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  • Writer's pictureBen Finzel

The Common Sense Colloquy: Q&A with Chiqui Cartagena of The Conference Board

In a year like no other in our recent history, it’s helpful to have constants you can rely on to help navigate and understand the changing world around you. One of those constants for us is smart people. And one of the smart people we are happy to be able to turn to is Chiqui Cartagena, the Chief Marketing Officer for The Conference Board in New York City. Chiqui’s lived and learned experience provides a helpful starting point for determining how to adjust and adapt communications activities in a challenging time.

The Conference Board is the nation’s leading global, independent business membership and research association working in the public interest. Its mission is to provide the world’s leading organizations with insight and information they need to improve their performance and better serve society. In addition to being the organization’s CMO, she also is the Leader of its Marketing & Communications Center, which conducts research and convenes executives–including through councils, conferences and webcasts–around those topics. And she’s well-suited to these roles given her background in communications, marketing and advertising.

Prior to joining The Conference Board one year ago (Happy Anniversary!), Chiqui was Senior Vice President for the Political and Advocacy Group at Univision Communications and served in senior marketing roles at Story Worldwide and the Meredith Corporation. Her journalism experience includes roles at Ad Age, TV Guide, NY1 News, the Miami Herald and the news organizations of Univision and Telemundo. And as if that weren’t already incredibly impressive, she is the author of two books on marketing to Hispanics. Chiqui isn’t just a Renaissance Woman, she’s a modern marketing and communications rock star. We’re thrilled to have this opportunity to share her insight as part of the Common Sense Colloquy series.

Our thanks to Chiqui for sharing her wisdom with us – and you.

Q: What a year! How have you and your colleagues adapted to the multiple crises and challenges of the past six months?

A: Luckily as a global think tank we were already set up to do remote work, so we didn’t bat an eyelash on that front. And since we were so technologically ready, we immediately put to practice what we do best: give our Members Insights for What’s Ahead. Because we have offices in China, we actually started reporting on COVID-19 in February. By the time it hit the US hard, our thought leadership in areas like economic forecasts and supply chain disruption were being quoted all over the media.

Seeing the gravity of the situation, we put our thought leadership–which is normally for members only–in front of our paywall and set up a COVID-19 information Hub, where we have published over 300 pieces of research and thought leadership on the pandemic’s impact on all aspects of business. By taking a look, you’ll see we are the only think tank that can actually cover an issue from all aspects of business impact: Economic & Financial; Human Capital; Environmental, Social & Governance; Marketing & Communications; as well as Public Policy.

Like many organizations we are challenged by keeping our virtual workforce from burning out after a bump in productivity this spring and summer. We are also trying to keep them engaged and inspired with the increased demand from our member organizations. Efforts that have gone a long way include having more video conversations to help humanize communications; more positive reinforcement to staff; and holding more organization-wide meetings, where employees across departments share success stories.

Q: How has your approach changed and what have you learned from your clients about what they’re doing to adapt?

A: I think that, now, everyone is looking at everyone else to see what works and what doesn’t. In spite of the lockdown and downturn of the economy, this is an incredible time for innovation and experimentation, which I think leads to new ways of creative collaboration. The pandemic has accelerated our shift to developing and distributing shorter content. An emphasis on more bite-sized analyses – see an example here – allows us to react more quickly to the latest developments, and thus provide our Members with timelier insights.

At the same time, not being able to be “with” people physically is a challenge, especially in highly creative/collaborative fields like marketing. We are learning to adapt to new tech tools, which I do think will fundamentally change the way we all do business going forward, and that is sort of exciting.

Q: What do you think marketers should keep in mind in the next six months as the nation faces deepening health and racial justice pandemics, a high-stakes presidential election and growing uncertainty about the economy? How should communicators adapt?

A: Americans are looking for leadership at this difficult time, and if they can’t get it from the government, they will rely on business leaders to pave the way. I can’t predict what will happen in the next six months, but I think it might get tougher before it gets better. I expect a bruising presidential campaign, but I hope our Democracy will not only survive but thrive. I think our economy will rebound and come out of this stronger, but I fear it will take longer than we expect. How we behave as business leaders is going to be scrutinized more than ever before, so the role of Marketing & Communications professionals in the next six months to a year is going to be critical in helping restore confidence and trust. What a great opportunity to have a huge impact, don’t you think?

Q: As a marketing guru and communicator who has also been a journalist and a Hispanic woman who is also LGBT, you have multiple lived experiences to draw on. What have these lived experiences taught you about communications?

A: I hope the big legacy of this pandemic is more transparent communications internally and externally, as well as renewed focus on the alignment with brand purpose. Now more than ever, what you do and how you do it as a brand is intrinsically tied to your brand values and purpose. Consumers not only look for that alignment and transparency in companies but will start demanding it. This trend had started already before COVID-19 hit, but I think it will be accelerated and amplified given all the important issues that have come to the forefront as a result of this pandemic. We recently interviewed Darren Walker of the Ford Foundation as part of our CEO Forum: Building a More Civil & Just Society, and he told us he thought George Floyd’s death will have a more profound impact on America than the pandemic itself – that’s powerful stuff.

Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you’ve received?

A: Listen, Listen, Listen. You can only be a good communicator if you know how people feel and where people are emotionally, but you only accomplish that by listening intently and with empathy. These six months have been the hardest of my career, but I have learned so much from them and believe they have made me a better leader.

Q: What’s the best “common sense” advice about communications you've given to others?

A: Listen to what people have to say, be transparent, honest and true to yourself and you can never fail.



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