CMO Convo’s 100th episode is coming up fast, so I’m taking the opportunity to take a look back at some of the highlights from the 99 episodes so far. To be honest, I’ve loved every single episode, it’s genuinely one of my favorite parts of my job as Content Lead for CMO Alliance. Not many marketers are fortunate enough to have a major part of their job to interview dynamic marketing leaders from some of the most interesting brands in the world.

It’s been extremely valuable as a source of content, and it’s been fantastic for developing my own awareness of what it means to be a marketing leader.

But sadly, time makes fools of us all, and I just can’t go through every single episode. If you’re not on this list, don’t think that I didn’t appreciate you joining me, some random marketer from Birkenhead, a town I’m betting most of you have never heard of! Each and every one of your insights with has been extremely valuable to both me and this wonderful community.

Instead, I’m going to give you a peek behind the scenes at how CMO Convo came to be, and pick out some of the episodes that had, what I consider to be, valuable lessons for both myself and the CMOs the podcast was created to serve.

This article is purely based on my own subjective opinions. If you want something a bit more impartial, you can check out this article on the most-listened episodes of CMO Convo (so far).

Why we started CMO Convo

When I was brought in to develop the content strategy for the launch of CMO Alliance, way back in the early days of 2021, my boss, Bryony, mentioned to me that a podcast might be a good idea. They’d done some great podcasts on some of the existing communities.

To be honest, I was pretty dismissive (at least privately, I was still on probation after all and I wasn’t about to start poopooing my boss’s ideas right from day one). I wasn’t a fan of podcasts (give me a book, please), I wasn’t a big believer in how their value as educational content, and I was a firm believer in the idea that content marketers shouldn’t be inserting themselves into the content they’re producing.

So, 99 episodes later, I have to quote the Talking Heads and ask “How did I get here?”

When developing the content strategy for CMO Alliance, I spent a lot of time on calls with CMOs, getting to know the challenges they were facing, what their main responsibilities were, and what type of content they found most valuable.

I came away with two very long lists of challenges and responsibilities, and one big universal message about the type of content they wanted: “We don’t care much about hypotheticals, we want actionable, practical advice from people who are actually doing the job they’re talking about.”

This presented a bit of a problem. I’m not a CMO, nor have I ever been a CMO (I did suggest to leadership that they could give me a promotion for the clout, but weirdly that hasn’t happened). So I thought, “No worries, we’ll push hard for contributed articles.”

But like some weird CMO hydra, problem two reared its head: while many CMOs and marketers are eager to write articles and share insights, most of them don’t have the time to sit down and reliably write article after article for us (I refer you to the two very long lists of challenges and responsibilities).

And so, almost out of desperation, I returned to the podcast idea, not without a certain level of anxiety. After all, I wasn’t exactly a household name as a marketer. I’ve never won awards, not that I care too much about them (he says with the Cannes Lion Award-shaped hole he’s been keeping on his mantle since he was doing his marketing degree), nor have I worked in-house for any major brands, or at some big name agency.

So I started the podcast thinking it would be just a way to get content for the site. Do an interview, create articles from it. Simple, once-a-month kind of thing.

Little did I know how popular the show would be all on its own, both from the perspective of sourcing guests and the audience. I was inundated with requests to be on the show, so much so that we had to switch to a weekly release to ensure there wasn’t a huge lead time between a recording and publication (even now, we still wind up with huge backlogs of recordings to work through).

CMO Convo has quickly become the flagship piece of content for CMO Alliance, providing an excellent platform for CMOs and business leaders to share their insights on everything from complex, data-driven marketing to developing “soft skills” like leadership and negotiation. The guests that appear on the show often go on to be valued members of our community, and frequently appear at our events, both virtual and in-person.

