Throughout her career at Deloitte, Karen Arsenault has been asked to take on roles that required her to build something new. From launching brand new services to building a marketing organization from the ground up, creating something from scratch is second nature to her.
Karen describes herself as having grown up in B2B marketing, starting as a copywriter and then moving on to Dun & Bradstreet where she grew her career to eventually become vice president of marketing communications. At Deloitte, Karen has taken on a variety of marketing roles. She appreciates Deloitte’s culture, marked by opportunities to evolve and grow.
Most recently, she led the creation of a new narrative and external messaging platform around what the audit is today. Easier said than done for a service that – until recently – hasn’t changed much for more than 50 years and is often viewed as an obligation — instead of an opportunity. Karen shares her thoughts on the challenges, process, designing marketing teams, and more.
What is the new narrative around audit and how does it fit with what Deloitte delivers today?
The new narrative is designed to articulate the value we are delivering to our clients and the capital markets through audit and assurance services. Historically, audit has been a very static external attest service related to a company’s financial statements. That has changed – dramatically. Today, for example, Deloitte employs analytics, cognitive technology, and robotic automation to perform an audit, and is even experimenting with drone technology. We combine all this innovation with the sound business judgment of our auditors to create an evolving, high-quality, value-added business service we deliver to our clients. By delivering high quality audits replete with deep data rich insights, and by evolving our assurance services to meet the dynamic needs of the capital markets, we can help companies identify risks and opportunities within their organization. They can use those insights to help them improve their business performance. This can also provide greater transparency for investors.
It has been an incredible transformation journey internally. It started with our auditors, experienced as well as first-year, embracing new tools and technologies, learning how to use them, and driving insight from analyzing big data sets. This extends to the types of people we’re hiring; there’s an emphasis on bringing in data scientists and digital specialists, people who have specialized skills that we now need to continue transforming the audit. We know, and believe, audit and assurance will continue to evolve as new technologies are introduced, so we need to stay ahead of that.
Our narrative reflects this idea of ongoing transformation. We recognize that while we are helping our clients with current business challenges, we are also providing insights about their business, their industry, and the marketplace, and what might be coming next. We help them solve for now and build for next. Our approach combines design thinking, advanced technology, and our people’s experience to deliver a more agile, adaptive, and data-driven audit.
One of the first things I did when I came into the chief marketing officer (CMO) role was conduct an audit value survey, a first for our practice. We surveyed 300 C-suite executives and 100 audit committee members. We asked them a series of thought-provoking questions about their perceptions of audit, and whether they believed their organizations were getting value from the audit.
The results were quite interesting. More than three-quarters, 79 percent of C-suite executives, and 91 percent of the audit committee members, told us that today’s audit reveals things about their companies that they could be doing differently or better. We took that as a strong validation that the direction we’re headed in is indeed supported and valued by our clients.
Tell us about the groundwork and research that went into developing this new narrative
Deloitte is an organization that prides itself on building strong client relationships, so a great deal of our marketing strategy is driven by feedback from what our lead client service partners are observing at their clients. We also glean insights from our “Custom Labs,” where we can spend a whole day with an audit committee or a CFO of a company to gain a deep understanding of their business, needs, and journey. Combining this with quality surveys, brand perception surveys, and focus groups, we accumulated many data points that went into the creation of our new narrative.
The last thing you want to do is communicate a message that doesn’t resonate with your clients. One of the great things about marketing today, however, is that you can evolve with the client, and adapt as new data comes in. We’re constantly innovating how we audit because of the way technology and our clients’ businesses are evolving. We recognize that our narrative will also evolve as our business evolves. But it will always be rooted in its foundational elements of delivering high quality, transparency and value.
In marketing, being agile and flexible based on data is so powerful, and it’s easier to do today than it has been historically.
As you built out the marketing function to undergo this transformation, how has the team evolved?
When I took on this role, our Audit & Assurance practice already had strong brand equity and an established client base. The business, however, was at a pivotal point; its strategy was shifting. The practice was now focused on growing in new market segments, introducing its audit innovations and launching expanded assurance services to meet the evolving needs of companies. Because of this refreshed strategy, the leadership of the practice determined the need for a change in our marketing strategy. So, I was brought in as CMO and built the team from the ground up. It’s not often that you get the opportunity to hand-pick a team, so I was very fortunate in this regard.
I’ve established many relationships with people in marketing and public relations during my tenure at Deloitte. Initially, I tapped into that network to recruit some very talented people with whom I had worked previously to help me get this off the ground. Over time, I added new marketers — both internal hires and external recruits — to round out our skill set and bring fresh outside-in perspectives.
What advice would you give on designing a team that gets the most out of everyone’s talents and skills?
There’s a philosophy we embrace at Deloitte called “Business Chemistry.” In fact, two women from Deloitte — Kim Christfort and Suzanne Vickberg — wrote a book about it called Business Chemistry: Practical Magic for Crafting Powerful Work Relationships. The idea is that there are four types of people you want to have on your team: pioneers, integrators, guardians, and drivers. You can probably figure out just from the titles the characteristics of the people who would fit into those categories.
