The secret life of board members in the marketing industry6 min read
Many aspects of this industry are a little too shrouded in mystery, from the ins and outs of third-party cookies to what exactly marketers do when they sit on the board of a company. So for corporate governance month, we decided to draw back the curtain on the latter and ask marketers what it’s really like being on the board of a company or organization—as well as who gets to be on these boards and who doesn’t.
So what does a marketer do once they’ve joined a board? Many things, but MakeLoveNotPorn founder and CEO Cindy Gallop, who sits on boards for We Are Rosie and liqueur brand Pomp and Whimsy, told Marketing Brew that, big picture, being on a board involves providing strategic direction, expertise, and support for the company’s benefit…all while holding it accountable to “objective standards of integrity and ethics” throughout.
Armin Molavi, fractional marketing strategist at AMolavi Consulting, is an advisory board member for travel company Elude, said board members often serve as sounding boards for founders, providing an objective outside opinion that can be difficult to get from internal employees.
“Some of the conversations I have with CEOs/founders I work with are about validating strategies/approaches, providing an impartial view on important decisions, and sometimes even suggesting to slow things down,” he told us, adding that other components of the role involve making relevant introductions, as well as helping find agency partners or new hires.
Gallop, who founded the US branch of creative agency BBH earlier in her career, said she was asked to bring her marketing expertise to Pomp and Whimsy’s board after she met founder Dr. Nicola Nice at a college alumni event. According to Gallop, she thought she’d be a good fit since both women are “rampant feminists with a huge belief in the massive business and financial potential of innovation through the female lens.”
Read on for more pros, cons, and “did you knows?” about all things board membership.
Responses were lightly edited for length and clarity.
Current role: Fractional marketing strategist at AMolavi Consulting
Boards: Advisory board member at travel company Elude, former board member of We Are Rosie, and many others throughout career
Molavi hails from the hotel industry, with past marketing roles at Hilton and agencies with hotel clients. “I was on the board of a company that failed, and even that was a great learning experience,” he said.
Board-igin story: “Both roles came my way via referrals and introductions. Just recently I was contacted by an executive search firm as well for another potential seat (still in discussions).”
On the time commitment: “It really depends on the engagement and where the company is in the process. A great board is going to be extremely diverse and loaded with masters of their crafts, so as the company evolves through development, launch, etc…my involvement as a marketing strategist ebbs and flows.”
The compensation conversation: “Without giving specifics, most of my board involvement has involved equity. I really enjoy working with very young companies and also only focus on companies where I align with their vision. Equity is a great way for them to enlist my help without impacting precious cash resources.”
On day job/board balance: “‘Day job’ is such a funny term to me now. I went full-time freelance about 18 months ago, so I don’t even know what I would call my day job. I think just like anything you care about, you find time for your board roles. The founders of Elude are just so smart, passionate, and dedicated to the business that I just love spending time with them.”
Current role: Founder and CEO of MakeLoveNotPorn
Boards: Board advisor of Awkward Essentials, sex tech company Handi, We Are Rosie, and liqueur brand Pomp and Whimsy
Cindy Gallop is a marketing-industry icon in her own right—she started the US branch of advertising firm BBH and has been a fervent #MeToo advocate for ad land—so it’s no surprise that she’s on a lot of boards and wants to be on a lot more.
On marketers and boards: “A huge mistake that Silicon Valley boards make is despising marketing. They think marketing is an add on. It is usually the only position or team that they are willing to hire women into because it’s kind of ‘soft and fluffy.’ They don’t understand that marketing is something you design into the product.”
Representation, please: “Women are severely lacking in our presence on boards. Huge numbers of brilliant women in my network are not being asked to sit on boards and very much want to be asked. I and many other women—especially, by the way, women of color—are not getting to sit on those boards where we could contribute a huge amount. And those boards make fortunes for the directors, especially when they go public. What white male board directors make in those cozy positions that white men recommend other white men for… there are men out there making huge amounts of money, just sitting on boards, not doing anything else.”
Who gets paid: “I have many women in my network who want to be invited to sit on boards, but the kind of boards they get asked to sit on are nonprofits. Often when you sit on a nonprofit board, not only do you not get paid, it’s the other way around—you are asked to actually contribute to the funding of the nonprofit board seat. So all board seats are absolutely not equal.”
Evening the scales: “In terms of balance, I am rigorous about establishing exactly how much involvement they’re looking for before I agree to serve on a board. What I’m doing at the moment, it’s eminently doable, because it’s usually a quarterly board meeting. It’s ongoing advice that usually adds up to a few hours every quarter on the whole, helping promote and engage in events and so on. It is very easily balanced within my case with my full-time role.”
[Author’s note: Gallop added that a number of “wonderful organizations” have sprung up to address the DE&I issues she brought up, such as The Board List and Him for Her.]
Current role: Global chief brand officer of Edelman
Boards: Board member for Jamie Oliver Holdings and children’s nature program GROW
Cooper told us being a board member has made her a better agency consultant, as she has “the inside experience of business beyond communications,” which is increasingly important to clients.
That’s how you get the board: “On Jamie Oliver’s board, [I was] introduced and recommended by his US lawyer, who is a friend and a colleague.”
Twenty-five hours a day: “I work four days a week for Edelman, and so I have Fridays to work with on any additional projects, which gives me great flexibility. Jamie’s board role is the most formal, with regular board meetings every other month, structured objectives, and specific areas of expertise for the NEDs [non-executive directors]. If the time encroaches on Edelman time, I make up for it. I learn so much from being on boards that it definitely helps me in my ‘day’ job. It is terrific to be near the engine of an organization and helping to make it run, rather than one step away as an agency.”
Compensation, 64: “A paid position means that the role is more accountable and I am very aware of delivering commercial value, as well as being additive to the leadership team. I know people who have viewed board roles as part of their career journey and have been appointed via a headhunter, complete with fee. Others have taken on roles within organizations where there is mutual interest, or it is a passion project. I have always done both.”
The balance: “You have to learn a new rhythm as a board advisor as your presence is somewhat sporadic. That has been an interesting learning for me as someone who values control. If a crisis hits the firm you are advising, then obviously you may need to pitch in, which can conflict with your day job priority. I also was advised many years ago to establish expectations right from the start so that both you and the management of the firm are clear on where your role starts and stops and you deliver value.”