Fast forward to the present day, we’ve now published 99 episodes, comprising 60 hours plus of valuable insights for marketing leaders. We’re listened to in over 30 different countries around the world, with over a thousand listens each month.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have this opportunity, and I’m grateful to my CMO, Bryony, my CEO, Rich, and all the leadership of The Alliance content team that have given me this platform to help elevate and enhance the role of marketing leaders in my own small way. Personally, I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve been lucky enough to make connections with people I consider to be mentors and even friends.

So now we’ve passed all of that ado, on to the episodes that were highlights for me, both in terms of the podcast’s development, but also lessons to be taken away from them.

It's a diverse world. Marketing should be too. | Patrick Reynolds & Jade Warne

Or, the one where I remembered to practice what we preach.

While CMO Convo isn’t strictly my podcast, it’s CMO Alliance’s, it’s still given me an opportunity, on occasion, to really dive into topics that I’m passionate about, including diversity, equity, and inclusivity in marketing. So, when I sat down to record an episode on the topic with Patrick Reynolds, CMO of BluConic, I was thrilled and we had a fantastic conversation that I believed showed that we were both committed to championing the cause.

It was only after the recording that I realized we had been talking about listening to, elevating, and championing diverse voices, and the only people “in the room”, were two cisgender (screw you Musk, I’m saying it), heterosexual, white men.

So I spoke to The Alliance’s fantastic DE&I team, and we worked on a better option with Patrick, one where we’d ensure that diverse voices would be heard as part of the discussion, led by the wonderful Jade Warne (formerly Content Lead for Community Led Alliance and champion of our DE&I team, now doing big things over at the Financial Times).

This is probably the episode where I spoke the least, and I was more than happy to take a backseat to Patrick and Jade’s discussion, as they dug into personal experiences with diversity in marketing that I wouldn’t be able to speak to, and really leaned into the responsibilities of marketing leaders to champion DE&I programs both in their own organizations and beyond.

The scrutiny of the CMO magnifying glass | Jeff Biesman

Or, the one where I discovered just how much sh*t CMOs have to deal with.

I’d been hosting CMO Convo for just over a year before I spoke to Jeff Biesman, CMO of National Debt Relief, and I thought I was getting a handle on the multitudinous challenges and responsibilities.

The eternal battle between quick wins, performance-driven marketing, first long-term brand building, keeping up with the latest martech, aligning sales, marketing, and all the other stakeholders and departments; hiring, training, and leading an effective team… The list goes on and it seemed long enough to me.

But it was only when I spoke to Jeff that I realized one of the biggest internal pressures facing CMOs: that every single person in their organization, from the most junior position to the CEO, board, and investors, probably has an opinion on your marketing strategies, and there’s probably a fair amount of them thinking “I could do better than that. Marketing is easy.”

And at certain levels of seniority, they can be pretty blunt about telling you that to your face. With that kind of scrutiny, it’s no wonder CMOs have the shortest tenure in the C-Suite. It made me realize that statistic wasn’t just down to CMOs being unable to meet unfair expectations and demands: how many are burning out due to the scrutiny and pressure?

Those who do make it, I salute you. As we said on the episode “It’s pressure that turns coal into diamonds”. But burning out under that much pressure is nothing to be ashamed of.

ChatGPT: Killer content, or content killer? | Lindsay Boyajian Hagan

Or, the one where I stopped worrying and learned to tolerate AI.

When Chat-GPT first hit the marketing mainstream, I, and I’m sure many other content marketers, thought “well, our days are numbered”. Everywhere I looked online, I saw people praising its capabilities, and people seriously talking about using it to generate all written content for a brand moving forward.

But once I got to have a proper play around with it, and had this very insightful conversation with Lindsay Boyajian Hagan, VP of Marketing at Conductor, I realized that our days may be numbered, but we have a lot more left than I first thought.

Lindsay confirmed my suspicions that while generative AI is currently great for certain things (busy work, summarizing content, creating structures), when it came to writing like a human, it was, and still is at the time of writing, pretty crap. I’ve yet to publish anything on CMO Alliance that has been purely written by Chat-GPT without significant rewrites, and I can’t see that changing. Human oversight and intervention is going to remain essential for the foreseeable future.

