Tracy Gawthorne on ethics, collaboration, growth and purpose at Accenture

Marketers must take more ownership of the business and lead with a purpose that’s both personal and organisational – Gina Balarin speaks with Accenture’s Tracy Gawthorne about leading an enormous marketing function, the evolving role of marketing and her driving career force.

Tracy Gawthorne, managing director of marketing and communications at Accenture, is a powerful marketer working for one of the largest (and arguably most influential) professional services firms in the world. With close to 500,000 people employed at Accenture globally, Gawthorne is well aware of both the privilege and responsibility that comes with the level of influence embodied by the firm, and by extension, her work.

When I interviewed her, I expected to hear about how marketing has changed over time (she has more than 20 years of experience in the field) and how important it is to make marketing part of the broader business. What I didn’t expect is her true, deep commitment to so much more than marketing: to ethics, collaboration, business responsibility and to adding value to the lives of people and communities.

But I shouldn’t have been surprised. Throughout the interview it was clear that Gawthorne has a very big purpose in life, and that turning this vision into reality is something she is not doing alone – she’s part of a whole organisation that has broader ambitions than just growth. 

The interview below is a snapshot of her insights into business, responsibility, ethics, collaboration and her deep desire to drive both growth and purpose.

Gina Balarin: Let’s start with a question that a lot of people struggle to answer – it’s not your normal question, but it’s kind of key to everything a marketer does because it underpins what they see as their role or function in life. How do you define success?

Tracy Gawthorne 150 BWTracy Gawthorne: I believe we have to tie the success of marketing to the success of the business vision, mission and goals. Success in our organisation is around improving the way Australia and New Zealand lives, works, plays and grows. We do that by bringing innovation, talent, groups of people, communities and clients who can deliver on their mission together.

Success, to me, is about inspiring and engaging people to act in a way that adds for value to the business but also to their own lives and our communities.

We need to be ambitious because corporate Australia, and certainly corporates around the world, have a real responsibility to create value across different forms: for the people they work with, their clients, their supply chains, the environment and also the nations they’re trying to build.

It’s nice to have that goal in mind but not everyone can influence that far and wide in day-to-day life. Do you think that being part of Accenture allows you to influence more of the community externally as well as internally?

It’s a privilege of our organisation and a responsibility we have – we have 492,000 people around the world who work at Accenture. That’s a huge responsibility and a huge opportunity. That’s why inclusion and diversity, ethical behaviour and responsible business are all critically important – and that’s very much part of the marketing remit – to the way we go to market and engage with those people is grounded in those principles.

That really gives a sense of philosophy and purpose, a reason for existence. You say that’s part of marketing’s remit. Is it coming from the organisation or from you?

It’s a bit of both. Purpose is something people are talking about all over the world – corporate purpose, personal purpose, national purpose. But it has to be more than just words.

It goes back to the simple principle that we are human, we are emotional – and most of the time we want to feel like what we’re doing is for a reason. In marketing and in business, in some cases, that was probably lost a little bit in the fight for shareholder value, in the fight for growth at all cost. We are now realising the growth of economies and business shouldn’t be in exclusion of the responsibilities we have to our people and to our planet.

As marketers, we are responsible for the messages we put in market, the products and services we promote, the way we engage with people, the way we create experiences, and – big or small – we all have choices to make in those areas.

I’m very passionate about making sure those choices are underpinned by purpose and passion and an ability to measure the impact you’re making.

You’re covering a lot of marketing and it’s an ambitious task. But with ambitious goals come the requirement to enable ambitious people. It’s all very well having that goal but it’s got to be turned into reality. What would help other people if they knew about marketing that they don’t know now?

It would be that marketing is about people. We inspire people to engage, to purchase, and to build loyalty and lasting relationships – and this is at the core of sustainable growth – which is only possible when we bring the brand purpose and the reality of how people experience that brand, that product, that organisation, together. 

One of the lessons I learned the hard way is we need to ground marketing in business acumen. We need to speak the language of the boardroom. 

It’s very easy to get distracted around great creative, but if that’s not followed through in the actual experiences we are creating for our people and customers and directly aligned to the business objectives of the organisation and its purpose, we will not be successful. We need to be able to to play back how the recommendations we’re making, the activations we’re putting into market and the investments we’re making are actually leading towards better corporate performance, across multiple levels – whether that be with our people and culture, with our sales and delivery or with our corporate responsibility, they’re all intertwined.

We have a huge opportunity to sit across functions and work in a way that’s much more strategic and collaborative – with HR, the CIO organisation and so-on. 

To measure impact across multiple dimensions requires platforms, tools and a capability that previously marketing may not have felt was in its remit. Marketing is uniquely qualified to lead that discussion and bring cross-functional teams together. The technologies and data now available are forcing stronger integration across organisations. We can personalise, test, measure, adjust and be much more agile than we have been in the past. Those marketers taking advantage of that more quickly will get a leap on everyone else.

Why is marketing more qualified to lead that discussion?

Because we fundamentally understand how to engage and inspire people to act.

So, we’re like the cheerleaders? 

No, we’re not the cheerleaders – we’re the quarterbacks. We’re the players. We’re not on the side-lines, we’re in the game. We need to continue to make our role being ‘on the team’ as opposed to being on the side-lines. Marketers, whether they’re called marketers or not (people responsible for the growth agenda) can’t do it in isolation. The functions across organisations are blurring. We need to be working very closely with our HR team because people are such an important focus, we need to be working with our CIO organisation because of the rise of martech, data, privacy and security and we need to be working with finance and procurement in new ways to measure ROI. It can’t be done in isolation. That’s a real progression.

Where you see organisations leading, you can peel underneath and see that the heads of marketing, and marketing functions, really see themselves as central to that collaboration and in many cases are driving it. That’s where innovation comes from.

If we continue to think of things within our functional silos, we’re not actually going to break the barriers that are required to create great experiences and help the brand purpose match up with the brand experience.

Gawthorne concludes with a personal career recommendation for others – based on what she has learned over time. Essentially, she says, “Understand what your craft is, work on that, nurture it, nourish it, look for ways to bring that to the fore. Absolutely, you need to learn more skills, experiment and stretch yourself  – just don’t do it at the expense of things that really excite you and the core strengths you have that make you you!”

And that’s partly what makes her a great leader, and a great influencer: her ability to say ‘I see this in you. Let’s grow that spark, let’s turn it into a flame, let’s make it incendiary!’ That’s why she’s one of the marketers shaping the future of the industry in APAC.

Gina Balarin is founder and director of Verballistics

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Image credit:Ronnie Overgoor