved working at The International Bunch, setting it up. And actually, at the end, really inspiring in that way. So I'm pleased to be here. Thank you.


Lou: Well, you are a part of my little adventure, you know, getting me to where I am today. So thank you.


Santa: Well, that's the best thing.


Lou: It is.


Santa: Wow, you're welcome. That's part of what I've been doing.


Lou: Do I need to make you a stakeholder?


Santa: You can do whatever you like, my lovely. I guess the point here is that-- I guess the point here is, this is what I love to see going forward. As a leader, you'd love to sort of work with people, and see them flourish--


Lou: Yes.


Santa: Learn, but also... I take a lot from that as well, Sort of learning from what other people are learning--


Lou: Yes.


Santa: As they go through, listening to what their experiences are, and then being able to adapt that through your career, also with other teams that you work with. And, you know, I've worked with lots of people from interns that come in for a year, because they're having a gap year at university or it's part of their sandwich course--


Lou: Yes.


Santa: Versus, you know, senior leaders, like in other parts of the business, MDs or specific directors that are running a business unit. And it's always good to see how people improve, how people flourish, how people grow. So, I love that, and that's I guess, that's something that I love doing with teams, you know? So, you were part of that team, I was part of that team, and it's great to see the progression.


Lou: Well, you were one of my best bosses, you were up there.


Santa: Wow.


Lou: Yes, in the top three.


Santa: Wow, okay.


Lou: Yes.


Santa: Thank you--


Lou: Through my whole career, absolutely.


Lou: Now--


Santa: Alright.


Lou: Before we get started, we do a campaign called #IntBunchWordOfTheDay. And we like to feature a word that means something, and it could be any type of word. So--


Santa: Okay.


Lou: What would your word of the day be?


Santa: I guess it would be serendipity, I love that word. I love it because it's clearly a phenomenon that is about finding, discovering things almost by chance, but you need to have been discovering, or looking for things in order for it to manifest itself. And I love that because it's an unexpected discovery, and we should accept that type of discovery, and then think, "Wow, how did we come about it?" "What triggered that?" So, that would be my word, serendipity, I love it.


Lou: Brilliant, that is an excellent, excellent word. And you're absolutely right, you have to be in some sense you have to be doing things to be looking for it, to actually make discoveries. And you have discoveries that may not have been what you were initially looking for, but at least you were doing something to discover, if that makes sense.


Santa: Exactly, you're not going to be sitting on a sofa waiting for a discovery to happen. That's not--


Lou: Exactly.


Santa: Well, it works, you know, you've gotta be looking, you've got to be driven, you've got to be committed to looking for something that you're trying to make an improvement. You're trying to drive in a particular objective, and then you think, "Oh wow, this is really interesting." And this is where you look at people are calling it now to a certain extent, new category creation. It's like, what is something that... is a need, for example, that hasn't really been explored by customers? And then you look at it, it could be something that's existing, and actually you see a different, a way of positioning it, and messaging it, and therefore it becomes, you know, a brand new way of thinking, a brand new way of communicating a particular issue around a product or service, for example. So, you know, those are the sort of things. That's why those two, I see those things as working quite closely with the serendipity piece, because it is just, you still have to do something.


Lou: Yes.


Santa: And I think that's really important, and I think we should use that word more, more so in our daily lives


Lou: Yes.


Santa: Alright.


Lou: Well, I completely agree, because when you said it, I was thinking to myself, in the copy stuff that we do, I was thinking, why are we not using that word? It is such an excellent word.


Santa: It is a great word, love it.


Lou: So, yeah, you'll probably see that it's going to, it will definitely start trickling through into some of the stuff that we do, absolutely--


Santa: Good, pleasure.


Lou: And I love that you just taught me a new buzz term as well.


Santa: Ooh, I don't know, it's just really interesting, it's in the 'S' in the dictionary, it's really cool.


Lou: Okay, so, first things first. First, we want to know a little bit more about you, before we get into about your career. So, what's the best thing that you have discovered in the last year?


Santa: The best thing that I've discovered in the last year? That I can make some decent cocktails, I suppose, even though I don't drink. I don't really drink. I don't drink. Only on special occasions, which happens to be every day these... No, no, I'm joking. You know, I might have something at Christmas. But, I've bought myself-- No, actually, I didn't buy myself- I was out with a friend and she went, "Oh, because we've not seen each other for ages, I forgot to get you your birthday present." I'm like, "Okay, that was in March." And she got me a cocktail making set. So, the appliances - I should have put it up on the back so you could have seen them.


Lou: Yes.


Santa: You know, it was actually inspired by my son who turned 18. And he had a few friends come around, and I thought, I'm going to be a really responsible mother. I'm going to look after them, make sure they don't drink too much but give them a taste of something.


Lou: Give them mocktails. Let them believe it's got alcohol in it.


