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A Day in the Life of... Darren O'Reilly, Chief Marketing Officer at Member First

Posted By The Marketing Institute, Wednesday 14 November 2018
Updated: Monday 12 November 2018

Darren O'Reilly Friends First

What does a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at Member First do?

As CMO, I lead the strategic marketing and communication functions in Member First, which is one of the largest community banks in Ireland. Member First was formed by several large mergers and acquisitions facilitated by the Central Bank of Ireland to create a modern-day, digital first Credit Union. My remit is further extended to drive our digital transformation and lead our customer experience teams which involves overseeing our customer contact centre and our credit departments. As you can see the CMO role in the Credit Union industry has vastly changed. It is an exciting and challenging role that extends far beyond just brand and eyeballs. The CMO's role is to drive both business performance and lead cultural change. I could be cheeky and reframe the question to read what does the CMO not do?


What were your key career moves to get to your current role?

A lifetime in financial services, clocking in 10 years now (even though I might not look old enough!). I originally started out as an accountant before realising I had a personality (That’s a running joke I tell my ex-accountant colleagues). I believe this foundation in business and accounting has made me the strategic marketeer that I am today. I was fortunate to work with ambitious organisations that gave me the autonomy to try new and innovative marketing campaigns. Having this free reign at such a young age provided me with a profile that opened many doors for me. I was named Young Professional of the Year in 2013 which started my international speaking career. Since then I have delivered talks around the globe on the topics of marketing and digital strategy. In 2016 I was voted top 10 speaker at WCUC, an international conference, alongside some world class speakers. And more recently, in 2018 I was named Early Career - Marketing & Communications Professional of the Year. I’ve been very lucky.


What is the biggest challenge you face in your role?

Customer retention is a challenge as the competition in the financial services sector has increased significantly in recent years and not just from the traditional main street banks. Consumers can now avail of credit at point of purchase such as car finance and retailers who offer credit solutions. Further several technology companies have now entered the lending industry and are shaking things up. Luckily brand loyalty and retention amongst our customers is high and we have ranked number one for customer experience for the fourth year in a row in the CXi Ireland Customer Experience Report. We continue to see year on year growth in loan sales and new account opening. However, we can’t get complacent and we continue to work on our loyalty and retention programmes to ensure we always deliver and remain relevant to our customers. From a personal perspective, the biggest challenge I face daily is time, there is never, ever as much of it as I would like!


What key skills do you need to be effective in your role?

What I have come to realise as I have moved into increasingly senior roles is that soft skills go a long way to putting your hard skills to good use. You obviously must have the technical ability to do the job but if you cannot lead and inspire a team you will never get the best results. The ability to empathise, communicate, have difficult conversations, challenge the status quo and inspire and lead a team are often given less attention than hard skills, yet learning to hone my soft skills and apply myself in this area is when my career really took off.


Describe a typical working day.

My day begins the night before where I plan out my key priorities for the next day and review my schedule, that way I am prepared for the following morning. My brain is most productive in the morning, so my day starts early where I do some of my strategising or more ‘heavy’ work before the teams start arriving to the office. Communication is key in the role and my mornings are spent touching base with my teams in various meetings and ensuring we are on track with all projects. Afternoons are generally spent on more strategic level work with our senior management team. I also consultant with the World Council of Credit Unions so I often find myself punching in some extra hours in the evening on international marketing projects with my colleagues in the United States. 


What do you love most about your role?

I love connecting with people through marketing. I am curious and passionate about understanding people. Not just the textbook stuff but really understanding ‘real people’ and applying this to Brand and Marketing strategies to make an impact. I have a huge interest in well-being & most recently completed my studies in Neuroscience which has allowed me to bring this personal interest in human behavior into a corporate setting and drive my marketing strategies.


Looking ahead, where might your career path lead to next?

I am always open to embracing new challenges. I am passionate about marketing and keen to further develop as a marketeer and eventually apply my skillset outside the financial services industry. As the ultimate goal is to be a well-rounded marketing leader with diverse experience – not just a one trick pony! For me it is all about learning and growth, if I am not learning it’s time to move on and challenge myself.


To whom do you look for professional inspiration in your role?

I look to marketing leaders in all industries for inspiration. I love leaders who bring their whole-self to the office – authentic and transparent. For example, Bozoma Saint John the Chief Marketing Officer at Endeavor and previously the Chief Brand Officer at Uber is someone I admire for being unapologetically herself and owning it. You do you, everyone else is already taken! I’m a big believer in ongoing coaching and personal development so I regularly work with a mentor to keep me on track with my personal and professional goals.

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