Ed Dandridge, Global Head of Marketing and Communications at AIG

CMO ClubHouse Conversations with Ed Dandridge, Global Chief Marketing & Communications Officer, AIG General Insurance

"If we don’t have a purpose, we’re missing an opportunity. That’s part of why I was attracted to marketing in the first place." - Ed

Ed Dandridge is a “global citizen.” His 30+ year career includes successful stints as a lawyer, television executive, crisis management consultant, political ad maker, industry association CEO, digital executive and today, as a Global CMO. At first glance, these roles may not seem to be related to each other. Ed sees it differently.

“The law, politics, entertainment, marketing, they all have common fundamentals. It’s about advocacy, he says.”

Ed is the son of a US Foreign Service Officer, moving every few years in his youth. He lived in Asia and Europe for almost half of his first 18 years. Ed graduated college, Cum Laude from Tufts University and then, with a JD from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law, before starting his career as a practicing lawyer in New York City. That was followed by political consulting and crisis management, and his first corporate role as Vice President of Communications and Policy Planning for ABC Television Network. He later founded and served as Managing Partner of BrandSphere Partners, a strategy consulting firm. BrandSphere’s clients included a mix of Fortune 500s, not-for-profits, academic institutions and political campaigns.

Nearly a decade later, Ed joined Nielsen as Chief Communications Officer and managed global communications for their 2011 IPO. Ed went on to serve as President and CEO of the National Association of Investment Companies (NAIC), an industry association representing women and diverse venture capital and private equity firms; and as CMO of Collective, a data-driven digital company.

After four years as Chief Marketing & Communications Officer of Marsh and McLellan, Ed joined AIG as Global Chief Marketing & Communications Officer for General Insurance.

Ed has lived in the New York tri-state area for the past thirty years, the longest stationary period of his life. He is married and has two teenage children.

CMO Club: Wow. Impressive from the start, Tufts University and everything that followed.

Ed Dandridge: Interesting story about Tufts. I went to high school in Athens, Greece, so I applied and was accepted at Tufts without ever visiting. The first time I saw the campus was during freshman orientation.

CMO Club: Were you drawn to the law as a young person?

Ed Dandridge: I always knew my career would sit somewhere at the intersection of international affairs, marketing and legal issues. These have always been areas of deep interest, so I was constantly thinking about a role that could weave them all together. Growing up, I was influenced by diplomats from around the world, so I thought I might be a ‘diplomat’ on behalf of a company or something along those lines.

CMO Club: How long did you work as a lawyer before shifting to marketing?

Ed Dandridge: A few years. I practiced general business law, but I was already thinking about what I was going to do next. The practice of law and marketing are similar in some ways. As a lawyer, you use skills of advocacy grounded in law. That’s a big part of what we do as marketers, through compelling storytelling and persuasion. In marketing, you may be focused on specific products or services, but in its purest form, it is advocacy on behalf of customers. The advent of digital experiences fueled by data and analytics has redefined customer expectations – in my view, there’s never been a better time to be a marketer.

CMO Club: When did you move into politics?

Ed Dandridge: I’ve been fortunate to work in different industries at inflection points – I was at ABC during the dawn of the Internet, and at Nielsen just as data and analytics from digital devices started to accelerate. Looking back, political consulting was a great bridge from being a lawyer to marketing. I helped clients navigate environments of crisis, technological disruption and change. Whether it was a contested election, a high-stakes public policy battle or a product launch, the interdisciplinary tools of campaign management were very effective in driving positive outcomes.

To give you a sense of the kinds of issues I worked on, I advised the local telephone industry at a time when local service was being de-regulated across the US. Suddenly, high profile national long distance companies were targeting the most profitable customer segments and trying to pick them off from local telephone companies who were essentially viewed as “monopolies.” That was a free-for-all of competition. The local telcos needed to re-define themselves, just as political candidates have to define themselves before their opponents define them. Local telcos had to adapt and learn how to compete. Only then could they position their products and services. It wasn’t about who had the better product, it was about, as a consumer, which brand would you trust more?

CMO Club: So, they came to you to solve issues, regardless of the type of industry?

Ed Dandridge: They faced fundamental business issues at the intersection of cost, competition, challenge, and change. The clients I worked with spanned different industries, but they had one thing in common – they were being forced to adapt to fundamental business challenges: competition, scrutiny and rapid change. I think that we as marketers sometimes don’t fully appreciate that we operate in a campaign environment. Every day, a brand or a product must compete for the hearts and minds of their customers, their distribution partners, influencers and the media. In regulated industries, the landscape is even more complex. Each day, there are winners and losers. Traditionally, that’s not how we think about marketing. Campaigns in politics may be built around “election day,” but for brands, every day is an election, every sale equates to a vote. The ability to be nimble and constantly refine a value proposition for customers, even on a daily basis if necessary, means CMOs now should also function as the ‘chief change agent’ within their organizations.

CMO Club: How did you go from working on campaigns to working in television entertainment?