Santa: No, no. 18, it's okay. We're not in the U.S. here, yet, you know. So it's okay. He was 18. So I made him a tequila sunrise, which he thought, they all thought was delicious. And it is delicious because it's orange and it's got grenadine and a little bit of tequila. You know, I used all the appliances and everything. Yes, so I've discovered that. I'm not saying it's the best. But you know, it's one of the things, I suppose, where we've had a bit more time to do these sort of things. So, yeah, I guess I can say that. I'm sure that there are plenty of others. I'll say just sort of like experimenting with those cocktails on other people.


Lou: Yes, exactly. Well, you can have mocktails, can't you?


Santa: I can have mocktails, yeah. It's just that, it's not... Yeah. It's fine. I feel terrible. I feel like a terrible mother. But no, it's an experience. It's an experience because it was one.


Lou: Not terrible! I think that's something, I'm like, "Oh my God, my mum is so cool. She made us cocktails."


Santa: I don't know if they think about that, you know, especially when you're embarrassing them in front of their friends.


Lou: Well, yes.


Santa: But never mind, you know, as long as you're feeding them.


Lou: Exactly.


Santa: They're all right, they're happy.


Lou: Exactly. And like, when Santa and I first met before, because we haven't chatted for many, many years. And when we caught up before we did this podcast, I was saying, you know, I was asking her about how her son is. And I just couldn't believe that when I was working with Santa, he was a little toddler running around and now he's like, you know, off to uni. It's like, oh my God, this is wow!


Santa: Time flies. It really flies. A lot. Clearly, I just don't know where it's all gone, but I'm really... You know, it's quite interesting because my whole career at BSI has almost been parallel with my son because he was six months old when I started at BSI. And, you know, we used to have the Christmas parties. He used to come in on Christmas time, you know. His first entrance into the BSI building, I think he was nine months old. He came with my dad and my dad put him in. He was still barely sort of on one of the harnesses, trying to keep him straight and stuff. And, you know, he was coming in as well because he was doing his homework, coming straight from school. You know, great place, actually, because BSI permitted that in terms of making sure that, you know, people could see that type of environment. And you know, he was very good. And it may have meant that I could put more time and effort into my career at BSI as well. Yeah, and of course, you've also met my folks.


Lou: Yes, love them.


Santa: In, was it 2006 or so?


Lou: Yes.


Santa: You know, it's quite interesting how I've seen them grow as well, and you think, "Oh, how different. How things pass quite quickly, you don't realize because you see them every day." And then all of a sudden, it hits you. Wow, you know, especially during the pandemic.


Lou: Yes.


Santa: You know, being of a certain age, you know. It's quite difficult for them. But they only live 197 yards away from me.


Lou: I love that you've calculated that.


Santa: That's according to Google. Well, it's according to Google, isn't it? So I put my house in and I put theirs and that's what it comes to. So, you know, around the corner.


Lou: You love your metrics, don't you?


Santa: Well, I figured that's what you had, you know, we are going back to imperial, are we? I hope not. You should be keeping with the metric. You know, that's good.


Lou: Oh, fantastic. So, who inspires you?


Santa: Well, interesting you said that. Very close to home and I was gonna actually just say that, you know, my 75-year-old mother, really, I've seen her through the years, sort of really be the backbone of our family. And my dad of course. 75 and still working and has been working during the pandemic as a passenger assistant for children going to special needs school. So, you know, she's been in a minibus twice a day making sure that they're all belted up, making sure that they're not hurting themselves, making sure that things are working, and she's just done it. She's been amazing. And even though she could have shielded for longer, she decided that she just wanted to do it and she continued to do it. Clearly the council have given her the PPE and all the rest of it. You know, she's really loved by those children and she sees them through their entire secondary education, from 11 to 18. And she sees the differences and they love her to bits. You know, it's "Rosa this," and "Rosa that." So it's lovely to see that. So that's where I could see from that. Really, really close to home. From a professional perspective, there's a couple of... Well, there's one in particular that I think has really helped me, especially when we've been doing digital work, websites, Jakob Nielsen from the Nielsen Norman Group. And really, he's the guru for web user experience and usability. Amazing. I've used a lot of his stuff really. His empirical research to help and support ideas and to help and support us get to a certain place when it comes to websites, because everyone wants a flashy website, don't they?


Lou: Yes.


Santa: But if it doesn't meet the criteria of the user and it's too flashy, and there's too much, you need to think of that experience. And you know, we're all happy. I've been through this a lot, "Ooh, I like this. Can we just do this?" Boom. It's like yeah, but what is the purpose of that boom? What is the purpose of something moving when you think people need to have this information in an accessible way? You know, for me, it's about substance. It's about information architecture rather than design. Visual design is the last thing - I don't know if you know this - but visual design should be the last thing you think about when it comes to websites because it's about the infrastructure, so that the information is connecting people to information. And remember, always looking at it in conventional ways. Not to try and do something different just for the sake of it, but do things that are obvious. You know, where does the menu bar sit? Where does the location sit? So that it's obvious to any user, rather than it being having to find it.


Lou: Exactly.


Santa: At the end of the day, you want to make it as easy as possible to get people to connect to your information, and to reach the objective, which could be downloading a white paper on sustainability. Or it could be, actually, I want to quote for a particular service that I'm looking for. I come to you, make it easy for me to do that. Make it easy for me to do business with you.


