CMO Insights: Marilyn Cox, Vice President of Marketing and CRM, The Second City

May 9, 2017

This week’s guest on CMO Insights is Marilyn Cox, Vice President of Marketing and CRM for The Second City.

In this video, Marilyn talks with Jeff about

  • How she is trying to create a more holistic marketing strategy with an entertainment and training brand located in several cities
  • The need to really assess current staff skills to deduct gaps and be strategic with how her team uses their skillsets
  • The importance of intersecting digital with the brick and mortar elements of the business to ensure a seamless customer experience.

Learn more about Marilyn from her LinkedIn profile and follow The Second City on Twitter.

For more great CMO interviews like this one, please check out our CMO Insights Playlist on our YouTube channel.

Full Transcript

Jeff Pedowitz:

Hi, welcome to revenue marketing television. I’m your host, Jeff Pedowitz, President and CEO of The Pedowitz Group. Today on CMO insights, we have Marilyn Cox, who is Vice President of Marketing and CRM for The Second City. So welcome to the show, Marilyn.

Marilyn Cox:

Thank you.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So most people don’t know this, but we, this is actually our second take. So we’ve been having a great conversation throughout the afternoon, but tell everyone what it’s like to work at Second City. Cause that’s a big career change for you.

Marilyn Cox:

It is a, it’s a fascinating place. And it’s as we were just talking Jeff, it’s one that I really questioned from a professional standpoint when I was offered the job, because my biggest concern was, am I going to get away from the world of technology and what I realized very, very quickly once I joined the company, is that what they were looking to do is bring the world of technology into the entertainment space.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So tell me, but some of the things that you’re doing there from what are you tasked with from a strategy standpoint?

Marilyn Cox:

Yeah, I’d say the biggest undertaking that we’re going through right now as an organization is to create a more holistic marketing strategy. So we have several different areas of the second city business. We have our stages, which a lot of people are familiar with that we have in Chicago, Toronto and LA. And then we also have training centers where we have tens of thousands of people that come through and take classes every year. And we have those in Toronto, Chicago, and LA. And then we also have the B2B arm of second city. So we take the practices of improvisation into the workplace. And then we also have partnerships with organizations like Norwegian cruise lines and to date, we really functioned as a separate marketing entities when it’s come to our approach and how we engage with our customers. And so what we’ve started to do over the last six months is take a more holistic approach and a more dimmer centric approach to our marketing and really bringing all aspects of second city together.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So are you finding that you have to run marketing more like a business even at an entertainment company like second city?

Marilyn Cox:

Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s sometimes maybe more so because so much of what we do is highly transactional. So when you think about like the world of manufacturing, where you’re dealing with inventory, it’s the same thing with second city. We have an inventory that turns over every single day when it comes to our shows and spaces within our classrooms. So there is a very strong need to make sure that we have an understanding of what type of marketing required to generate the pipeline needed to create the conversion and ultimately the revenue to have a successful business.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So I would imagine that people that you have on your team are extremely creative being drawn to an improv environment. But so what what about other skills, you know, as you start moving towards a modern marketing business oriented culture, what skills are you finding that you need to either train in your current team or that you’re looking for in a new hires?

Marilyn Cox:

Yeah, our team absolutely is extremely talented. I mean, both from a creative standpoint but also where they come from and what their backgrounds are. So one of the things that I recognized fairly early on is that we functioned very much like product marketers. If you look at other, you know, B2B models where everybody was responsible for their specific product and because of that, they had to be an expert, not only in the product that they remarketing, but they also had to be experts in digital marketing and email marketing and social media. There was really no centralized strategy that was required. And this created it created a challenge for our marketers because the amount of expertise they were expected to have is sort of unrealistic. And so what we did is we put together a resource matrix and identify what skills we needed on our team.

What digital marketing skills did need, what social media skills is, what content marketing skill, and then sat down and looked at all of the resources that we have on our marketing staff right now. And we’re able to map and recognize that the skill sets that we needed were there. They were embedded within this marketing organization. It’s just, we had them allocated in a less effective manner. And so by adjusting roles and responsibilities and putting people in these more strategic roles, what that’s allowing our organization and our marketers to do is have people that are experts in those product areas. But now they have a team of people to support their initiatives. So when they have a program launch, they have PR assistance, they have social media assistance, they have digital marketing, they have email marketing, they have this team of individuals to help make that a success.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Interesting. So what are you doing on the process side? Are there, are there a new processes you’re implementing or working on to also improve scale and productivity?

Marilyn Cox:

We’re actually, we’re in the process of creating the process right now. And it can be, I, it can be tricky because one of the things that makes the world of improvisation special and fun is that it’s, it’s not process oriented. So coming into it in an environment where people are very much I in the mindset of yes, and, and there are no bad ideas. I, it is, it’s a sensitive area to come in and introduce process. But what I will say is that people do recognize the need for it because what you find very quickly as things can fall through the cracks. So I we’ve created we have a system that we use where people can submit project requests. We can get teams of individuals assigned to them. We do use project management tools to make sure that things are mapped. As we move forward with a project, we have checklists that we use. And I will say, you know, the great thing is that this is a company that’s been around 50 plus years. So how we do stuff is understood. It’s just never really been documented.

