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January, 2024

CMOs calling time? Customer chief Stuart Tucker exits Hipages to become Hourigan headhunter, predicts senior marketer shake-up as remits explode 10x, 'grind' bites

By: admin

What you need to know:

  • Hipages Chief Customer Officer Stuart Tucker is leaving the marketplace to become a partner at executive search firm Hourigan International.
  • The former Commbank, Aussie and Optus marketer expects to be busy – because many senior marketers are too stretched by remits that have increased tenfold over the last decade, and mulling exit strategies.
  • He sees pockets of consumer confidence returning – evidenced by an upturn in demand at Hipages from homeowners hiring tradies – with some categories now hiring “creative problem solvers” to ride the upturn.
  • So there is movement on both sides of the jobs market. But marketing more broadly is challenged – partly due to too much weight and partly because of the breadth of capability now required to do the role.
  • He advises marketers aiming to become CMOs to go as broad as possible – and not be afraid to move sideways to ultimately move up.
  • Tucker’s not the only one saying it.

Everyone I speak to who's my sort of tenure is saying, ‘geez, I’ve been in the grind for a long time and I would really like the opportunity to freshen up and do something different’. There's a real trend going on in the market with a doubt.

Stuart Tucker, Partner, Hourigan International

After 35 years in marketing and consumer gigs, former Hipages, Commbank, Aussie and Optus marketer-customer chief Stuart Tucker is becoming a headhunter. He’s expecting to be busy at the top end of town for two reasons.

Firstly, Tucker thinks the economy and consumer confidence is starting to turn and companies are looking for leaders with creative problem-solving skills to re-fire growth. Secondly, senior CMOs are crunched by remits that he says have expanded “tenfold” in the last decade. After years “in the grind”, many are quietly mulling exit strategies.

Which presents a two-sided marketplace – something Tucker knows a little bit about after six years as Chief Customer Officer at Hipages, where he finished up last week with the business significantly bigger than when he started. Revenues climbed to $67m in FY 23 derived from almost 36,000 tradies each paying circa $1,900 a year for the leads it generates from households. Brand metrics, powered by long-term sponsorship of The Block, are at a record high (brand awareness hit 68 per cent for tradies, 67 per cent for homeowners), enabling the firm to cut back massively on channels like paid search – 80 per cent of jobs last year came from unpaid channels.

Hipages is not yet profitable, posting a $2m loss in FY23 – and the firm trimmed its ~$21m marketing budget 13 per cent last year – but a recent upswing in demand for home services on the platform lies behind Tucker’s belief that the economic tide is turning.

Either way, as of 4 March, he’ll be a partner at Hourigan International, again matching the right people with the right jobs – just a little higher up the ladder at C-suite and director level across marketing, customer, digital, product and sales.

My advice to any young marketer is to get as much breadth of experience as possible. I think there's plenty of ambition, but they are probably a little naïve in terms of the pathway. Sometimes you have to move sideways to go up – coupled with some discretionary effort, the notion of curiosity, challenging things – and I’m not sure that’s always understood.

Stuart Tucker, Partner, Hourigan International

Capability-remit disconnect

Hence Tucker sees the move as less left field than some might think. He’s known the firm’s founder Anthony Hourigan and CEO Karen Taylor for years. “They took me out of Optus and put me into Aussie Home Loans in 2007.”

Tucker’s deeply plugged-in to the marketing-customer-media talent pool at both C-suite and the next level down – he’s been involved with The Marketing Academy from the get-go, gaining an inside track on the next generation of senior leaders in marketing and beyond.

He thinks that network and recency of his customer-marketing experience should provide a competitive advantage. “There’s, there’s plenty of people in this category who haven’t been at the coalface for probably more than 10 years,” says Tucker.

But he’s under no illusions of how quickly the market is moving – and sees a growing disconnect between current capabilities and the reality of exponentially expanding CMO remits.