Lou: When you are young, what did you want to be?


Santa: Well, I really don't know. I didn't really have much of... When it came to ambition and stuff, it was like, we... I'll give you a background, really, it's quite interesting. My mom and dad came immigrants from Italy. They had to work and they left us on our own. I'll tell you something. If it'd been these days, we won't be here. You know, we'd be in social care or something. I don't know. But I think a lot of people have this type of experience. I was going to school, walking to school on my own at the age of five, taking my five, six, you know, taking my brother. He was a little bit younger. Crossing Clerkenwell Road - in the City of London. Getting to where we needed to get to. And then also, what was quite interesting is that we didn't really have that support from the school structure either, really. I remember having a careers talk with Mrs. Carroll at the school that I used to go to and is no longer there. She said, "Oh, yeah, you're Italian. You've got some languages. You should go into international banking." And I'm like, we didn't really have that comm-- I mean, seriously, we did not have that type of communication of that. But also from a from a younger age, we just got on with it. We were there. I can't really remember my parents going to a school play because we would be out, off in Italy as soon as the door shut.


Lou: Yes.


Santa: Of the school. My mom and dad would be working late. My father was a chef. And therefore, had lots of different shifts. My mom did everything. She was a tea lady, right? A tea lady, a cleaner, all of those sorts of things that people that came in waves of immigration did at that time. A great story. My brother who was younger than me, my mom used to take him to a solicitor's office in Doughty Street and put him on the tea trolley to take him with her because you had no one to leave your kids with.


Lou: I love it!


Santa: Yeah, so, she was a tea lady in those days, where you used to go, "Would you like a cup of tea and a biscuit? Would you like..." You know, seriously. Those are great. But in terms of a career, in terms of what I wanted to be, none of that. But like I said, they inspired me 'cause they've got to this point. It's that work ethic. It's making sure that they provide for their families. All of this sort of stuff. But I did go into... I was gonna go to university, actually, which is really interesting, but I got an unconditional offer from Holloway and Bedford to read Italian. But then, I went to an agency. I wanted to take a year out. And ended up at Thomson Holidays. The best time of my life. Went on educationals. I'd never paid to go to Benidorm but I went on an educational there to check out some hotels, as I did to Tunisia, as I did to Alicante.


Lou: Educational!


Santa: Yeah, exactly, it was an education. But I had the best time. And I was in finance at that time. It was an overseas payments department where we had to reconcile things over a two-week period, paying those hotels. And at that point, that's where I learned a lot in terms of leadership. It's really interesting at that young age, quite a young age. I didn't go to university in the end to experience that, per se. I did my degrees. I did my degrees and my diplomas as I was working because I knew that they'd come in handy. I wanted to learn more about business, et cetera. And that's how I did my degrees in that way. But equally, I had lots of experience in finance. And then I thought, for some reason, I was also training lots of people, writing documentation, user how-tos, how to do what they needed to do step-by-step. I was managing a team, supervising the team at the age of, I think it might be 19 or something like that.


Lou: Wow.


Santa: And I think that's where I really got to learn about people and how they work and what makes them tick and what their hot buttons are, and how you can really make sure that they go down a route that they really want to go down. Make sure that we coach them stuff like that. And then I decided, right, for some reason, I think I might want to go into marketing. So I got a job at the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants. And there where they supported me, as a marketing assistant, that's where I started. At the Chartered Institute of Marketing Accountants, sorry. And actually, it was sending out packages to schools, running business school, business competitions, if you like. We used to go into a school and get people to play parts of being part of an organization and what they had to do. And really highlighting that from a student perspective. And dealing with companies as well from a professional development perspective. And you know, trying to get them to do the CIMA, qualifications, et cetera. And I was there for a couple of years, where, I mean, I loved it. I got great... I was traveling up and down the UK. It was like, oh, wow. For quite a young person doing this, running these sessions, enjoying every minute of it, but organizing the logistical part of it and everything. And fantastic. I had a great time. And so-


Lou: You sound like you had a lot of fun in your career.


Santa: I did. And especially after that what happened is I then took... I'd got that under my belt. I got my diploma, if you like, from marketing, CIM. And then went, you know what? I'm gonna take a year out and just go traveling, which is what I did because then I didn't have to do it cheaply-cheaply either. You know, I don't have to do the whole... We did some hostel pieces. So we went to southeast Asia, Australia, worked there for a greengrocer, florist. You have to do what you have to do in order to get to where you get to. So I had a great experience and then came back and worked for Euromonitor. So the market research and consultancy organization. Set up the Chicago office, actually, for marketing perspective. Was there for about a year and a half, two years. Loved it. Again, really been exposed to a lot of things quite early on and that's really provided a really great grounding for where I am now.


Lou: Fantastic. So, my last question to you, in this sense, is if you were to have dinner tonight with anybody, whether they are alive or dead, or just anybody you would ever want to in the world, who would it be?