Ed Dandridge: There’s a direct correlation between viewers and voters. Whether you’re trying to inspire citizens to vote for a candidate or trying to motivate consumers to view a show, the tools of advocacy and persuasion are critical. Think of the viewer as a voter, and consumer as a citizen. I always appreciated that symmetry. I started my career using polling, and now everything I do is informed by customer data and analytics. I got into politics producing ads, and now I mine that same data to produce cross platform digital content.

CMO Club: The country seems to be more divided than ever. The middle seems to be disappearing somehow, and the extremes have all the say. From your viewpoint, how do we get back to the middle ground?

Ed Dandridge: As a person of color, my experience has probably been somewhat different. I don’t immediately accept the concept of a “big middle ground.” For better and for worse, I think what we have now is greater transparency. Today, we get to hear the full spectrum of viewpoints that were always beneath the surface. When we had fewer media outlets and fewer distribution platforms, different voices were even less represented, unheard if you will, so the diversity of stories and ideas was incomplete. The notion of the “big middle” encompassed many points of view, but it wasn’t fully inclusive and representative. Advances in technology have democratized the national discourse – with that comes the richness of greater diversity, but also some extremely challenging views.

CMO Club: Is there a way forward, then?

Ed Dandridge: For those who truly understand how dynamic and segmented audiences and consumer markets are today, there’s a way forward. In many developed countries most of the economic growth is coming from diverse and traditionally underserved consumer segments, notably from women, people of color and immigrants. These traditionally underrepresented segments are driving an outsized share of growth and innovation through entrepreneurship just as society is experiencing a cultural tipping point. So, for many people who feel there’s no “middle ground” anymore, the truth is their world has forever changed. Maybe they weren’t aware the world around them was broader and more diverse than they realized. Today, diverse voices are being heard, their votes are being counted and their consumer spend is spurring economic growth.

CMO Club: What is your experience with being a person of color in the corporate world?

Ed Dandridge: For me, it’s been a series of transformative opportunities created by business challenges that required expertise, critical thinking and innovation beyond the status quo. As a person of color who grew up outside of the US, I bring a global perspective that is grounded in the reality of diversity as we live it. There’s no question that I have encountered obstacles and had to overcome stereotypes. I also recognize that I transcend a lot of categories given that I’m just as comfortable anywhere in the world as I am in New York, that I’m a lawyer who evolved into a marketer, and that I am a ‘corporate diplomat’ at heart.

CMO Club: Knowing what you know now at this point in your career, if you could go back and give your 22-year-old self a piece of advice, what would that advice be?

Ed Dandridge: I would say to future marketers that they should focus on being commercially oriented and focused on mastering the fundamentals of business. The more you progress in your career and assume senior roles, the more you’re expected to bring multiple areas of expertise and focus. There are fewer seats at the senior table. It’s harder for marketers to own what they do when there are leaders in other disciplines who have also worked in marketing. Marketers sometimes get pigeon-holed as only being able to execute creative. We need to demonstrate how we drive revenue and add to the bottom line. Connecting attribution to business outcomes is one of the biggest challenges facing CMOs today. It also accounts for the relatively short average tenure in the role.

CMO Club: Looking ahead, what’s most relevant to marketing?

Ed Dandridge: We need to pay close attention to the impact and the implications that technology has, not only on marketing but on our lives. I don’t think most people are really paying attention to 5G yet. 5G won’t be incremental change. It’s going to be revolutionary, like ‘before and after’ electricity.

CMO Club: Can you give us an example of the kind of transformation you’re talking about?

Ed Dandridge: Every device we touch individually will be connected.The days of having to enter multiple passwords into different devices and platforms will end. Consumer behavior and preferences will be fed into AI, and automation will serve up offerings that you need before you even realize that you might need them.

CMO Club: What characteristics do you look for when hiring members of your team?

Ed Dandridge: I lean toward sophisticated business people first, marketers second. I’m very focused on professionals who can adapt to change and thrive in uncertainty.

CMO Club: What are you most proud of in your career?

Ed Dandridge:Whatever I’m about to do next.

CMO Club: Any passions outside of work?

Ed Dandridge: I strive to be an ally for women, particularly women of color. I am passionate about the mission of the NAIC – facilitating greater access to capital for women and diverse entrepreneurs. That’s the future of our economy, giving more access and resources to people who are going to create jobs. I’m committed to making sure we’ve got tangible diversity, equity and inclusion at all levels from the C-Suite on down.

CMO Club: Anything else you’re passionate about?

Ed Dandridge: I’m a crazy soccer fan, a proper football fan. I’m far more interested in the World Cup, and what’s happening in the Champions League than I am in March Madness or the Super Bowl.

CMO Club: Can a CMO like yourself change the world?

Ed Dandridge: I think it is core to what we do.  If we don’t have a purpose, we’re missing an opportunity. That’s part of why I was attracted to marketing in the first place. It’s not just about selling more product or burnishing a brand, it’s about enabling companies to live up to their values and make meaningful contributions to society.

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