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Marketing Post-Covid: Michelle Killebrew, Vice President, Marketing, Products & Technology at PwC

We sat down with Michelle Killebrew, Vice President of Marketing for Products and Technology at the global accounting firm PwC, to discuss marketing in a post-COVID world.

Together, we discuss how products can adapt during uncertain moments, why the “new normal” might lead to more disciplined decision making, and the importance of agility and self-compassion throughout this moment.

Transcript

Brian Erickson:
Thanks for joining the Cardwell Beach Marketing podcast. My name is Brian Erickson, Chief Strategy Officer and Partner at Cardwell Beach. In this series, we’re interviewing senior marketers across industries to develop perspective on what marketing will look like in a post-COVID-19 world, which is hopefully coming soon.
Today’s guest is Michelle Killebrew, who leads marketing for the Products and Technology group at PwC, the global accounting and financial services firm. Prior to starting her new role, Michelle was Head of Marketing for PwC New Ventures, the internal SaaS incubator for the firm, which has now been folded into the new Products and Technology group. Michelle, thanks so much for joining us today.

Michelle Killebrew:
Thanks, it’s my pleasure to be here with you, Brian.

Brian Erickson:
So talking about weathering the storm, you changed roles in the middle of this storm here, you joined PwC’s Products and Technology division in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the division focuses on, as PwC puts it, “building products with purpose,” and certainly, we’re in a moment where many businesses can benefit from purpose-driven products. So how have you helped your team pivot to meet some of the immediate needs we’re facing right now while keeping true to this core brand value?

Michelle Killebrew:
Absolutely. Well, it’s interesting, when we all went into lockdown, there were a number of different pivots that we wanted to focus on. Some of it was taking care of our teams and making sure that they were sheltering in place well for themselves and their family, but also looking at our product portfolio and determining what is going to be most beneficial for our clients at this juncture, both in the near, and medium, and long-term? So we looked at our product portfolio on a roadmap, and made some determinations in terms of where we wanted to deprioritize some of those efforts, as well as looking at features and functions of some of the products that we had developed that could be uniquely helpful in this challenging time. So looking at pivoting some of those products use cases to things that are going to be a lot more helpful, to drive in that purpose and that value for our clients as they weather the current COVID environment, as well as they accelerate, hopefully coming out of this interesting time that we’re all in.

Brian Erickson:
So PwC focuses on four key areas, the first being protecting businesses, then you also have empowering staff, making smarter decisions, and exploring emerging technologies as some pillars that drive the way that you operate. And in your short time with the team, have you seen one of these focus areas become more prominent, or do they all play into the way that products are created, designed, and marketed equally?

Michelle Killebrew:
At this juncture where we’re in this pandemic time, protecting one’s business has become at the forefront of what companies were really grappling with, and that’s because it was a very rapid shift to remote work, and cybersecurity became front and center for most every organization on the planet as they made that shift. And then of course, empowering staff is core to what an organization does. Your people are your intellectual property. They’re the ones that drive value for any organization. So how are you communicating with them, and empowering them to do the best work for an organization? Those two pillars have come certainly to the forefront of this current pandemic environment.
And then of course, making smarter decisions, leveraging data insights, etc. is going to be core to organizations as they pivot out of the curve or accelerate out of the curve, because efficiency is going to be absolutely key to emerging smarter from this current environment, and exploring those emerging technologies is another way that organizations are going to be able to be really efficient at deploying their resources for maximum return on investment, and so, those organizations are coming out of this time period, stronger, better, more galvanized as organizations.

Brian Erickson:
Mm-hmm. That definitely makes sense, and that’s where everything begins, right? Using that as a baseline and looking forward to the future, and as we think about hopefully what comes next and I’m sure in March, we all were thinking that was going to be in April, and now we’re in September, we’re hoping that’s in October, whenever it is, at some point something’s going to kind of emerge as a new normal. So when you’re thinking about the PwC products approach, do you anticipate that some or many aspects are going to return to a pre-COVID reality, or a different way of doing business and operating that incorporates some of the lessons learned from the pandemic, kind of be the reigning strategy?

Michelle Killebrew:
I think it will be a little bit of both. I think during this pandemic timeframe, what we’ve really had to do is be nimble, right? So your planning cycles and your execution cycles have condensed because you’re in such a period of uncertainty. What that has created is I think an extra special discipline on focusing on what matters, and then being able to leverage that which is working and not focus on things that might just be busywork. So I think that that will remain being lean, being focused and looking at how we can be as effective and responsive to our client needs as possible. Of course, I’m also looking forward to when we have a little bit more certainty, when we’ve got a little bit longer planning cycle, so we can bring something particularly valuable to market. So I’m hoping it’s sort of bridging the best of both of those worlds.

