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Why marketers struggle with communicating strategic value to boards

Posted By Aileen O’Toole, Chartered Director and Digital Strategist, Wednesday 2 May 2018

marketing's strategic value

Aileen O'Toole will lead the Marketing Institute's upcoming Masterclass: Increasing Marketing's Influence in the Boardroom on 10th May 2018.


What to communicate, and how, is probably the single biggest obstacle facing senior marketers in winning the hearts, minds and the critical buy-in from their boards for a marketing strategy or  investment.   

Too often marketers complain that their boards are risk averse, that they don’t understand the strategic value of marketing or, worse, pick holes in a campaign where they are not the target audience.  Too often, too,  board members complain that they don’t understand how marketing spend impacts on sales and other objectives, that the marketing data they receive is not sufficiently robust and that presentations are often laced with jargon they don’t understand.

Whose analysis is right?  Well both are.  Marketers must acknowledge evidence from credible research studies that marketers:

  • Don’t align their function sufficiently  with the overall business strategy
  •  Don’t land the killer messages, supported by the right data, in their presentations to boards
  • Aren’t sufficiently comfortable with financial analysis, which is the rock on which many business cases for marketing investment perishes in the boardroom

Directors must also acknowledge that they don’t often understand the complexities of marketing.  In particular, they don’t always recognise that it is a combination of both art and science and the science part may not be as black and white as they’d like.  They don’t always appreciate the important role that marketing can play in customer-led growth and, as a consequence, don’t devote enough time to the marketing agenda.

Marketing is a right brain discipline which has to make its presence felt in boardrooms where the disciplines are left brain.  As a result, marketers hired for their creativity, passion and their back catalogue of successful campaigns often find their style, messages and data are out of sync with the expectations of board members. 

Boards are usually made up of individuals who are highly analytical, like rigorous measurements and are focused on enhancing shareholder value.  There is a strong argument that boards need a combination of both disciplines to create shareholder value and boards are bereft of right brain people from marketing, communications and other disciplines.

However, repeated studies show that marketing is under-represented at board level – among 65,000 board members of the S&P 1500 less than 3% came from a marketing background, according to a study from Virginia's Darden School of Business.


Actions for marketers

To be commercially credible in the boardroom, and win support for investments or other proposals, marketers need to:

  • Connect what they do, or what they are planning, to the corporate strategy
  •  Recognise that they may be competing for support or funding or both with other departments which can deliver a more compelling return on investment argument
  • Bring valuable insights from  customers,  competitors and the marketplace into boardroom discussions, insights which other disciplines do not offer
  • Develop a simple yet compelling storyline  and slide deck that will secure board support
  • Move the board narrative from one that is about marketing as a cost to marketing as an investment
  • Use the right data and present it in a manner that fully supports the business case and the request for board approvals
  • Be prepared to justify existing or proposed marketing spend and answer questions convincingly about what activities and channels add the most value and why
  • Be able to defend the contribution that creative campaigns and media spend makes to achieving strategic objectives
  • Recognise that board members may be on a learning curve in terms of their knowledge of marketing and its effectiveness
  • Work with Directors to hopefully arrive at a point where there is a shared understanding on the strategic marketing priorities

These and other themes will be explored at a Marketing Institute masterclass facilitated by Aileen O'Toole: Increasing marketing’s influence in the boardroom on Thursday 10 May. Maurice Pratt, Chairman of Uniphar and a former marketer and Mary Lambkin, Professor of Marketing at the Smurfit Graduate Business School, will bring their board and marketing experience to life in an interactive “pitching to the board” session. 

For more details, visit the event page.

About the author

Aileen O’Toole is a Chartered Director and a Digital Strategist.She is a board member of the Road Safety Authority. A co-founder of The Sunday Business Post newspaper, she is a fellow of the Marketing Institute of Ireland. Aileen can be contacted via her email address;, through her website;, or through her LinkedIn profile.

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