Santa: Well, I guess there are a couple. Well, actually, there are a couple of... Well, I think there's probably three people. It's awful, isn't it. I can't go just one, can I?


Lou: No, you can have as many as you'd like.


- You know, I would think there are three that would come straight to my mind. Clearly David Attenborough. He's just a genius in everything he's done over the years in terms of how he's achieved, what he's achieved, how his message... What he's used his... He's used his expertise, if you like, to get the message out really, really quite powerfully. I'd like to find out more about that. Cherie Blair. I know some people think, "Oh, God," you know, Cherie Booth, right? She's one of the most eminent human rights lawyers, but she doesn't get the press that she deserves. I think that's because of-


Lou: Yes.


Santa: Her time with, you know, in government. Not in government but her husband's government. I'm sure she's got tons and tons of stories to tell.


Lou: Yes.


Santa: And the other one is Leonardo da Vinci. And the reason why I say him is because he was a genius and he was un... What was it? He was a genius who did lots of things. He was ahead of his time. People thought he was nothing. He was a crazy man. But clearly not because of the things that have come out from what he did all those years ago to the present day. And I see that and I think, right, okay. So, you know, sometimes you just have to wait. You have to just wait for your time to come. You might not see it but you can push it. But you push it and you get yourself a reputation that you might not... It wouldn't be unfair. It would be unfair, sorry. So that would be quite an interesting selection of people I think.


Lou: That would be quite a conversation. And I think the Cherie Blair one's really interesting because I watched something on the television the other day where they had Keir Starmer, and that's not my political party. But actually, I thought it was really interesting when he was talking, and he was talking about some really quite personal things about his family and when his mom passed away. And all this kind of stuff. And it made him so much more human. And that human connection is, as we know as marketeers, is incredibly important. And that resonance. But it did make me appreciate and respect him more. So that's the same with Cherie that I'd probably look into her a bit more now, because for me in my life, she was Tony Blair's wife. I never really... And like you said, without the press attention, and the press are very good at what they show and what they don't and how they manipulate your mind effectively. So I didn't really appreciate what she does or even think about wanting to know. So, I definitely would look her up.


Santa: I mean, the stuff that she's done has been amazing. It's just that, you know, now that she's out, that always continued in the background but that's not what you saw, you know. And it's a bit like at the moment, they do say the saying, "Behind every great man, there is a greater woman." And you know what? You see that in a lot of places, right? I mean, it sounds like I don't want to sound glib or anything, but you can see, you can see that. So it's really interesting for me that there are some brilliant women out there that sometimes don't get full credit for really in their own right. Get the exposure-


Lou: Oh, absolutely.


Santa: You know, the achievements that they've made.


Lou: But also, behind every great woman, there may be a greater woman?


Santa: True.


Lou: Or a greater man.


Santa: Or a greater man. Or whatever you might call, yeah, exactly. Absolutely. Absolutely, 'cause there must be-


Lou: But I think that's right.


Santa: Yeah.


Lou: It's also looking at the support structures behind someone and who's inspiring them, and propelling them forward. So I think that's really important. So, what are you most proud of in your career then?


Santa: I guess it's the transformation around the digital. Moving from the traditional stuff through to digital, actually becoming a linchpin in the business in terms of marketing. But also being part of how people work on product parts as well. And really, that's the way forward. And actually aligning those where possible. So, you know, as part of the transformation from a marketing, digital perspective, it's transforming not only the applications, but the way that you do marketing. So improving around SEO, SEM, social, automation, nurturing, engagement and doing that in that way. Content development, which is more around, you know, the brand. What is the purpose of the organization? And how do you push that through? So that's why I'm really proud. I mean, that's quite big.


Lou: Yes, that's huge.


Santa: That's taken some time. That's taken some time. And I'm proud around the fact from a digital perspective that was where I stood and that's what I managed to achieve and accomplish all the way through. All the different elements of it going through my career there. So, yeah, I'm really proud of that.


Lou: No, absolutely. And so you should be. It's an incredible amount of experience and expertise that you have in there. And also, I'm sure that you've had a lot of lessons learned as well. And, you know, I think that BSI has been a fantastic organization. 'Cause when I look back when we worked together, and this was like 14, 15 years ago, however long it was. That's when salesforce.com was being introduced as a marketing tool to help marketeers to be able to task their key stakeholders, to give them deadlines to come back with content. And you know, it's really clear that British Standards Institution was doing things really ahead of the game, and you were part of the team that were leading that. And then took a much more active role as you moved around the organization to really propel that even further. And, you know, when I look at some organizations now who are just thinking about salesforce.com, and I know they're much smaller, but I think, gosh, some have been doing this for so long that there's some incredible benchmarks and lessons learned for you already out there, to be doing better and not to be doing the same mistakes that were already done.