Do I still have concerns over the impact of AI on marketing and society as a whole? Sure I do.

But for now I’ve come around to the idea of using Chat-GPT and other generative AI as a support for humans can be beneficial.

The companies that are using AI for everything, from writing to design? Those aren’t the companies that I’d want to work for. If they think some soulless, probably plagiarized piece of AI content can do better than the work of humans, then they’re welcome to it.

The problem with purposewashing | Greg Ricciardi

Or, the one where I stopped caring about calling out big brands.

At the start of CMO Convo, I was relatively wary about calling out bigger brands for their wrong actions. After all, there’s always the hope that I’d be able to get a marketing leader from the likes of Google, or a major car manufacturer on the show. Even an oil company, despite my misgivings about giving a platform to a company impacting the environment so negatively, would still be a big-name brand that would elevate the show’s profile massively.

But when working on this episode with Greg Ricciardi, President and CEO of creative brand agency 20nine, I realized what I was actually doing was a disservice to the show, the marketing industry, and (not to get too bold about the cultural impact of CMO Convo) society at large.

Greg made it clear to me that anyone with a platform has a responsibility to directly call out the harmful actions of brands, particularly when they’re using marketing to cover up harmful actions, whether they’re harming marginalized groups or the planet.

Brands are one of the most powerful forces in society, and marketing leaders are a major driving force behind the directions they take and the messages they present. While I’m not going to pretend to expect that the president of Shell or FiFa are listening to me calling out their hypocrisy, I can only hope it’ll inspire other, perhaps more influential, voices to do the same.

Owning your marketing superpower | Ling Koay

Or, the one where I realized I might not want to be a CMO, and that’s ok.

For a long time with this show, I was wrongly building the opinion that CMO was realistically the ultimate goal for marketers on the career ladder. While there were some lucky few who go on to become CEOs, or even found their own businesses, I didn’t really see those types of roles as marketing positions.

And from many conversations, it seemed like CMOs had very little time for the types of work that attracted me to the marketing profession: building brands and telling stories in interesting, engaging ways. Everything seemed to be about performance marketing, generating leads, and being a servant to whatever the data told you. While there’s still potential for brand building and storytelling, to me it seemed that was an ever-increasing triviality, a “nice-to-have” when it came to breaking down responsibilities.

It seemed once you reach the CMO role, there’s simply no time for the type of work you’re passionate about or, in fact, really good at.

While I’d heard about other types of C-Suite marketing roles emerging (such as Chief Brand Officer, Chief Growth Officer, and even, my favorite, Chief Storyteller), it was only when I spoke to Ling Koay, Chief Brand Officer for Oneflow, that I realized how important the diversification of these roles was, not just to my own potential career, but also the industry as a whole.

These different types of roles recognize the various strengths that different types of marketers have, and the value they can bring to senior leadership within an organization.

Ling did make it clear that the path to these different roles isn’t always clear-cut, in fact, she had to carve out her role at Oneflow herself. But her message of being able to potentially own your true marketing superpower all through your career was one that really resonated with me.

As we know from “Eye of the Tiger”, trading your passion for glory never ends well.

Looking forwards

At time of writing, it’s literally the day before we record the 100th episode, and I’m incredibly excited to share it with you when it’s ready.

But I’m also looking forward to many more episodes beyond it, ones where I can continue to grow as a podcaster, as a marketer, and ultimately a human.

I feel like I’ve learned something valuable from every single episode I’ve recorded, and once again I’d like to thank every one of my guests. I’d like to thank The Alliance, for giving me this platform that has given me so much in turn. But ultimately I’d like to thank you, the audience of the show for listening to me ramble on.

We’ll be back soon with some more CMO Convos.

The CMO Alliance Community Slack channel is the perfect place to discuss CMO Convo episodes, and connect with a global network of CMOs and marketing leaders.