Sep 30, 2023 5 min read

From CMOs to CEOs: Marketing Mavericks Who've Mastered the Hospitality Hustle

In the world of hospitality, CMOs are stepping into the shoes of CEOs. It's like watching a marketing campaign go full circle – from crafting compelling narratives to steering the entire ship.
From CMOs to CEOs: Marketing Mavericks Who've Mastered the Hospitality Hustle

In the world of hospitality, where every customer's experience is a symphony of service, there's a noticeable trend brewing. Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs), the creative minds behind the industry's branding and customer engagement strategies, are stepping into the shoes of Chief Executive Officers (CEOs). It's like watching a marketing campaign go full circle – from crafting compelling narratives to steering the entire ship.

Now, if you took note of my title, or you may know me personally, you might be thinking, is this article Julie’s attempt to foreshadow a switch from the M to the E in her title acronym, and the quick answer is a hard no thank you. Marketing is, always has, and always will be for me. So why the article? Throughout my time at Branded, and specifically as Producer of The Hospitality Hangout Podcast, I’ve had the privilege and honor of conducting the pre-show interviews with our incredible guests. The first question of each Podcast is always “How did you get to where you are today?” and more and more we are interviewing guests who (you guessed it) started their careers in marketing roles and held court as CMO before transitioning to CEO.

So, what's the secret sauce that makes these marketing maestros so well-suited for the top job? Let's dive into the sizzling skillet of their skills.

1. Excellent Communication: Turning Words into Wisdom

In the hospitality industry, communication is king, and CMOs have honed this skill to perfection. They are the lyrical maestros who turn words into stories that whisk customers away on a journey of flavors and experiences. Take Josh Kern, for instance, the former CMO at Smashburger and Quiznos, who now reigns as the CEO of SPB Hospitality. His ability to craft compelling narratives undoubtedly played a significant role in his ascent to the helm. Like a well-constructed marketing campaign, CEOs must communicate their vision and values effectively to lead their teams and satisfy their guests. (Spoiler alert/Shameless Plug, Josh will be on the Podcast October 10thtalking about his journey and much more! So make sure to follow the Hospitality Hangout on your favorite Podcast Channel so you don’t miss it!)

2. Budget Mastery: Dollars and Dining

Managing budgets is a core competency for CMOs, and it's a skill that translates seamlessly to the role of a CEO. The ability to allocate resources wisely and ensure every dollar spent generates a return on investment is critical. Adam Golomb, former CMO and now CEO of Primanti Brothers, knows this dance all too well. Just as he once optimized marketing spend to drive sales, he now optimizes the financial health of the entire enterprise. It's all about making every penny count, whether it's on marketing campaigns or sourcing the freshest ingredients for a signature dish. You can listen to Adam’s story here!

3. Multitasking Marvels: Balancing Acts Fit for a CEO

In the frenetic world of hospitality, multitasking is a superpower. CMOs are adept at juggling multiple marketing campaigns, each with its own unique flavor. Rob Lynch, formerly the CMO of Arby's and now the CEO of Papa John's, has mastered this art. From crafting mouthwatering promotions to leading an entire pizza empire, he's proven that multitasking prowess is a must. CEOs must balance various aspects of the business, just as CMOs balance marketing channels, all while keeping the customer experience front and center. Hey Rob – if you are reading this, I’m looking forward to the day we share your story, I told you I was persistent!

4. Leadership Extraordinaire: Setting the Tone for Success

Strong leadership is the secret sauce that ties it all together. Betsy Hamm, former Director of Marketing for Hershey Entertainment & Resorts and CMO tuned CEO at Duck Donuts knows that leading a brand is about more than just marketing – it's about inspiring a team to create magic together. CMOs understand the importance of setting the tone for the brand and motivating their teams to deliver exceptional experiences. As CEOs, they continue to lead by example, guiding the company towards its goals and maintaining the spirit that defines their brand. Hear Betsy’s story Here!

5. All-Around Know-How: From Marketing to Management

CMOs are often the Swiss Army knives of the hospitality world. They need to know every nook and cranny of the business to effectively promote it. John Peyton, former CMO of Starwood Hotels and now CEO of Dine Brands, exemplifies this breadth of knowledge. From the intricacies of guest experiences to the back-of-house operations, CMOs understand it all. As CEOs, they leverage this comprehensive understanding to drive growth and innovation across the entire organization.

6. Mastering People Management: Orchestrating a Harmonious Team

Hospitality is a people-centric industry, and CMOs excel in managing diverse teams, much like a conductor guiding a symphony orchestra. Their experience in building and nurturing talent makes them adept at leading an ensemble of chefs, servers, and hotel staff. This skill is finely tuned in individuals like Chris Tommaso, who transitioned from CMO to CEO of First Watch Restaurants. This ability to foster collaboration and motivation is crucial for CEOs in maintaining a harmonious workplace, where everyone works in tune to create memorable guest experiences.

7. Budgets, Agencies, and ROI: Balancing Act Extraordinaire

Managing budgets is only part of the story; CMOs also navigate complex agency relationships to bring marketing campaigns to life. Their skill in overseeing agency partnerships ensures that every creative concept aligns with the company's vision. John Williams, former Director of Marketing at Disneyland Resorts and now CEO of True Food Kitchen, exemplifies this trait. Just as he once contributed to Disneyland's ever-evolving attractions, he now leads True Food Kitchen. This knack for working with external partners to drive results directly translates to the CEO role, where managing various aspects of the business, from suppliers to investors, requires a finely-tuned balance.

8. Financially Astute, Not Just Bottom-Line Driven

While financial acumen is crucial for CEOs, CMOs bring a unique perspective to the table. They understand that success is not solely measured by the journey from X to Y on a balance sheet. CMOs often prioritize long-term brand equity and customer loyalty over short-term gains, recognizing that building a strong brand reputation can lead to sustained financial success. A prime example is Jennifer Schuler, who transitioned from CMO to CEO of Wetzel's Pretzels. Her financial know-how extends beyond profit margins, encompassing strategic investments and sustainable growth. As CEO, she knows how strike a balance between fiscal responsibility and brand-building, creating a lasting impact on the bottom line.

In the world of hospitality, where every detail counts, CMOs turned CEOs bring a mise en place of skills to the forefront. Their ability to manage people, budgets, and agencies, foster innovation, and navigate the financial landscape while staying true to the brand's essence makes them the perfect leaders for an industry where every detail matters. Here's to the CMOs-turned-CEOs who elevate hospitality to new heights, one memorable experience at a time. As for me, the marketer, it's the greatest joy to boast and promote my industry friends and colleagues!

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