Santa: Absolutely. Totally agree. It's a moving feast as well, you know? So it's about how organizations have their sales people as well, how they're structured, what they're tasked to do. You talk about Salesforce, you know, we implemented part of which, the automation part of sales for securities, the marketing plan piece. And actually, what's happened there is that we could get some really good marketing qualified leads, if you like. But actually, when do you pass them on? When do they move to a salesperson to have a conversation? And it's really interesting because that culture has to change as well. And the fact that you're having conversations rather than just closing deals. Absolutely And that's all about training. That's all about finding the right trigger points, the touch points, and where you can move that across, and using data and analytics to help you support that, because that's what I've used across my career. It's more like I want to make some decisions, what do I look at? I look at the data. I don't go, 'Oh,' put a finger in the air and go, yeah, I've got a bit of a gut feel there. Well, you know, you have to balance that. Use the data to help you in the first instance, especially when it comes to digital. It's so easy. It's the simplest thing and look at it over a period of time and not look at it in isolation. There are other things that you need to look at as well. That's where data analysis is really, really key around what needs to happen around this, making decisions. And trying to push, to achieve what we need to achieve for an organization. Everyone's into doubling their revenues and all this sort of stuff. So you need to think about how you could do that in an accelerated way without... without any detriment to the current business as well. You might want to take a few hits but you need to make sure that you're making those and you're doing those strategically and tactically to make sure you get to where you need to get to. Otherwise, you know, you could be making some... I'm sure within, we know within publishing this brand new database comes out and you're thinking about: well, who are we still servicing? How do we migrate these people? Can we migrate these people? Or are we going to take a loss? You don't never want to take a loss, but you try and manage that process as well as possible as an organization.


Lou: Yes. I mean, it's looking at return on investment as well, isn't it? Because some people may just see pound signs and say, oh, we're going to take a loss. But actually, if they look deeper into return on investment and how much time is being taken to do this-


Santa: Exactly.


Lou: Other costs are associated to that. They may suddenly go, "Oh, actually, it is gonna be more advantageous if we do just cancel it." As some like to say, sunset it.


Santa: Exactly, I like that. I like that. Quite important to... I like that. But it is important to look at that. That's why decisions need to be based on the data and the analysis that you have. And also, as an organizational culture, do you like taking risks on loss? So, you need to think about that. And also how much do you want to move the dial? How far do you want to get to where you need to get to? You know, it's really important to take those things into consideration. But if you're a big organization, there are lots of factors that you need to look at anyway. And it's why I sometimes it can stop you but if you keep in mind this stuff or you might need to think, "Well, I need to focus on a particular area," and look at it in an iterative way. You're looking at it in terms of what could step-by-step rather than trying to do everything. Boil the ocean and then nothing really happens, you know? So it's really important to get that focus, but everyone needs to be focused on that. I always talk about, you know, you've got your business as usual stuff. You can't just let go of your business as usual stuff and just do the really nice creative pieces. You've got to find a way of doing both and then they merge. So that's really important in terms of how-


Lou: You have to expect it, don't you? I mean, many of us don't like doing admin but you have to do admin, right?


Santa: Yeah, we do. Or we can automate it.


Lou: Yes, yes. But to a point.


Santa: If possible, outsource it if you can.


Lou: Yes, yes, that would be lovely.


Santa: I know, I know. Yeah, who's got to do the VAT returns this month? Oh, you know.


Lou: Oh, yeah, gosh. That's the thing when you are a small business owner, it's like you wear a lot of hats.


Santa: I wear a lot of hats.


Lou: Yes. And yesterday, I was accounts. And so it's just like, I think I need to get someone in to do accounts.


Santa: I know, I know. Pay.


Lou: And invoicing. I need someone to do invoicing.


Santa: Invoicing, gosh. That's what accountants are for, right? Well, that's bookkeepers and all the rest of it. But that's why technology is there to help you. But again-


Lou: I do.


Santa: It's only good as the user. It's only as good as the experience and the process that users have. Again, you're-


Lou: Absolutely.


Santa: Going back to marketing, it's only as good as how it's configured and how it's used. Because it won't work on its own, necessarily. Someone's got to set it up. Someone's got to train people. Someone's got to work on it all the time. There has to be a roadmap. What's the next step? You know, so it's not a one-off thing as we talked about, it's an ongoing journey. Never stops.


Lou: Yes, absolutely. It does never stop. And, you know, for me, it's about taking time to look at the process I've currently got. How can I refine that? But then it's all about I need to block that time out to do that and I know it'll be great once I've done it. But right now, I'm like, "Yes, yes, not a priority. I'll do it sometime."


Santa: Yeah, especially when there's lots of all these other things that I need to do which are, wow, really interesting. I want to learn.


Lou: Like this!


Santa: And it might make me a bit more money. So, that's all good.


Lou: Yeah, exactly. So what have you found most challenging in your career?