Brian Erickson:
With the caveat that you’re relatively new to the role here, I think you’re still within the first 100 days sort of realm in this role, specifically at PwC, How do you think your marketing mix will shift on a tactical level from the original 2020 plan, or maybe even your original 100 day plan when you started the new role?

Michelle Killebrew:
Yeah, the division is new, the team is new, so we are really building from the ground up what our FY21, we’re currently in our fiscal ‘21 plan, what that role will look like, and where we make our strategic bets, which of the product portfolio are going to be our priorities in the new year, and where do we sort of look at portfolio aggregated marketing strategies? So the good news is this team was almost born in this environment, and so we are building the rocket ship while we’re flying it, which is something that most marketers are very familiar with doing, it’s just an extra special or an extra unique circumstance in which we were doing it.

Brian Erickson:
It is certainly special circumstances there, that’s a pleasant way to put it, I guess. Right? If you were to give one piece of advice to mid-market and small business product marketers right now, what would you say is the one thing that people should stay focused on going into the close of the year here in Q4?

Michelle Killebrew:
Remain agile. I think marketers in general, regardless of what size organization you’re representing, need to remain agile, they need to understand the cues that the market is giving them. They also need to be kind to themselves and cut themselves a break, because it is really difficult to forecast what might work and what might not work in this interesting time that we find ourselves. So test and iterate, and be especially responsive to the cues that your audiences are giving you, whether it’s data-driven or social communications, just be really responsive.

Brian Erickson:
That’s really fantastic advice on the business level and for in-house marketers, and I guess for marketers that find themselves in the job market, if you’re going to keep that in mind on the business level, what can folks who are applying to jobs do to communicate that they have that skillset, and how can they best position themselves and their skills for this moment, relative to what you just stated as important in marketing right now?

Michelle Killebrew:
Well, first the good news, I’ve seen a real uptick in marketing roles posted, which I think is wonderful. I think that brands are understanding that now is the time to invest in marketing. I think there was a shock of the initial pandemic where a lot of organizations didn’t know what was happening next, and so an easy place to cut spend is marketing budgets, and obviously the marketing staff that supports that spend. But I’m seeing it now accelerate in terms of some really interesting roles that are posted, because I think organizations are realizing that if they invest in marketing now and maintain a solid connection with their customers and audiences, that they are going to win market share as the recovery takes hold.
So the first piece of advice I would give marketers who are seeking their next opportunity is to stay optimistic. And then secondly, you really need to, I’ll say, practice your craft for yourself, and what I mean by that is we market things for companies that we work for for our entire career. So you have to practice and apply some of those same principles into how you might yourself for a role or position. Are you thinking about your audience, in this case, the hiring manager, and thinking through the value that you can bring to them? Are you reaching out through multiple channels? Are you making those connections? And just keep that front and center in your mind as you’re seeking out your new opportunity. And with that, I’ll just say, you’ve got this. So, chin up, there’s lots of opportunity out there, so seize that brass ring.

Brian Erickson:
That’s awesome, and I think that’s such a great point in terms of practicing what you have practiced on a brand level your entire career, on an individual level. I want to just call out one aspect of what you said, specifically in terms of using multiple channels to get on somebody’s radar. I think in any job market, it’s barely enough to just kind of ship your resume out and hope you get noticed, right? But especially in a market like you’re facing today, don’t just submit a resume through Indeed or LinkedIn, or anything like that, right? Just hit them from every angle in the same way you would hit a consumer from, with an omnichannel sort of approach, seven to 12 impressions to get awareness, right?

Michelle Killebrew:
That’s right, yeah.

Brian Erickson:
Awesome. Well, Michelle, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today, I very much appreciate it.

Michelle Killebrew:
Thank you.

Brian Erickson:
Definitely make sure to check Michelle out on social, she is always putting out great positive content on LinkedIn, and many other social platforms there, so she is definitely practicing what she preaches in terms of personal branding and putting out some great work there. So this is Brian Erickson with Cardwell Beach, thanks again for listening, and please make sure to check back for more senior marketers sharing their perspectives on what marketing will look like in a post-COVID-19 world.

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