I’m a pioneer-integrator, which means I like to try new things and I like to bring people and teams together. Given that, it’s important that I make sure I have guardians and drivers on my team. I need guardians, people who are going to make sure that everything is organized, that all the facts are correct, that we’ve dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s, and that we have the right resources to accomplish our goals. And, I need drivers who will make sure we get things done. So, in addition to hiring for specific skills, diverse perspectives and experiences, I’m very cognizant of creating a well-rounded team that represents all dimensions of that business chemistry framework.
Can you talk about how marketing had to work across functions to get this new narrative launched?
It takes a village. We work with so many different people across so many different areas within the broader Deloitte organization to make things happen and be effective. I think that you will see within a marketing organization that there are a lot of people who have that integrator dimension to their business chemistry profile.
I work closely with people in our pursuits organization, business development, and internal communications to ensure we’re communicating a consistent message and articulating the behaviors associated with delivering the brand promise. We have to be aligned on the behavior because ultimately our brand is delivered by our people.
We can say great and grandiose things to the marketplace, but if our people don’t show up and deliver in a consistent way, then our brand is not authentic. So, there are a whole host of efforts internally to coordinate and make sure we’re showing up in the right way to deliver quality and value for our clients.
Additionally, we have an in-house marketing agency that helps us execute our marketing campaigns. We’ve worked very closely with this team to help bring our narrative to life across numerous marketing channels including our website, marketing collateral, social media, and advertising.
What tips do you have for other CMOs for working with boards and CEOs?
There’s a couple dimensions to that. First, make sure you have the buy-in before you start anything, especially something big. My experience has been that I must talk to a lot of people before I move forward. Especially at a complex and multi-dimensional organization like Deloitte, it’s like getting an airplane off the ground, where you’ve got a long runway before you take off.
In this narrative project that we’ve discussed, we interviewed nearly two dozen leaders across the Audit & Assurance practice, including our CEO, to make sure that we were telling the right story, and that there would be support and buy-in from our leaders in taking it to market.
And then there are things that we measure from a marketing perspective. We need to be very cognizant that the key performance indicators (KPI) and metrics that we are measuring in marketing are assessing how we are helping the business achieve its goals. For instance, when we look at our overall strategy, we are focused on delivering high audit quality and building upon our quality foundation to grow and transform our business to meet the demands of the investing public.
One market where we are focused on growing is in the private market space, so we’re constantly looking at both how many new clients we have won there and the quality of new business we are adding to our client portfolio. We’ve seen a two-fold increase in the number of client wins in the private company space since we’ve embarked on this strategy.
The question marketing must always ask is: How do we contribute to that growth? When we do events, for instance, we constantly assess if we are inviting the right clients and prospects in key target markets, so that we can help our practitioners build those relationships and eventually win and solidify the business. Other key metrics we measure include: website traffic and content engagement, and how this leads to new business. So, we’re keeping our eye on those KPIs alongside business KPIs to make sure that they are in alignment.
What was the process like for creating one cohesive message?
A project like this is often a messy process. We worked with an outside organization that specializes in narrative work. They participated in all of the interviews that I mentioned earlier, and they delivered several conceptual options for what the messaging could be, based on what they heard. We worked through several iterations, until we finally landed in a good place. At that point, our market-facing professionals agreed that the messaging made sense. Next, on to the executive team, which made additional tweaks to the messaging platform that enabled us to land on the spot where we are now. It took about six to nine months to develop.
What kind of culture elements do you emphasize with your team?
Teamwork and supporting each other are always at the top of my list. In addition to that, I emphasize the importance of learning, development, and training for our marketing professionals. We focus on both professional skills training (the softer people skills) and technical marketing training. Quality is a top priority at Deloitte. Our client-facing practitioners are expected to deliver high-quality audit and assurance services and to add value consistently. And our leaders have the same expectation of our marketers serving our Deloitte business. We must show up with our internal clients delivering high-quality, best-in-class strategic marketing and communications programs that support the business’ goals. In that way, we add value and earn their trust and respect. Our learning & development culture is also a great recruiting tool for us since people know that Deloitte is an organization where they can have opportunities to continue to grow throughout their careers.
This publication contains general information only and Deloitte is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor.
Deloitte shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person who relies on this publication.
Deloitte refers to one or more of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, a UK private company limited by guarantee (“DTTL”), its network of member firms, and their related entities. DTTL and each of its member firms are legally separate and independent entities. DTTL (also referred to as “Deloitte Global”) does not provide services to clients. In the United States, Deloitte refers to one or more of the US member firms of DTTL, their related entities that operate using the “Deloitte” name in the United States and their respective affiliates. Certain services may not be available to attest clients under the rules and regulations of public accounting. Please see www.deloitte.com/about to learn more about our global network of member firms.
Copyright © 2019 Deloitte Development LLC. All rights reserved.