Santa: Most challenging really is having to really talk to lots of people at different levels. But you know, managing is an organization being ready to accept to a certain extent that this is the way things need to go. You know, I talk about... I remember one of my ex-bosses, said, "Santa, you just have to... You know, some people just take a bit more time to understand what it is that needs to happen." Okay, then that's fine. So it's understanding that. And that can be quite challenging, especially because you're driven and you want to get things done because you know you can see that it's gonna make, you know, it's gonna be a great, revolutionary thing. Or it's going to make a big difference to people's work life. It's going to be a big difference to clients. You want to get there. But you have to make sure that people are with you on the way, on the journey. And that means that you might have to do extra communication, one-to-ones, just to get through and get their ideas and find out what it is that maybe might be stopping them to doing what needs to happen, you know? But that I think is a challenge everywhere because it's something that now with more complex organization, having worked in a matrix, people have got their specific focus and you don't want to interrupt what they're doing necessarily because it could have an implication to the bottom line. But it's something that may take a bit longer to get in there. And I guess, you just have to come to terms with the fact that people need to be ready. As I said before, you can't force people to do things. They have to come with you. And that'd make it a lot easier and smoother. So I spent a lot of time talking to lots of different people across the globe on that.


Lou: Yeah, I think there's a really interesting point out of that though in the respect that, and I help to coach a lot of junior marketeers, or not necessarily junior, but it could be any different stage. But those that don't feel confident in asking people that are more senior to them, about doing something, and-


Santa: Exactly.


Lou: They'll get blocked with something and they don't have the confidence. What they'll do is they'll just send an email and they'll think that that email's going to solve it. But if you're like me, my email goes into a black hole. So the best way of having a chat with me is booking some time with me in my calendar so I dedicate that time specifically to you, to unblock you and help facilitate you doing whatever you need to do.


Santa: Absolutely.


Lou: And so people just think, well, it's one-size-fits-all. No, it's not. But you can have the capabilities of unblocking yourself and getting the most out of that person in the best way for them. And sure, it takes longer, but it's more effective. And actually in the long run, you may think it takes longer, but if you keep sending emails and chaser emails and they're not coming back and you're feeling demotivated, it probably doesn't take longer.


Santa: No. Well, I guess the point is also who are you? What are you trying to get? I guess the point is that how you make those people visible within your teams as well? So it's not just about me, far from it. It's about the team supporting and actually getting that message and getting them involved in terms of what you're doing. And actually getting them on that journey and making sure that they are then respected for what they can they can contribute. And I've done that a lot. People have set up a center of excellence when it came to digital marketing, you make sure that you've got your SEO person, your SEM. They're the ones that are spoken to or we're working with in order to get the real data, get the technology, get the technical pieces of it, as well as where you would go with someone who's building web pages or doing the automation for it. So it's really important to have them with you around. Also in terms of the data, setting up dashboards, getting the right people to do the right job. But also giving them visibility and confidence. And when they need your support, provide that support. And you're right though, and I think there's been a lot of that that was lost in the last year when you're not having those water cooler moments.


Lou: Yeah.


Santa: We're not making coffee in the kitchen and you're talking to people and you're finding out what's going on. You have to make a real effort these days from this perspective. So it's quite interesting that you've said, "Book some time with me so I can have a conversation please," as opposed to, you know, just going to send an email or, you know, pick up the phone sometimes. You can just pick up the phone as well to help. So, yeah, there tends to be... I think that's something that people would need to really... I would see that as one thing in terms of coaching the next generation of marketeers, if you like. Going forward and feeling confident to do this. And I think it's important that you make people shine.


Lou: Yeah, absolutely. And like you said, the focus on the structure; if you're going to be working with... If you want to get something from someone who would like sign-off on something, and they're someone that's more senior than you, you have a call with them. You start at the beginning and you say, this is what I want to get out of this call. So you set the expectations, you do the call, and you get what you need to get and then you finish the call. If you manage to give some time back, even better, and what a fantastic experience. They're like, "Happy days." I'd love to speak to you again because you give me time back.


Santa: Exactly. And I guess, and that's really important: be clear on what it is that you want to get out of those types of things. I mean, we can go onto the generic stuff around meetings, because they could go on forever if no one's got structure to it.


Lou: Yeah.


Santa: Just have a lot of talk, and you know-


Lou: We've all been in those meetings, a meeting for the sake of a meeting.


Santa: I know, I don't like that sort of stuff.


Lou: One senior marketing exec says to me that at the beginning of every year, they like to do something like... Was it calendar bankruptcy or something? And they literally wipe their calendar.


Santa: Ooh, lovely.


Lou: Right, start again.


Santa: That's good.


Lou: That's really good with me.


Santa: That's really good. I do think it's important to do that and to make time so you can actually do some work. Again, it depends on what level. If your goal is to really start talking to lots of people and actually pushing that through, that's what you do.


Lou: Yes.


Santa: You know? But you still need to balance that time with having a lunch.


Lou: Yes, exactly. And actually doing work.


Santa: And doing work. And then actually, sort of, yeah, exactly, doing some work. And just pushing someone-


Lou: Actually doing some work instead of just setting up things.


Santa: Yeah.


Lou: Yes. So what's your ultimate career goal then, Santa?


Santa: Ultimate career goal?


Lou: I know it's a tough one because you're probably there.


