On March 10, 2021, AMA Toronto held its Legendary Leadership Series event Daring to Break Conventions. Moderated by Danielle Pinnock, Senior Marketing Manager at Architech, the event honoured Canada's Marketing Hall of Legends 2020 Inductee Nancy Marcus, along with past inductee Arthur Fleischmann.
The virtual fireside chat gave everyone the opportunity to get a first-hand perspective on Nancy and Arthur’s career development., followed by an interactive Q&A Breakout session hosted by AMA Toronto’s President, Miglena Nikolova.
Nancy’s 40 years of trailblazing
Nancy best described her career journey as almost serendipitous. She got her start in the soft drinks industry and stayed for 10 years. She then opened a children’s art studio in Toronto after the birth of her second child, went back to senior marketing roles in the tobacco industry, and finally joined Kruger where she was in charge of restructuring and building internal and external marketing teams from scratch. According to her, all these career opportunities just happened naturally and without a precise plan.
Arthur, who has known Nancy for 20 years, saw a more logical thread in her journey. He referred to his own career path, segmented in three distinct phases, as an example. 1)The formative years; learning new skills and absorbing experience, deciding what you like and don’t like. 2) Building on your experience and moving forward. 3) Giving back, mentoring, and bringing people along.
Daring to break conventions
Nancy admitted to breaking conventions, but it was not really part of a strategy. She just lived her life by her own standards. She stood out as a woman in a man’s world and was often one of the few female VPs to actually have a seat at the executive level. Despite feeling lonely at times, Nancy decided instead to always focus on her teams’ objectives. By consistently prioritizing their objectives, they didn’t need affirmation about decision-making or about who they were.
Nancy also talked about the challenges she faced as a marketer in a tough business environment characterized by highly commoditized goods, too many competitors, and operations and engineering-centric organizations that were not marketing-savvy. She attributed her style and vision to an Albert Einstein poster she kept in her office: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Her collaboration with john st., which was then an upstart advertising agency co-founded by Arthur, that she saw something in and found exciting even through it “didn’t [necessarily] check all the boxes”. It evolved into a 20-year partnership.
The most important qualities of a leader
Common sense, of course, is a must-have for people leaders but Nancy believes that the most important quality is the ability to show empathy. The role of a manager is vital because it comes with a responsibility. She knows from experience that managers who are candid, transparent, and who keep an open dialogue with their teams lay the groundwork for a solid relationship. Team members who are part of this kind of environment will be loyal. Arthur added that there is no such thing as a “position of leadership.” When reflecting on Nancy’s leadership skills, he emphasized the notion of “leading from all angles.” Having worked with her for 20 years, he was able to observe how she established her vision, joined her teams in the trenches, and sat back and pushed other talented individuals forward. He referred to her as a “fluid leader.”
What type of marketer are you?
Nancy answered without hesitation that she was a “passionate marketer who exudes enthusiasm.” She always loved her brands and cared about maintaining guardianship and consistent quality. Arthur described Nancy as being audacious, and that she used that audacity to turn functional brands into something that triggered an emotional response from consumers. As an example, they discussed one of Nancy’s most successful paper towel campaigns where they gave families permission to make a mess in the kitchen, to be real. The conversation then shifted to Arthur’s style as a marketer—”a simplifier” as he self-described—interested in reducing complexity and distilling a brand to its simplest win.
Purpose-driving proudest moments
Nancy’s impressive career spans four decades and many proud achievements. Rather than single out a specific campaign, she focused on how she and her teams introduced philanthropic corporate social responsibility into the company-driven brands. When she started at Kruger there was no strategy when it came to donating money, and so she built a powerful program that brought everyone together and galvanized employees. This led to a consistent commitment of treating women as women, not as mothers, which led to supporting important causes like the fight against breast cancer. Arthur supported Nancy’s desire to give back, reinforcing the importance of purpose-driven marketing for brands and corporations who want to offer something authentic that people can relate to.
What it means to be a CMHOL inductee
Both Nancy and Arthur admitted feeling intimidated by the “legend” moniker, but both accepted the honour with humility. When asked what it meant to her, Nancy spoke about the fact that it’s never about just one person, and of the footprint, she hopes to leave as a leader, marketer, and woman. That’s what matters most to her. She did however acknowledge the many challenges faced by CMOs—fighting competition, driving profitability, defending their marketing budgets—and although she still doesn’t consider herself a legend, she did accept the honour as recognition for her hard work. Arthur said he was grateful to be part of this talented and dedicated group of people—”the students of progress”—in a passionate industry that constantly thinks about change. According to him, the notion that the Canadian Marketing industry has legends forces you to spend time thinking about what other people are doing to innovate and make consumers feel good.
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