4 minutes

CMO Insights: A Former Coca-Cola exec shares her marketing advice


CMO Insights is a bi-weekly series from our partners at Atlanta-based Hypepotamus. Every-other week, they’ll share marketing advice from top Chief Marketing Officers. Thank you to Muriel Vaga for this week’s piece: 

Beam Suntory’s Global CMO Rebecca Messina ended her 22-year tenure at the Coca-Cola Company early last year, where she held global marketing leadership roles and led marketing innovation. She was drawn into the nature of marketing on her first day at Coca-Cola.

“When I got an internship at Coke in 1994, it became obvious to me that because of the nature of marketing, and how it’s composed, and how its about human understanding, and human behavior, and just things that I was drawn to, and this incredibly global nature, things fell into place.”

But what kind of qualities, aside from passion, do you need to possess to succeed as a marketer and how can you build lifelong relationships with agencies? Messina shares the following CMO insights.

Grow as an individual and as a team member

“I’d say first, of anyone starting any career, just be hungry. Do every job and do many jobs. If you really particularly want to look at marketing, I think the greatest marketers have depth and breadth. So they know something no one else knows how to do but yet they can play really well with others, they can collaborate cross functionally.

Because certainly by our standards at Coke, and I certainly hope I bring that to Beam, it’s really cross functional and when marketing is at its best, it brings the whole organization together.”

Be humble (and embrace the new)

“It’s funny you should ask because when I was interviewing with Beam, they were like “What makes us think you’ll leave Coke and what makes us think you’ll thrive outside of Coke?”. Which is a very fair question. If you walk into the French office of the Coca Cola Company and you think it’s anything like the Chilean office, that would be quite naive.

And so, what I’ve learned is really to show up humbly, remember that you are the minority, whatever that means. I’m now the minority at Beam. I don’t have the tenure. I don’t have the equity. I don’t have the experience. I just embrace the newness. It really works, and I’ve seen it work culture after culture after culture. Look for the similarities not the differences. And, in someways, it just falls into place.”

Find a connection between global and local

“Any global brand, at it’s core, is inherently local. And so, first of all finding what that means. What is uniquely Chilean? What is uniquely Japanese? But, recognizing that every culture wants to grab onto something bigger.

And, it’s this fine line of what does that look like without feeling not ours anymore. And, that little balance, that dance as I call it, is certainly a dance you’ve got to do a lot of at Beam, but certainly a dance we do a lot of at Coke. But, it requires just this recognition, that whilst some things are transferable, some things aren’t.”

Be specific on your scope of work

“Write great briefs. I think the art of a great brief, whatever that looks like, the charter, the scope of work, write it well. Write it thoughtfully. Be clear on what you want.

I think money gets burned, hours gets burned, feelings get hurt, egos get hurt, when we aren’t clear from the beginning in what we want. When we start off well, the rest falls into place. So, I think the art of writing a great brief and outlining the scope of work is the most important.”

Make it your dream job

“Any job is as big or small as you make it. Make it big. Find the ways to add value to your organization. Even if it’s not in your job description. Toss the job description aside. If you believe there is value to be created by doing something I’ve never seen an organization say “No, don’t do that”.

So, look for ways to create value, take good care of people and the rest takes care of itself. I think in this ever evolving world of marketing, it is still the greatest discipline in the world if you love the connection of art and science. If you love working with people.”