Santa: To a certain extent, I am. You know, be it looking for a workplace where the most senior marketing person who actually, again, as I said before, facilitates, makes things easy for the business as a whole, translates things. Getting things done, seeing things that we can achieve, setting that strategy and making sure that you move towards it. I can provide a lot of that drive and commitment to do that. So, yeah, there's nothing specific as such because I know that if I'm in an organization, I will do my hardest to get to where we need to get to and make things happen. And that's what a lot of people say. They actually make things happen rather than just talking about it. It's a balance of both, you know?


Lou: Yes, it's very important.


Santa: It's really important to do that. But also, bringing everyone with you. So I love working with teams, for example, teams that have... Sometimes I've had quite a few teams that have changed over the years. But making sure that those people are seen as individuals as well. Making sure they go to the right places that they need to go to. Because marketing might not be what they want to do. They want to be a florist. And helping them to do that. You know, something like that. But equally, getting involved with organizations, different types of organizations and solving their problems.


Lou: So if money was no object then, what would you want to be doing?


Santa: If money was no object, blimey. Retiring? Sipping Mojitos. Like I said, mockitos, or whatever they're called.


Lou: Yes, yes, exactly.


Santa: On a beach somewhere. Taking it easy. No, I mean-


Lou: You love your volunteer work though, don't you?


Santa: Yeah, I do do some volunteer work and I've done that. You know, I'm flabbergasted on the work that happens in school. I don't think people appreciate the work that they do there in terms of everything they have to report into government, into local authorities, the fact they love their pupils. I mean, it's fantastic to see. The nature of what they do is really to help build these great, great people into great, great human beings for the future.


Lou: Yes.


Santa: And it's lovely to see. So, I'm a governor with a school and I've seen their... And in terms of how they have to work with budgets and actually new schemes that come up, especially around the COVID time. The new things they have to do and be able to communicate that. So I think it's... I love doing that. Plus, I mean, the way I look at it as well is I'm running a couple of things. You know, I support my parents as well because it's almost like running three households.


Lou: Yes.


Santa: Only three households and a business, got my husband's business as well. So it's quite a lot there that keeps me occupied. So even if I'm, you know-


Lou: Yes, definitely.


Santa: It would be great to find things in between that too to really be able to show things. Yeah, that's-


Lou: There are only so many hours in the day, Santa.


Santa: I know. And I think that's really important to keep in mind.


Lou: What inspiring professional books would you say are a must-read for a marketeer, and why?


Santa: Right, well, as always, I'm gonna say... I actually what I do... I read books. But the main thing I look at are mainly around looking at blogs and articles. I look at "Smart Insights," "Digital Doughnut" have got great newsletters. And again, Jakob Nielsen's got newsletters as well that I sign up to. But equally, going back to people that I've worked with, people that are very cool. I've got some books, I'm gonna show this.


Lou: "Write to Sell."


Santa: "Write to Sell" by Andy Maslen. He was my boss, actually, at Euromonitor, who then asked me to go to Chicago to set up their marketing operation there. And he was a great copywriter and he taught me how to really copy, to write great copy. And what's important is that, as always, everyone thinks that everyone can write, yeah? But it's a real skill when it comes to copywriting. And he showed us that. It's slash and burn things, cut things down, think about your audience, think about how the fact they haven't got, you know, you're not writing a piece of prose, you know? It's not "Wuthering Heights." You're trying to get people to do certain things. So, "The Ultimate Guide to Great Copywriting" is fantastic. There's another one, actually, Digital Leadership. And this is, again, someone else I... Actually, she was in my team, Sofie Sandell. Amazing woman. I brought her in, I think it was in 2008, to work on video content, to work on social media, look at test and trial new digital techniques in those days. And I'm really proud to see that she's done a fantastic job and she continues to work on that. I think she's actually gone back to Sweden now. "Cashing in with Content."


Lou: Ooh.


Santa: Really, really important. I think it's all about... It's a bit old actually. But really good way on how to... Sort of how you can cash in on your content. Because people forget, how do you drive people? How do you drive people to your website? It's about the content. It can look the way... It doesn't have to look well. It just needs to be... The information structure needs to be good, but your content needs to be optimized in a way that gets people. What do people do? Supposing they want to find out something, they don't go: "Oh, well, let me go to this website." They don't. They go to a search engine, Google in the main, in this country. And they do a search term. You gotta make sure that you're found, you're ranked in the first page. Look at how you can get that. So that was really... Those are three books. Then there's also another one: "Business Model Generation." Really interesting book.


Lou: Oh, that's a good one. I've got that.


Santa: Have you got that? It's really, really inspiring and really quite easy to read and look at and refer to all the time. So I think these are the things that I would look at from a marketing perspective, to give you that view. But you know, there are tons. So, you could-


Lou: There are so many, I know.


Santa: So many. It's the ones that you look at, and you think, oh, well, yeah, that's quite interesting. Oh, yeah, I'm going to refer back to them. What did that person do? You know, not something where you forget things. I'm just saying, it's quite nice. And then sometimes go, "I've done this this way. Let me go... And I need a bit of reassurance sometimes.


