Scouts Honoree: 5 Questions With Girl Scouts USA CMO Sarah Gormley

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Girl Scouts White House 2015

In our continuing celebration of the just-announced Forty Over 40 honorees, we chatted with Sarah Gormley, Chief Marketing Officer at Girl Scouts of the USA.

The Girl Scouts of the USA have been in the news, from camping out at the White House to reinforcing inclusive policies to taking cookie sales digital in an embrace of the future. Gormley and her team help push the Girl Scouts forward and build better experiences for children through digital technology. They also use mobile and digital outlets to engage and educate volunteers on how to organize and manage their troops across the nation.

As CMO, Gormley leads the organization’s brand, digital and content marketing efforts, driving change across the enterprise, including 112 regional councils. Sarah joined GSUSA in 2012, and, consistent with Girl Scouts’ efforts to better serve girls and volunteers, she has redesigned the marketing team and function as well as established new methods for driving engagement and measuring results and campaign effectiveness.

Sarah previously served as Senior Vice President of Communications and Marketing at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, where she developed marketing strategies across the brand’s portfolio of media and merchandise business efforts. Before that, she was Vice President of Corporate Communications at IMAX, where she managed branding and consumer-facing campaigns and also oversaw a major expansion in Asia.

She also has held senior positions at National Financial Partners, Fleishman Hillard and Edelman. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from DePauw University and an MBA from the University of Chicago, and lives in New York.

brandchannel: Sarah, while some people saw technology as complication, you saw it as an opportunity to simplify and create consistency for the Girl Scouts brand. What was your biggest challenge in bringing a 100-year-old institution into the 21st century? The biggest highlight?

Sarah Gormley headshotSarah Gormley: The challenge is probably the same in any organization, which is aligning the people and the processes and developing new ways of working to optimize the technology. So for Girl Scouts, given our federated structure there was some added complexity, but the desire to change and the commitment to doing great things for girls is powerful fuel. These changes meant the amount of time it takes for a volunteer to sign up went from a month(s) long paper-based system to a matter of days (with a background check, of course). And, we are now able to provide all of the tools needed to manage a troop for a year via mobile. That’s pretty exciting. We also took our iconic cookie program online this past year – creating the next generation of digital marketers who care about giving back. That’s brand relevancy at its finest.

bc: By creating a platform that worked to understand and meet girls’ (your customers’) needs, you are in a sense acting as a mentor to millions of girls and young women. How does that feel?

SG: When you say it that way, it feels enormous! The reality is that Girl Scouts is all about letting the girls lead – discovering what matters to them, connecting with others and taking action to make a difference in their communities and the world. I recently reviewed nominations of a group of Gold Award recipients who are doing things like restoring marshlands in Texas and creating alternative energy sources for a village in Kenya. I can’t recall the last time I was so inspired by a group of individuals (of any age). These young women are setting an example for the rest of us and we should follow their leads.

bc: In your opinion, what is the biggest impact you feel you’ve made to date? Not necessarily in terms of size and metrics, but in terms of meaning.

SG: This is going to sound sappy, but it comes down to the people. I remain close to so many people I’ve worked with and mentored throughout my career, and nothing makes me happier than seeing them succeed. My “lieutenant” at work is a phenomenal marketer and her first job was as my assistant. In fact, she turned down a role at Goldman Sachs to work with me back in the day. Years from now, I doubt that I’ll remember campaign ROI’s and CPA’s, but I know I’ll still be in touch with a phenomenal group of former colleagues who have become friends. That’s real meaning to me.

bc: What is a great piece of advice you received from a female colleague over 40 and a piece of advice from a male colleague over 40? How did their opinions differ?

SG: From the male former boss: “Things are never as good as they look or as bad as they seem,” and from a female colleague: “Always remember where the other person is coming from.” So the opinions are really more similar than different. In both cases, it’s about having perspective, and appreciating how perspective might change your behavior or decision.  Gender-neutral advice!

bc: Our culture is obsessed with doing things rapidly, but to innovate, you must really know how an established method works—patience is key. Do you think you would have been able to accomplish what you have today, ten years ago? Have you discovered any unexpected advantages that came with years?

SG: The biggest difference in ten years is the array of marketing tools available and the pace of learning required to assess what are the right tools and, more importantly, acquiring the talent to use the tools. When it comes to the skillset, I say you have to learn it, rent it or buy it, and it’s a challenge to move quickly. There’s also a perception that some other brand has it all figured out, but my experience has shown that exactly no one has it all figured out. We all strive to figure out what we need and at what time to best understand the customer. Confidence and being okay with unknowns (embracing them, in fact) has come with experience. The same thing that makes marketing so exciting is what makes it so challenging – there is no cooler career right now!

Click here to meet more of this year’s 40 Over 40 honorees and get more insights in our Q&A series

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