Harvard in Tech
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Harvard in Tech

Harvard in Tech Spotlight: Sharon Marcil, Chief Marketing Officer at Boston Consulting Group

I spoke with Sharon Marcil, Chief Marketing Officer at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Global Chair of BCG’s Client team. Sharon has spent most of her career at BCG serving clients. Throughout her 28 years at BCG, she has taken on a diverse array of leadership roles, from running the firm’s Global Women’s Initiative to leading BCG’s Consumer and Retail practice from both a North American and Global level. After those roles, she became the Regional Practice Area Leader for the North America Public Sector and ultimately the Chair of BCG FED, the entity that runs the US Federal Government business for the firm.

Sharon has stayed at BCG for the clients, the incredible people, and the rewarding challenge. Throughout her time at BCG, the firm has rapidly grown, scaling revenue from ~$200 million to ~$9 billion. This growth gave her the opportunity to have myriad leadership experiences. Ten years ago, she was elected to the executive committee (the firm’s board of directors). Three years ago, BCG’s CEO asked her to serve as the Chair of BCG’s global Client Team (the firm’s global sales arm) and, more recently, asked her to serve as BCG’s Chief Marketing Officer, with the goal of elevating BCG’s brand and bringing together marketing and sales to serve key account managers for BCG’s clients more effectively.

Sharon shared her perspective and advice on lifelong, global collaboration, leading through change, and content creation.

Exercise the learning muscle. Throughout Sharon’s time at BCG, she has continuously taken on new challenges, exploring new industries, topics, and domains. The process of moving up the corporate ladder has allowed her to develop new skills and apply learnings to practical problem solving.

Bring together diverse insights. For example, in BCG’s work with a federal agency this year on the future of work, BCG is bringing together both the public and private sector perspectives, which adds a richness to the conversation.

Over the course of Sharon’s time at BCG, the firm has broadened its talent pools, bringing in not only MBAs, but also PhDs, medical doctors, data scientists, and mid-career industry and public sector hires. On each assignment, BCG staffs people with relevant, diverse experiences which suit the nature of the assignment and the client.

Find the opportunities in challenges. 2020 was undoubtedly a challenging time for everyone. Sharon has been tested as a parent, a daughter, and a team leader. Looking back on the past year and other difficult moments, such as 9/11 and the 2008 financial crisis, Sharon underscores the importance of finding opportunities to learn and drive change in the face of stress and hardship. For example, through the pandemic, Sharon and her team at BCG have learned about technology’s power in driving productivity and collaboration. Sharon was able to bring a BCG world expert on carbon trading from the Nordics to a client in NY through virtual meetings. Moreover, moving into 2021 and beyond, BCG has been thinking through ways to lower its carbon footprint while still driving collaboration.

Sharon and her team have increased their volume of content creation on the marketing front and explored different channels for content distribution, such as virtual events, to meet people’s needs and behavior changes in our new remote world. Overall, the pandemic has provided a moment of clarity for the necessary transition to digitally-driven marketing.

Listen first. The most essential part of communication is listening. Listening, first and foremost, allows you to think, be authentic in your response, and show others you value their perspective.

Engage the skeptics. Run to those who disagree with you and attempt to understand why. In engaging with them, you may find ways to solve for their concerns.

Leave people in a positive emotional mindset. Maya Angelou’s famous quote states, “people will forget what you said, and people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Focus on the feelings you create for and elicit from other people. Understand the emotional impact your words and actions leave on other people.

Contextualize. In every communication, be mindful of what is happening in your audience’s lives. Especially in our increasingly connected global society, it is crucial to understand the context in which your audience is taking in your message, and how it is showing up to them.

Meet people where they are. Engaging content must be high-quality, intelligent, and differentiated. It must also resonate with your audience. Be clear about the target for your communication and leverage storytelling to connect through compelling narratives.

Diversify your content amplification. Content distribution is just as important as content creation. Sharon and her team at BCG have explored innovative content amplification channels. For example, they are working on a partnership with The Atlantic Re: think, the magazine’s branded content studio, called American Metamorphosis, focused on the presidential transition, creating a limited series examining the tradition of presidential power and peaceful transitions. Similarly, BCG launched a partnership with Wired, building the first market AI application database to track successful real-world applications of AI and spotlight innovative companies.

Stay close to your network. Looking back on her time at HBS, Sharon felt it shaped her perspective fundamentally. The case method drew her to consulting and helped her think critically, do deep dives into new spaces, synthesize information, and communicate effectively. She also enjoyed learning from her peers with different experiences and passions. Sharon shares that she appreciates all those she has stayed connected to and is always looking to expand her network within the alumni community (especially with the new possibilities social media brings).

Relax and be patient. The worst days, weeks, and situations will all pass. They may seem all-consuming at the moment, but time heals even the most significant challenges.

Be present. Instead of being too focused on the future, aim to be present. Take every day, every meeting, and every interaction as an opportunity to be present.

Assess objectively. Sharon shares the parable of the empty boat. A man is sitting in his boat in a river, and another boat hits his. At first, he is quite angry, wondering what careless person rammed into his boat but, soon after, he realizes the boat that hit him was empty. Instead of being an intentional attack, the collision was just a result of a random collection of natural forces. In life, there are many empty boats. Instead of trying to draw negative intentions out of a situation, assess objectively — rather than emotionally — and realize many things, good and bad, are just pure chance.

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