Lou: Exactly. Exactly. So you kind of mentioned a couple of newsletter signups and things. But if you were to say what your favourite book or your favourite podcast or your blog is, and I know you said you like to read articles and blogs, and so what would that be? And you can mention a couple if you want to.


Santa: My favourite book? Sorry-


Lou: Book, blog, podcast. Which one is that your most favourite that you... Any one of those?


Santa: I just like... I just like... Well, I don't know. Blimey.


Lou: Is there a really helpful blog?


Santa: The "Bridgerton" series. No, I'm joking. I told you about the blog really is around the digital sign up, like, the Jakob Nielsen blog. But also the chief marketing technologist, Scott Brinkhurst, has got quite an interesting blogs, articles, especially around MarTech.


Lou: There we are. Perfect. So, if you could travel back in a time machine and you could tell your early career self anything, what would you say to them?


Santa: I would say... I would say build those relationships.


Lou: That chicken has just laid another egg.


Santa: Don't lay too many eggs! I thought they could only... That's another chicken.


Lou: Six chickens. We could have 16 times.


Santa: A dozen eggs, that's nice, a day. Lovely. Or every other day or whatever it is. I would say just make sure that... you are kind to people. I'm not saying that I haven't been, but I think it's really important that you understand, know the people that you work with. Know your team, be empathetic to what they might be going through because you don't know what they're going through. And I only see that because if you get to know people, then you know how to have those great, meaningful conversations and relationships. So the reason why, again, I always bring up football is 'cause most of my team, we could talk about Tottenham or Man United and how they played. But it wasn't just about that, it was the fact that that's what was interesting to them. Find out about... I say, find out more about what they like, what they don't like as people, as human, not just as an asset or a number. And that's where the empathy comes in. And I think that could really help. I'm saying, that's where I have grown over the last years is that I really got to know people that I work with. And, you know, I'm still in contact with quite a few, still, to a certain extent, coaching them, mentoring them. If they've got issues, they'll come to me. And say, "Look, can I just have a conversation about this, that or the other?" "Yes, fine, no worries." "Oh, I hadn't thought about that." So it's really important to keep those. So I think it's to treasure those relationships, treasure those relationships over time because, A: they're great memories, but, B: they could always come in handy.


Lou: Yeah, absolutely. I completely agree with the fact of connecting with people and talking to them as people. And often, I found that can be very advantageous if you're working with someone who people may feel is a bit challenging or a little bit difficult. And actually, if you get to know them as a person, you build a relationship and you have a much better working relationship. But also, you're just taking time with each other and it's not always business. I think sometimes like, you know, when you're having meetings, you do start off a meeting, you're like, "Right, let's just get straight into it." And some people will start a meeting just before they actually have their meeting, like, they'll come in five minutes before and they'll have that five-minute chitchat. So if you're free, come in five minutes before for a chit chat. And then when it comes to the point, we can just go straight into it.


Santa: What's really important though, is that to give people, I mean, when I talk about teams, to give them a safe space. You know, my latest team, for example, we would talk and discuss things all the time. We would have discussions and disagreements and agreements, and that's really healthy if it's done in a positive, constructive way. Now, you won't necessarily show that externally. You'll just see it, well, it will manifest itself in the way that they work.


Lou: Yes.


Santa: They'll become experts, they'll be seen as experts, but you don't have to show them every... You know, the externals don't need to see that. But you can see that in what people say about your team, there's a great talent. And I think that's fantastic. But you have to give them a safe space to say things. Might not agree with it but then we'll have a conversation about it. We'll have a discussion. And then we can look at how that works out, and we can always agree to disagree. At the end of the day, that's life, isn't it? So you can't all be on the same, you know, have the same views. Everyone has different opinions and views. But if you're all together and sharing those, eventually, you'll get to the end goal. It's about them making sure we find the right approach to that. So, yeah, be kind, be empathetic. Understand people. It's okay if they're not there yet. There will be a reason. There has to be. There will be a reason for the way that they might be acting or whatever. So find out. Ask questions, have those discussions, talk. It's okay because people come from a good place, generally, people come from a good place. You're talking about you might find people who are judged really quickly and I don't like that because it's not really fair. As you said, when you get to know them they're always coming from a good place or there may be a reason why they're doing what they're doing. But don't just, you know... Understand what that is and then adapt.


Lou: When you walk into those situations to help with challenging relationships.


Santa: Yes.


Lou: And I'm just like, I just get to know the person and just have a bit of fun with them and just be myself. And if it helped and it works, then great. If it doesn't, then I'd need a different approach. But I'm just there to facilitate, to get things moving, and just to make sure that everyone, like you said, everyone has a safe space, that they're being listened to. And I think that's incredibly, vitally important. There is a reason, Santa, why you have such high-performing, such good teams that you're leading and that is because of your management style and your approach. And that is why you're so respected. And that is why people look at those teams and go, "They're really achieving something special," because you give people the space to grow and develop as individuals. But also to come together cohesively as a team and be respectful of each other.


Santa: Absolutely.


Lou: Always been the case.