10 minutes with Simon Edward and Ed Craven-Smith

Reading time: about 5 minutes

Last Wednesday, we were treated to a visit at our biannual Town Hall meeting by Simon Edward, who until recently held the role of CMO, VP, and Client Experience Leader for IBM UK and Ireland. 

Simon Edward has had a truly stellar career at IBM over the past 35 years, and our team has had the privilege of working with him and his wider team during this time.

Here’s an excerpt of our Q&A with Simon hosted by our CEO, Ed Craven-Smith. 

Q. During your tenure as UK CMO for IBM, what were the main drivers to the key strategic decisions that you made?

A. There were three things that sat behind the thinking:

1. People – making sure they have the capacity to complete what you need them to, making sure they’re engaged with the task and have the enthusiasm to complete it. You also have to understand what individuals want from their job, everyone has different life goals and needs so you really need to understand what your team wants. Once your team is happy, they will put that energy into servicing your clients. 

2. Clients – if you don’t put clients at the centre of any discussion, then that relationship won’t last very long. The conversation has to come back to them. And remember, if you’re looking after your people then they’re looking after your clients. 

3. Business – you need to be clear on your business strategy and goals. What are you trying to achieve? IBM is a huge organisation that at times has been very complicated but has now been simplified, and I think the strategy is currently the clearest it ever has been. And that clear strategy pays off – there’s a reason IBM is sitting at the table with other global organisations at the AI Security Summit at Bletchley Park today. We are a voice to be listened to.

Q. When engaging with marketing agencies, would you prefer them to solve specific problems you’d identified, or did you want them to offer innovative approaches to support you in achieving your wider goals? 

There are different ways to brief agencies. Yes, it’s about fixing problems and scaling — you may need your agency to complete something because you just don’t have capacity to do so internally. 

But also there has to be a sense of trust, and the level of intimacy between you and the agency is so important. As you get to know each other and your agency really understands your goals and priorities, they should feel like they have the right to come forward and challenge your thinking. 

TBT Marketing has certainly got that right with IBM; we’ve worked in partnership for so long now that you challenge our thinking and really create value in the discussion. New people bringing in new ideas is really important!

Q. How did you ensure that critical business decisions were going to have longer term impact?

A. I remember one of the CEOs at IBM saying that you have to walk and chew gum, and you definitely do. But how? Well, you must set aside some time dedicated to thinking about the future, not the present, and you need a strategic growth team who will do this. But you absolutely must make time for it.

Q. IBM has worked with TBT Marketing for 22 years now, what has made this such a successful partnership? 

A. TBT Marketing always takes the problem away. From the beginning, the starting answer was always yes, despite whatever was happening, and whoever picked up the phone was always there to support us, and that hasn’t changed. 

The model that TBT Marketing uses is what I like to call Heartbeat Marketing; you keep IBM products relevant and in front of the right partners and clients.

Q. How has sustainability changed the dialogue and the outcome of some of the decisions that you’ve made?

A. Firstly you have to decide what sustainability means to you, and also understand what it means to your partners and clients. 

From my point of view as CMO, the availability of data has fundamentally changed the role as well as the thinking behind sustainability. So, the types of things I used to be asked included What ink are we using? What paper can we use? What’s the digital footprint? etc. In the past I wouldn’t have been able to answer many of those questions, but now I have the data available to me, so I can. But there’s a danger of not doing anything with that data, so make sure you’re clear on what you’re measuring, and stay consistent. And make sure that you’re continuously improving what you do, based on that data and your learnings. 

Q. How much do you see AI disrupting marketing moving forward? And how influential is AI in informing your own decision making? 

A. Has it changed marketing? Yes. Will it change marketing? Yes. Will people lose jobs because of AI? Some roles will go because of AI, that’s going to happen yes. But my view (and I’ve stolen this from somebody else!) is that if we sit here and don’t think about AI, our job may go, but I don’t believe it will go to AI, I think it will go to some other human using AI

I believe AI is an additive, in most instances it isn’t a replacement. 

Q: And finally, by choice you have brought down the final curtain on a brilliant career. So why now? 

A: I left at a time when I think it was right for the company. And it was right for me. I was also reading this book Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals and I remember thinking how many more weeks do I want to do. And I thought, you know what… I’m going to focus my time on activities that I want to do. People talk about a portfolio career, that means you’re hunting for work all the time. I don’t mind doing some stuff, but it’s more a portfolio of activities. So, there may be some work bits. But there’s other stuff that will come in to play too.

Ed Craven-Smith sat down with Simon Edward on 1st November 2023 with TBT Marketing in Frome. 

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