Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Catching up with Sarah Gormley, GSUSA's Chief Marketing Officer

Sarah Gormley, chief marketing officer at Girl Scouts of the USA, recently spoke to a room full of marketing experts and professionals at the 2015 Adobe Digital Marketing Summit in Salt Lake City, Utah. Among other things, Sarah described how Girl Scouts has taken its iconic cookie program online and talked about the digital transformation underway across the organization. In her role as CMO Sarah leads brand, digital, and content marketing work. She joined GSUSA in 2012, and, consistent with Girl Scouts’ efforts to better serve girls and volunteers, she has redesigned the Marketing team and established new methods for driving engagement and measuring results and campaign effectiveness.

Q: Sarah, the Adobe Summit looked very exciting! Tell us a little about your experience there.

To even be invited to speak at the Adobe Summit is a real testament to the incredible changes underway at Girl Scouts. People are fascinated by what we’re undertaking on behalf of girls and our commitment to staying relevant without losing sight of our legacy. I think my favorite line may have been when John Mellor, head of business development and strategy at Adobe, introduced me by saying “for a 103-year-old brand, the Girl Scouts is doing anything but act its age when it comes to digital marketing." The experience was amazing—not only because I was speaking to such a large, significant audience, but also because of the story I was telling about how we’re making exciting, necessary changes to serve more girls.

Q: What have you learned at Girl Scouts that you were able to share with the audience?

Because the audience consisted of marketers, I tried to make my talk as relevant to them as possible. So while everyone knows and loves the Girl Scout brand—and certainly goes crazy for our cookies!—what I wanted to share as candidly as possible is both the unique digital marketing challenges we face and also those challenges that are quite similar to other major brands. We’re all trying to understand and improve the customer experience; we’re all using data to inform new platform builds, campaign development, and resource allocation decisions; and we’re all trying to figure it out as we go. One of the most tweeted comments I made was “Nobody has all the answers” and I think that really resonated with the conference attendees.

Q: Outside of your role at Girl Scouts, what excites you about the future of marketing—a rapidly changing field?

I may be biased, but I believe marketing is hands-down the most challenging and exciting career field today. As its function moves from being a cost center to a revenue generator, it’s only going to get more interesting. But as I mentioned, and as every speaker reiterated at the conference, the pace of change can be intimidating. There are so many new tools and technology solutions—morphing and expanding simultaneously with changing consumer appetites and preferences—that it can be difficult to map out a vision, not to mention secure the budget and staffing resources you need at the right time. In this environment, every day presents challenges and opportunities to effect change. For a problem solver, there’s no better place to be right now.

Q: What advice do you have for girls looking to make a mark in the marketing world?

First and foremost, you have to be an analytical thinker. And I don’t mean just looking at the data—you have to be able to see the big picture and be curious about scenario-planning. I like to say my team consists of dot-connectors, because everything we do touches multiple business communities and ultimately informs the customer experience. You cannot work with a silo mentality and be a successful marketer—you have to embrace complexity, and the more you embrace it the more valuable you’ll be to your team and your brand. And of course, the most important advice is to have fun—which we learn from our girls every day!

Q: So, Nate Silver, Michael Keaton, Wayne Brady and many other huge names were also speakers at the summit. Were you nervous?

With that lineup, you bet! But I practiced, and I knew what I wanted to convey, so when the nerves kicked in I was ready. We had local Girl Scouts on hand (they get the credit for the standing ovation, let’s be honest!) and they also got a bit nervous when they saw the enormous room at the Salt Palace Convention Center. One of the producers who was helping saw that they were anxious and gave each one of them a paper clip to hold when they came out—he said it would calm their nerves and give them confidence—which was so touching. Right before I went on stage, he gave one to me, too. And you know, when I got home to NYC, I found the paper clip in my pocket and I realized that it's a symbol of what Girl Scouts can be—we're a girl's paper clip, but for life!