Increasing numbers of businesses are appointing a CMO and therefore bringing marketing – and often in its wake: communications and PR – into the boardroom. That in itself is enough to keep the entire branch in discussion. It inevitably brings you to the core of the question: What is the role of marketing nowadays? We posed this question – and many more – to Serge Sadzo, Senior Director Marketing & Communications for the EMEA region at BCD Travel, and one of the things we learnt was that an afternoon nap at the right time does wonders for a person.  

For the past two years you have been responsible for marketing & communications for the entire EMEA region at BCD and for a team of 20 people. Do you sit in the boardroom?

“No, not yet. But fortunately I do have good relations with our board members individually, which keeps me right up to date with decisions. As yet I don’t join in with decision making at the top though.”

Does that bother you?

“So far, it’s not something I have come up against, but I do see the potential added value it could have. As a marketer, you approach issues from a more external perspective, that can for instance seriously influence the development of a new solution, service or product. I do come up against the perceptions held by many companies that marketing is not business-critical. I am convinced the opposite is true. We want to be more than simply the packaging department; do more than packaging things nicely and adding a ribbon. We want to work with what’s inside the package too, and work alongside the other departments. That should be the strength of marketing.”

In what way does marketing make a difference ‘inside the package’?

“We are now better able to place ourselves in our target groups. We know all too well what works and what will easily be forgotten. We can provide a bit of resistance, a critical eye and lots of creative ideas. Marketing should actually talk to every department in an organisation. Furthermore, every department should be a bit of a marketing department.”

Which evolutions in marketing, PR and communications will you advice to follow closely?

“Considering my history at Concentra(now Mediahuis) I have encountered first-hand the complete switch from offline to online. Fifteen years ago, we were still driving to customers with a case full of trade magazines. If you turn up with a magazine nowadays, you are carrying old news. The digital revolution is progressing unrelentingly, at an increasing speed and more intensively. That keeps me fascinated.”

“I also find the whole community thing extremely interesting. For some time now, it has not been about target groups – groups of people we have in our sights. With BCD Travel we have the ambition of creating a genuine community around the corporate traveller. In an ideal world, this corporate traveller will become a genuine ambassador, a social influencer, for BCD Travel.”

“A third evolution is that the line between B2B and B2C is becoming increasingly vague. We are in a B2B world, but we actually focus on the consumer, and in particular people travelling for work. I am regularly abroad and I enjoy being part of our own target group. It means, for instance, I can test our TripSource app. Fortunately, that works really well.” (laughs)

How has the way marketing is organised evolved within BCD Travel in recent years?

“We moved away from regional marketing teams one year ago. Before, each region had their own internal communications and their own external communications. That was not effective enough, so we reformed the teams into functional marketing teams at an EMEA level. We work increasingly with external partners. Partners can really provide added value. We see the roles of our staff moving from executors to coordinators.”

What does that shift mean for your team in practical terms?

“We used to be physically in one place, we now have a virtual team. The consequence is that it has changed the way we work and communicate with each other. We have a lot of video calls, and every so often we organise a physical meeting with the whole team. Skype for Business does wonders for us.”

“We try to encourage collaboration between the teams. Because the roles and responsibilities of the marketing teams overlap somewhat, there are also many joint projects. It is important to make agreements within that. Which team will take the lead, which teams will provide support?”

How do you measure the success of those projects?

“That is a difficult question. We measure a lot more than we used to. It is easier now in a digital era. We see a lot more data but I think the real challenge is working with the results. In other words: Which results can be converted into insights and improvements? I think we still have work to do on that, but we are on the right path.”

Something more about the collaboration in your team. Everyone is talking about the ‘agile’ concept. How do you deal with the planning of the different – sometimes cross-team – projects?

“We work with a marketing plan that is 70% fixed and 30% agile. Yet in practice, another 20% of that 70% disappears. So, the share of agile is actually about one in two. I support planning and preparation. We currently evaluate the added value every opportunity. It is always a difficult balancing exercise.”

How would you describe your biggest challenges?

“The first real challenge is to explain a complex product in a simple way. We know our products through and through and know the work involved. But what does our customer consider important? And what is the essence of what we are providing? A fresh external eye is always an interesting element in that. Furthermore, in our sector, we are facing decreasing customer loyalty. Corporate travellers and their businesses switch a lot more than they used to. The competition is fierce and the problem is we all do similar things. We must therefore gain our customer’s loyalty. But how do you get them to choose you, and stay with you?”

And finally, what are the important lessons you have gained after 2 years of leading an EMEA team?

“Be hard on the facts, and soft on the people. Furthermore, I think it’s also important to consider people’s personal character traits. That influences me with recruitment in particular. Someone who is driven, creative, innovative and socially skilled and has not been trained in marketing or communications can often be an important link in our team. In a nutshell: hire the attitude, train the skills. Finally, I have also learned to delegate more, instead of controlling everything. I now rely on the expertise of the people in my team.”