Jeff Pedowitz:

That’s a lot of documentation then for 15. So what are you doing on the technology side? Cause here your customers are, are fairly diversity, but you have a lot of data, but what are you doing to kind of put together your architecture?

Marilyn Cox:

Yeah. And this is a admittedly, my favorite thing, I love getting to play with this stuff. So we recently started rolling out in launching a new customer experience technology program and it consists of many different cases. So everything from a backend step that we’re going to use a contractor organization to our front end customer experience interactions. So ticket transactions, class registration everything that we’re doing for any social media and email marketing standpoint, all the way through to really looking at the data and those analytics. And we went through a three month discovery process to re really identify what this program is. And most importantly for us, it was, we knew what we wanted to get on the backend. I mean, we know that we want to understand our customer.

We know that we want to sell more and make more money. But like why would a customer give us that information? And that’s really what we had to spend a lot of time identifying. And that’s where we ultimately landed on what this customer community program is going to be so that we understand the benefit for us. But this really is meant to allow our customers to engage and be a part of that second city brand, as much as they want to. And a lot of times in ways that they didn’t even know were available to them.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So your life cycles a little bit interesting, right? Because someone can get to a show, you can get involved with them on a corporate level, there’s several different of the programs. So from a marketing standpoint, how are you improving customer engagement over the life cycle?

Marilyn Cox:

Yeah, it is, it is a challenge because we live in a world where we are B to C and we’re B to B and we are online and we are brick and mortar. And so understanding and capturing all of those touch points and tying them together is certainly a challenge. We definitely went through a channel audit and this was something that I’ve done for years. And when I would work with other companies, I, I enjoyed doing, which was sitting down and really identifying where are all of those interactions? I did quite a bit of research as well. When I looked at Disney. So specifically like the Disney Institute and how they approach the marketing that they do and identifying who they should be engaging with at different points in time. And that’s where we really started to come together on, we need it.

We have, we know what we’re doing on the backend. We know what we’re doing with the technology. We know how we can start tying together customer interactions, whether somebody’s providing personal data or their professional data by creating these communities where they can create profiles and they can interact with other people that have like interests and they can read content that’s most relevant to them. That’s certainly answers that the technology and the online piece of it, but from a brick and mortar standpoint, how do we make sure that if you come to our box office and decide to buy a ticket to a show that we can recognize the fact that you have come to every main stage show for 10 years, or that you’ve taken classes with us, or that your company has spent a decent amount of money working with us over the years and making sure that we honor that relationship. And so it’s a matter of certainly putting this technology in place, but enabling our customer, facing staff to ask that information, understand it, and know how to use it. That’s another really big undertaking that we’re going through right now as we go through this process with the technology.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So with all these different things that you’re doing, what are you being held accountable for the dollar

Marilyn Cox:

Dollars? I had this conversation with a, a professional friend of mine where I said for years we’ve always preached the importance of tying marketing to ROI. But quite honestly, when it comes to compensation, I marketing for the most part, it’s have kind of the luxury of looking at numbers, but their compensation isn’t always directly tied to performance revenue performance. And when I took this job, I really kind of put my money where my mouth is. And you said, based on what we’re trying to do as an organization, it really, it really should be tied to performance. So I measured on the revenue that comes through the business. The revenue specifically tied to marketing activity what pipeline looks like, what conversion rates look like. And back to the business model we have, where we have B to B and B to C and brick and mortar and online, it’s really forced me to take a lot of time to understand what, how does it find pipeline?

Because pipeline is different in certain areas of our business, how we value and weight pipeline is different. What type of conversion benchmarks we should have in place for these different parts of the company. It’s all going to vary. There’s no standard answer across all of second city. And so these are all things that while, while it’s challenging, it’s also been in kind of fun because that hasn’t existed here yet. And so I’ve really had the luxury of doing my research, understanding the business, and then going to the executive team and making the recommendations. And I’m fortunate enough that I work for a company that really, really understands the value that marketing can bring to the business.

Jeff Pedowitz:

So they got you on stage yet.

Marilyn Cox:

I’ve had the chance to stand on the stage and look out where the audience usually sits. And I’ve certainly taken improv classes because I it’s important to understand what we do and really experience it. It’s a, it’s a challenging thing to sell because unless you experience it, it’s, it’s difficult to kind of conceptual artists. But I have no, I have no professional aspirations to perform on the main stages of second city.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Okay. So in closing, what piece of advice would you give to other CMOs out there that are starting their transformation?

Marilyn Cox:

Well, I would say really embed yourself in all areas of the business. And this has been a new insight for me. I’ve always understood marketing. I’ve always strived to understand sales. I had spent some time really focusing on operations, but there are so many other parts of the organization where people are interacting with customers that have a lot of times we overlook. So I’m not everybody has the business structure that we do, but when I’m in Chicago, I make sure that I spend an evening working with our night staff, that I spend time shadowing our general manager, that I spend time sitting there and watching as the box office staff interacts. Because these are people that are having those really important conversations with our customers. That a lot of times, I don’t think I would have been able to really understand had I not done that.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Great advice. Thank you again for being on the show. And I’m so happy for everything that you’re doing over there, whether it was a great career move for you. So thank you so much.

Marilyn Cox:

You bet.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Thanks again, Marilyn.

Marilyn Cox:

Thanks. Bye.

Jeff Pedowitz:

Bye.

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