“There’s plenty of [talent] depth at the top end. But there’s going to be big change in the marketing world in the next 10 years – cookies, privacy, what comes next in digital. So I think it’s up to the next generation, those in their mid-twenties to mid thirties with 5-8 years experience, to bring their energy, enthusiasm and digital native skills [but also] learn from the older generation about leadership and marketing skills,” says Tucker. “People are getting a little bit too siloed in their swim lanes. They need to become more generalist to become a CMO. And that makes me a little bit nervous about the future.”

“My advice to any young marketer is to get as much breadth of experience as possible,” he says, echoing the likes of Lion Chief Growth Officer Anuhba Sahasrabuddhe, ANZ Everyday Banking chief Sweta Mehra and Australian Marketing Institute CEO Bronwyn Powell.

“I think there’s plenty of ambition, but they are probably a little naïve in terms of the pathway,” he adds. “Sometimes you have to move sideways to go up – coupled with some discretionary effort, the notion of curiosity, challenging things – and I’m not sure that’s always understood.”

Not that Hourigan International focuses solely on marketing and CMOs.

“They just appointed the chief economist to the Reserve Bank. They hired the CEO into Katmandu, the CFO into Optus appointed the chief customer officer at IAG. So Hourigans has definitely broadened beyond where they started in marketing and agencies. They are leading global and local searches across boards, C suites – any leadership role across every industry sector.”

Yet across sectors firms are looking for similar traits. Per the World Economic Forum’s latest report, analytical and creative thinking are now the “most important skills for workers” that companies are seeking. Tucker agrees.

Absolutely. I think those are the key skills. Everyone can bring the basics of their role and some experience, but it’s that creative problem solving that is really the skill that every executive needs to bring to the party.”

CMOs calling time?

Tucker thinks there are a significant number of senior marketers seeking to solve a different set of problems – and maybe step beyond the spiralling CMO remit and its increasing pressures.

“Everyone I speak to who’s my sort of tenure is saying, ‘geez, I’ve been in the grind for a long time and I would really like the opportunity to freshen up and do something different’. There’s a real trend going on in the market with a doubt,” says Tucker.

What are they planning to do instead?

“Going into consulting, maybe starting their own agencies, maybe side hustles that become a big deal, ecommerce plays – just different twists. We’ve been through a lot and now people are finding new ways to keep themselves challenged.”

Outlook – hiring or firing?

Anecdotal evidence suggests many in media and marketing are preparing for inflationary pressures to act as a drag on consumer spending well into the first half of 2024. Commbank has made similar forecasts. Tucker, however, sees pockets of growth and early signs that confidence may be returning.

“There’s a big difference by category, but I’m getting the sense that 2024 is bringing some fresh consumer confidence now interest rates have flattened out. At Hipages we’ve been seeing a little bit of buoyancy in the market, a bit more confidence from homeowners,” says Tucker. “So I’m looking for clues, but I think we’re past the worst of it. That means we’ll see categories opening up and for those that might have seen a bit of contraction during 2023, that probably means they’re going to be taking a fresh approach to who and how they recruit, bringing in fresh talent to drive the comeback.”

The average the complexity of a CMO role today is 10x what it was 10 or 15 years ago. There's a lot of moving parts – and that's the challenge. It's a very, very difficult role today.

Stuart Tucker, Partner, Hourigan International

Best of times, worst of times

After decades leading marketing and consumer functions, Tucker says the best bits remain doing great original work that moves the needle.

“My favourite part of it is when you do something that is a bit edgy, pushes boundaries and gets attention. There’s too much marketing that goes out that’s just a bit too vanilla.”

The problem is, it’s arguably harder than ever to do.

“I think the biggest difficulty in marketing today is the proliferation of channels and complexity. The average the complexity of a CMO role today is 10x what it was 10 or 15 years ago. There’s a lot of moving parts – and that’s the challenge. It’s a very, very difficult role today.”

Which suggests anyone tapped by Tucker in his new gig should be under no illusions. But if he’s right on swathes marketing’s senior cohort seeking fresh challenges and a hiring rebound, both sides of the talent marketplace will be busy.